17 April 2020 – Beer With Grandad

The most important thing for my parents, ages 85 & 86, is family. Living in a retirement community just outside of Seattle, they count on and make plans for regular get-togethers with their grandchildren and children who live close. And they count down days on their calendars for when out-of-town family members, including their two great-grandchildren, are coming to visit, and for those times when they pack their CPAP machines to go on the road themselves.

I also want to give them a lot of credit to have become as technologically savvy as they are. They both have laptops and are comfortable sending and receiving email. My mom has an iPhone and is adept at texting (maybe a bit too adept, if you know what I mean…). And when my brother’s family in San
Francisco sent them a digital photo frame that allowed pictures to be uploaded remotely, my mom embraced what only a few years ago seemed like a sci-fi fantasy to her. The photo frame sits on their dining table and is often set to shuffle during breakfast, just to see what may have been uploaded overnight.

Still, laptops, email, an iPhone, and a digital photo frame do not replace the in-person contact that they crave and, frankly, need to live fulfilling lives. So when the physical distancing and isolation orders came down and they became prisoners in their own apartment with no visitation options, the sadness was measurable. Was there some way to provide them a connection to family that even in a small way could fill the gap?

I gave my mom a call and asked her if she’d like to try chatting on Zoom. To her, I think Zoom was either a hot cereal or a TV show for kids on PBS, so it took a little explaining. I sent her a link to my Zoom room and asked her to click on it (the first time I suggested she click on something took some explaining, too, but she managed).

That first time clicking on a Zoom link brings up a series of screens. To my mom’s credit, she’s learned to not click on the accept or approve buttons when pop-up windows appear, so some additional handholding was needed. But once she had the Zoom app downloaded and installed, and clicking on the link took her to a video screen and she saw me, some of that distancing pain started to abate. I helped her activate her camera and her microphone, adjust her screen a little bit, and we hung up the phone.

We were now chatting on Zoom.

I invited her to participate in a Zoom-based social connection group I had formed to reduce isolation and she accepted. In that first experience, she met two of my online friends, one in England and the other in Denmark, and was hooked on the possibilities. I suggested to her that I invite the family, everyone, to come to a get-together at 5pm on the upcoming Saturday, playfully saying I would call the event “Beer with Grandad” to get her husband, my dad, bought in. It worked.

I wasn’t sure who all might show up for the Beer with Grandad event at 5pm on Saturday. Predictably, my parents tried to log in a few minutes early and were distressed that something wasn’t working. But I arrived early, too, and opened the room. They relaxed a bit. Then, one by one or group by group, family members started to appear.

  • Melinda, my wife, was sitting next to me.

  • Scott, my oldest brother, and his partner Sally logged in.

  • Steve, the middle son, and his wife Deb were on.

  • In came Tammy and Olivia, Scott’s daughters, followed be Stephanie, their older sister, and her husband, Moises.

  • Chloe, Melinda’s and my older daughter, and her partner Alex arrived. So did Ella, our younger daughter.

  • Nick, Steve & Deb’s son, was there, along with his partner, Diana.

  • Nick’s older sister, Jessica, and her husband, Vince, arrived. And perhaps most importantly to my parents, there were Carina, age 4, and Enzo, age 2, Jessica’s and Vince’s kids, the great-grandchildren.

Everyