At the beginning of December I challenged myself to write on story per day about a stranger who inspired me with an act of kindness or an awareness they raised in me. The project exceeded my wildest dreams. The support I received from readers
blew me away.
While most of the followers were able to see the stories via Facebook, I just realized I never posted the final week’s summary for those who only follow by email or blog. Well here it is now!
Thank you to a Stranger #22
From the first time I visited the island of Jamaica 25 years ago I fell in love. I’ve had the great good fortune of visiting well over a dozen times.
Obviously the sun, the sea and the landscape are breathtaking. The red stripe, the rum and the herb aren’t too bad either! All of that aside, the thing I always remember the most about Jamaica are the people. Have you been there? Isn’t there a positive vibration of “one love” in nearly everyone you meet? It’s not just a Marley song or quote. It’s a way of life.
Two of the most common short phrases Jamaican people use are “No problem” and “Respect”. The phrases are used as greetings, good byes, thank yous and as many other things.
Yesterday as I was walking on Clark Street after my yoga class. I passed a man asking for help outside the Walgreens. He was shaking his cup and asking for change and saying “Happy Holidays please if you can help me out….” He had a bright smile and a warm energy and he’s the type of person I would typically give a little something to. In fact I was pretty sure I’d seen him before in the same spot and felt like I might have even talked to him once earlier this year.
I would have very much liked to have given him a little something except for the fact that I had left all my money and my wallet at work by accident. So I slowed down and said, “I don’t have even a penny on me but thank you for your smile.” What he said next was mind blowing.
He said, “No problem….thank you for stopping to show me some respect. I remember you. We talked earlier this summer. I’ve seen you walk up and down this street a lot. You know me I always show respect and I notice that you do too…”
I asked him his name which he told me was Darren. Next time I pass by I won’t forget it. So thanks Darren for taking me back in a virtual way to my favorite little Caribbean island by reminding me that life is full of “no problem” moments as long as we take the time to show each other “respect”.
Thank you to a Stranger #23
I haven’t had much luck getting into the Christmas Spirit yet this year. I think it has something to do with the fact that Thanksgiving was so late in November and also that it has been unusually warm in the Midwest. Nothing says Christmas less than 55 degrees and rainy in Chicago!
I also remembered that the thing I like the most about Christmas is the giving part. I love wrapping presents for my close loved ones. This year we are keeping our exchanges to a minimum like many people are so I haven’t bought hardly anything and I haven’t wrapped a single gift.
On Monday I got a new idea for a gift I’d like to give Christiana, but when I started calling around town to see if I could find it I had no luck. I knew it was too late to have it shipped and I am so not an Internet shopper!
Finally at the last store I was going to call a nice lady told me she had a way to get it to me tomorrow if I did the purchase over the phone. I was stunned but also very busy in the middle of a holiday lunch shift and did not have my credit card on me. She took it one step further and told me she could send me an email with a purchase agreement as long as I completed it before 6 pm I would have it on Tuesday. Later in the afternoon I dud just that.
Sure enough my package arrived on Tuesday while I was at work just at promised. So this morning after I did my morning practice I made a cup of tea. I sat down and sent an email to my niece and nephew from my first marriage who I never see anymore. I put on Peanuts Christmas music. And I wrapped my first present, a present for my amazing wife Christiana. Most importantly I started to feel the spirit of the season for all the right reasons.
So thank you to the lady who answered my phone call and showed this old dog a few new internet shopping tricks. Your great service opened up a new option for me….and it opened up my heart.
Christmas Eve Post
On this special day, my daily post takes on a subtle twist. This thank you is to the entire human race. If you like the message please feel free to share anywhere you like. Merry Everything! Jim
Thank you to all the Strangers #24
Long before my soul answered the call to come into this body in this lifetime there was an awakening of light. That light was pure love. Over the years, countless billions of souls have entered and re-entered this plane of human existence with a unified Divine purpose: that purpose is and has always been to spread kindness, love and joy. Many will point to the fact that we are a world of divided purposes and separate causes. I will always cite the contrasting point of view. We are One and we all have the same purpose. Sometimes the paths we travel will highlight the differences. We are always the same.
Look no further than the messages of all the greatest Spiritual teachers of all times. There is only one message. That message is Love! If you listen to the stories of Jesus, Muhammad, the Buddha, Rumi, Lao Tzu or any other great Spiritual teacher they all speak of the one great force of the Universe. One day I was in a yoga class with a teacher who has always inspired me. Her intention for the class hit me like no message has ever hit me before in a class. The message was this: When the power of Love wins out over the love of power, the Universe will ascend to perfection and we will all live in harmony.
What a beautiful word it is: Harmony!
There are billons of strangers in my life that I will never know as bodies. In the world I choose to live in there are no strangers. We are all One.
So thank you to all the Strangers that I have yet to cross paths with in this lifetime. You all continue to inspire me. If I spend the rest of my life looking for you and your acts of kindness I will have lived a life of Divine purpose. I look forward to continuing the search. The last month has given me a level of Hope that I have yet to know in this lifetime…
Thank you to a Stranger #25
Yesterday when I left work at about 4:00 pm there was quite a scene outside on the corner. Dozens of police officers on foot and on bikes were managing a small group of protesters who had gathered near the mall. This is a scene that has played out regularly in Chicago over recent weeks.
This post is not about my political position on the protests, although I suspect that many of you who know me will know where I stand on that issue. This instead is a post about a phone call I took earlier in the day about the protesting.
A gentleman called and inquired what hours we were open for lunch. He told me he was visiting from out of state and staying in a nearby suburb. He had heard of our restaurant and was anxious to try it, but his friends back home advised him not to go downtown at night because it was unsafe. He asked me how we were getting along with “things the way they are.”
I usually refrain from any commentary about anything otter than restaurant business when speaking to customers, especially people I don’t know. For some reason I felt compelled to say a bit more in this case. I told the gentleman that we were “not operating in a state of anarchy and chaos.” I added that I have lived and worked downtown for over 25 years and that I’ve never felt safer.
He must have found whatever I said convincing because he said, “Great I believe you we’d like to come in for dinner around 7:00 pm one of the next four or five days.” To which I then replied, “I’m sorry sir we are sold out between 5:00 pm and 9:00 pm every night until the end of the year.”
“So I guess I’m coming for lunch then….” He laughed.
So thank you Mr. Out of town guy for net letting your friends fear-mongering close your mind to adjusting your perspective. I hope you have a great lunch whenever you decide to come in. You give me hope that more will continue to listen to reason and open their minds…
Have you ever witnessed someone hating or shaming another person? Should you say something or not? Is it safe? On this Christmas the Universe gave us another gift. That gift was the reminder that if you take action where you can, something magical might happen.
Thank you to a Stranger #26
Yesterday on the way from my Mom’s to Christiana’s parents house we exited the expressway at one of those typical busy exits. We were backed up in a line of about 20 cars waiting for the red light. I could see up closer by the intersection that there was a man in tattered clothing holding a small paper sign. It is a scene that many of us see all too often of someone asking for money or food because they are in need. I’m very used to seeing this scene both in the city and even in the burbs.
As we got closer to the traffic light what I saw next was not typical. There was another man holding a larger sign and he was screaming and making animated gestures. His sign said, “Don’t give anything to these lazy bums. They are scam artists….” I didn’t need to read anymore of the sign to see what was happening. We were still a distance away but I could tell that each time that someone rolled down their window and gave something to the man asking for help, the other angry man through his arms up in exasperation and started yelling at the person in the car who offered help. Unbelievable!
Then we finally got all the way up to the intersection and were stopped by the red light with only one car in front of us. The man who was asking for help was working deeper in the line of cars behind us, but the man who was hating on him and shaming him was within ten feet of our car window. He continued to yell out into space in general and at the man who was asking for help in particular. I heard him through my window when he screamed, “I can come out here and mess with you everyday Mother F$%#@*!”
Christiana and I sat in the car watching this unbelievably bizarre movie playing out. I wondered what in the world would make this man decide to come out of his home on Christmas Day to spread so much hate and be so angry about something that didn’t even effect him? Christiana finally said, “Are we going to say something?” I wanted to, but the scene was so mind-bendingly weird I had no idea what to say.
Then a moment of clarity came and I rolled down my window and said, “Why would you want to waste your time and energy being so angry about something that doesn’t even effect you?” He screamed back at me and said, “These guys are liars! They have been working this same intersection everyday for two years! Don’t you find them offensive?”
What I said next had a result I never would have expected. I said, “The only thing I find offensive about this entire scene is your negativity. If you don’t think that this guy needs any help, why don’t you use your time to go help somebody that you think is in need instead of standing out here hating and shaming?”
He looked at me and made definite eye contact. I could see his wheels were turning and he was about to yell something back at me, but then he paused, lowered his shoulders and said, “You know what? You’re right…you’re right…”
He then folded his sign in half, tucked it under his arm and walked away. He didn’t just walk away on a “I’ll just wait until this car is gone” sort of pace. He walked away with speed and purpose. He was done!
We drove away speechless and in silence as our brains processed what had just happened. After a few minutes Christiana said, “Well that was quite the gift…” It was indeed in so many ways.
So thank formerly angry stranger turned calmer. You reminded us that when you see hate or shame, it’s always a good time to say something. What you say may or may not cause change, but recognizing it and then not saying something is almost as bad as being the hater or the shamer yourself.
Thank you to a Stranger #27
I should have known that it would be unlikely that I’d find a ham, egg and cheese bagel sandwich at a Kosher deli in Skokie. What I did find though was a very kind clerk with a great deal of patience.
As I held the number 18 in my hand and the sign on the wall said, “Now serving number 6” I realized In had a bit of time to people watch. I had already decided on what I was going to order so I instead paid attention to the hectic energy of a bagel shop on a Sunday morning. The most noticeable thing to me was a lady barking at one of the clerks behind the counter and saying, “How many is that so far?” When the clerk said “14” the lady barked back, “I only want 13!”
The clerk very politely said, “Which one would you like me to take out ma’am?” The woman then said, “Well I WANT all of them but since I can’t have what I wan’t ever in my life you might as well take out the egg bagel.”
The clerk then said, “I’m sorry you feel that way, is there anything else I can help you with?”
“Put some extra plastic bags in there for me!” the woman snapped without any trace of a please or thank you. “I’d be delighted.” the clerk said without any reaction or counter remark.
After the lady left the store I went up to the clerk and said, “You were very kind to that woman even though she was being very rude to you.” The clerk said, “Thank you for saying so. She’s been coming in here for years and has always been a bit gruff, but I won’t let her change my energy…”
So thank you to the clerk at the deli for showing grace and joy even in the midst of a negative situation. You made me breakfast sandwich taste quite delicious, even if you didn’t have the ham!
Thank you to a Stranger #28
Here’s how I rank precipitation in order from my most favorite to least favorite:
1) Snow (Yay!)
2) Rain (Meh…)
3) Sleet (Ugh!)
Overall I really don’t let it get to me too much but during the commute, a steady dose of sleet can present its potential frustrations like it was trying to for me this morning.
As I stood under the heat lamps of the shelter at the train stop, a number of other commuters gathered close to share the warmth. There was an empty bench behind us. A woman in a big puffy coat and a hood pulled over her head walked up to me and said “Excuse me.” It wasn’t a sarcastic Get the hell out my way sort of “Excuse me.” It was the polite, kind and sincere sort of can I get past you please “Excuse me.”
I stepped aside and let her pass by so she could sit. I said “Unfortunately you’re not going to be able to enjoy the heat from there” with a smile on my face. She replied “You could always sit on my lap and we’d both be warmer then.” It wasn’t a sarcastic or suggestive sort of “you could sit on my lap.” It was a funny, tongue in cheek we could share space and help each other out sort of “you could sit on my lap.” We both smiled at each other bigger and continued a friendly chat.
When she stood up from the bench to go get on the train she said “I hope you have a nice day.” It wasn’t one of those knee-jerk we exchanged words so I must give you a standard greeting sort of “have a nice days.” It was a genuine I really want to to have a nice day sort of “have a nice days.”
When I got on the train I was grateful for our exchange and also for the fact that I thought I just found my next “Thank you to a Stranger” so I started writing as I stood in the corner of the crowded train car.
A half an hour later when I reached my destination and was riding up the escalator I heard a voice say, “Make a lot of money out there!” It was the same joyful lady in the puffy coat. I was so busy writing a story about her I didn’t even realize she was on my train the whole way.
I told her I was just writing about how nice she was and how she brightened my day. She said, “Aren’t you sweet!” She then asked me where I worked. When I told her the light when on for both of us. We work for the same company but at different restaurants. I’ve actually know her peripherally for many years. I noticed now that she had her hood pulled back that her hair which used to be dark brown was instead salt and pepper grey.
I remarked “you’ve let your hair go to its natural color. It’s very becoming on you.” Once again she said “Aren’t you sweet!” She then added, “I had cancer last year and it all fell out so when it grew back in I just let it go natural.”
We exchanged a few more pleasant words and then went off in our separate directions. When I got to work I thought “well she’s not really a stranger” but then I thought “she was when she first started being kind to me and this is to good a story not to tell!”
So thank you joyful, sleet commuting, cancer-surviving lady in a puffy coat who brightened my day. What a great reminder to us all that life isn’t what happens to you either in the big picture (cancer) or the small picture (the weather). Life is how you see it and what you make of it!
Thank you to a Stranger #29
There is a young woman who came into our lives earlier this year and became a friend. A few of you know pieces of her story. She has lived a life of unimaginable challenges, yet still has a lightness of spirit and a determination to survive like none I have seen in my life.
We had lost track of her for a few months because her public aid/government issued cell phone was stolen when she was mugged near the end of the summer. We finally heard from her on Christmas Eve. She is in a suburban hospital after a series of mini strokes left her without the use of her legs.
Her complete story is not one that is yet ready to be told, but it will be someday. I’m sure of it. For now her goal is to learn to walk again…and to sleep. Like many of us she has a hard time turning her brain off at night and struggles with insomnia. She won’t take any of the meds because she doesn’t want to become dependent on them.
This morning I talked to her and she told me one of the doctors brought her an adult coloring book and some pencils. She said it relaxed her and she slept better last night than she has weeks. My mom gives me a coloring book every year at Christmas Day still. Moms always know best.
So this thank you goes out to the nice suburban doctor who went one step further than prescribing meds. He prescribed some old fashioned kindness in the form of a bundle of love and childhood memories. Thank you for helping my friend get better. She has an important story that is yet to be told…
Thank you to a Stranger #30
This morning I needed to be downtown early for a therapy appointment. I didn’t want to have to wake up Christiana to drive me to the train so I figured I’d hire an Uber. Unfortunately when I looked outside I saw it was snowing. This triggered other “S” words in my mind as concerns. Safety? Surge pricing? Seriously?
I decided to give it a shot anyways and sure enough I got a hit that said 5 minutes out. If your not familiar with Uber, one of the really cool features is that you can see your car coming towards you on a map using GPS. After about 5 minutes my car was still 5 minutes out and not making much progress. I started to worry. I had just enough time to get downtown for this therapy appointment that I REALLY needed.
Three minutes later my driver was still four minutes out. My mind started to do what it does when I get stressed out. Micromanage!
“Should I cancel the fare and just take our car?”
“Should I wake up Christiana and make her jump out of bed so she can drive me?”
“Should I call the driver and see what the hell is taking them so long?”
“Maybe they don’t know how to drive in snow and their swerving all over the road?”
And of course the one I’m ashamed to admit when the wait had exceeded the ten minute mark:
“Is this moron going to make me late for my appointment?”
During the process of my worrying my driver got closer and finally arrived. I still had my doubts that I would get to where I needed to on time or even safely.
As I entered the car I was surprised to see that there were two people in the car, a man and a woman. My immediate gut feeling was a husband and wife traveling someplace together and just picking up fares along the way. She was operating the GPS and he was behind the wheel.
Neither of them said anything to me, but they spoke quietly to each other in English that had a heavy West Indes accent. I noticed that the vehicle was a rental because the keys hanging in the ignition had an Avis key ring and the tell tale tag with vehicle ID numbers and make and model written in black Sharpie.
I started to craft the possible scenarios in my brain. Maybe they were brand new to America and they were just learning how to drive Uber? Maybe they were visiting from another city and rented a car to get around so they were doing uber to offset the cost? I’m usually pretty talkative when I’m in an Uber but since neither of them had said a word to me I decided to whip out my phone and surf my Facebook account.
About a minute later while we were sitting at a traffic light the driver turned around and said, “Are you working already? Do you have to be somewhere at a certain time?” In his thick accent.
I replied and told him that I was headed downtown for an appointment before work, but added that I’d probably be pretty close to being on time. He smiled and said, “Seems like you’ve learned to accept that you can’t control Mother nature?”
I responded by saying, “I try to remember that a man who spends too much time trying to control things that he has no control of winds up living many unhappy days in his life.” I put a strong emphasis on the word “try”. My thoughts of this morning alone proved that I still had work to do.
For the next few minutes we then chatted about life and I found out that they always drive together so they can keep each other company. I learned that he is a semi-retired technician who is burnt out on his job and wants to spend more time with his wife. I learned that their names were Michael and Tamika. I learned that they are originally from Jamaica.
All this coming from a place where I thought I might never even get picked up, get downtown safely or exchange even a few words with my drivers. I told them that Jamaica was one of my two favorite places on the planet. I told them the thing I liked the most about it was the people. When I got to my destination I thanked them and said, “Respect!”
That seemed to delight them a great deal and they both turned around to shake my hand and smile.
So thank you kind strangers for getting me to the train safely. Thank also for reminding me that what the story looks like on the surface can be way different than the truth if you are willing to let it unfold…
Thank you to a Stranger – The Finale
Not surprisingly, the finale takes us back to where it all started. Like all of life, it is a circle that always comes back to the beginning…
At the beginning of the month I set out on a quest to write 31 short stories of appreciation as I reflected on the extraordinary path within my ordinary life. My quest was to break out of a period of stagnancy. I was stagnant as a writer. I was stagnant as a warrior of light. I was stagnant as a Spiritual being having a human experience. I have come to learn that it wasn’t stagnancy at all. It was a Divinely guided period of rest after an unimaginable year of growth and change. In some ways the quest is drawing to a close. In other ways it is only beginning. I am re-awakened. I am alive. I have a purpose that is Divine again. I am grateful.
As I write this final post in my December writing project it is only appropriate that I take you all back to where it all started, why it all started and what I have learned.
Thank You to a Stranger #31
On the day before American Thanksgiving this year I was reeling. I was drifting through the quagmire of a year of being torn apart and being put back together in all the best and worst possible ways. I have suffered great losses as well as remarkable bliss. I have grown. I have learned. I have been a teacher and a student. In the end I realize that is all that I had ever wished for. I have always wished for nothing more than to be fully alive in the most enriching and powerful ways. My wish has come true.
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving I was doing what we all do: I was juggling dozens of balls of activities in my life. I was running the door at one of the busiest restaurants in the country. I was being a ship that passed in the night with my soul mate and life partner Christiana. I was trying to get my errands done. I was planning our trip to see family a few hundred miles away. I was watching the weather. I was worrying. I was overwhelmed. In one moment I was feeling sorry for myself with all my burdens and in other moments I was accepting that everything was exactly as it was supposed to be. I was to say the least, confused.
As my day wound down on that day before Thanksgiving, a woman walked up to me and said, “Are you Jimmy?” It’s a question I hear more than a few times a week. This time it came with an outcome I never would have expected. When I said “Yes” she introduced herself and said that there was someone in the car parked out in front that wanted to see me. It was a warm November day so I walked out without grabbing my coat. When I walked up to the passenger side window of the car I knew immediately who was waiting for me. It was an old friend/regular customer who I had not seen in many months. I had heard that she had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma from another mutual friend but I hadn’t taken the time to call her yet. It’s funny how we can want to reach out but aren’t always as good about is as we should be. I should change that.
When I got to the car I kneeled down and reached in the window and held her hand. I told her that I was so happy to see her and that I was sorry that I had not reached out sooner. She looked at me and said, “Good Lord you have more hair on your face than I have on my head.” I have grown a beard in the last few months since I had seen her. She is bald from the treatments. I laughed. She smiled. I told her that I had heard about what she has been going through. She then said five very powerful words to me. She said, “ I am going to live!”
She didn’t say, “It’s been a struggle.” She didn’t say, “The doctors are doing everything they can.” She didn’t say, “I’m praying for the best.”
She said, “I am going to live. Like all of us, I’m not sure how long I’m going to live, but today is a good day and I get to see you and I get to eat great food even if I don’t have much of an appetite…”
She accepted her role in the movie of her life and declared with intention the result she desired by the design of her own infinite power.
Her words hit me like a message I had been waiting to hear my entire life. We are all going to live! We are going to live in this lifetime until Divine light says we are done and we will influence and inspire the ones we are supposed to inspire and then we will go back into the light and we will do it all over again until we are done. I was inspired. I looked into her beautiful, joyful eyes and held her hand until the moment was done. I then let go of her hand and went back into the restaurant and continued my job of juggling balls until it was time to be done and then I went home.
When I got home I was changed. I have seen life and death over and over again in my lifetime, but I had never seen an acceptance of what was “supposed to be” or a sense of confidence quite like this before. I thought immediately about how grateful I was for this awakening. I had been shaken out of my stagnancy in a way I had never expected. My first thought was that I needed to write a blog about the experience. I hadn’t written in a month. Then I thought that maybe I needed to write a series of gratitude posts to honor the moment. That didn’t seem quite right either.
Then I thought I should write a thank you letter to someone everyday for a month starting with the woman who came into the restaurant and said, “Are you Jimmy?” I remembered a book a friend had told me about where someone had written a thank you note to someone everyday for a year and that it had changed her life. The more I thought about it the more I realized that project seemed too daunting!
After a few days of reflection I realized that it was someone I had never met before that had opened this door for me. A perfect “Stranger” if you will. I thought about how easy it is to be grateful for the many blessings and friends that I already have in my life. I wondered what it might be like to look for someone or something unfamiliar to me to be grateful for everyday in the enormous plane of existence I navigate through on a daily basis. I though it might help me expand my vision again. I thought it might help me get my hands back on the keyboard again. I liked the idea.
On December 1st I sat down and wrote my “Thank you to a Stranger #1” post with a great deal of uncertainty as to what would become of it or whether or not I might be able to stick with the idea for a whole month. I must say it has been way easier and way more enlightening than I ever could have hoped it would be.
I have written about people I have seen in malls. I have written about people who live on the streets. I have written about people who either have or have had cancer. I have written about doctors and nurses and fat guys and funny women and janitors and customers and phone calls and chance meetings. In every situation it has happened because of one thing. It has happened because I have been living a life with my eyes wide open.
When I was younger I always knew I was an artist. Over the years I have explored painting, drawing, martial arts, bonsai, yoga, pottery, cooking, winemaking and many other passions. As I sit here now I realize that my intended medium all along has been my words and the stories of life. Not just my life story, but the story of the lives of all who emerge into my life. What an endless canvas I am given!
So thank you to the Stranger who walked into my life on the day before Thanksgiving and opened my eyes to that fact that everything I needed to see was already there in my life if I was willing to just that…open my eyes. And thanks to all of you who have read, responded, re-posted and inspired me. I owe you all a debt of gratitude that I will spend the rest of the days in this lifetime joyfully repaying.
And so it goes…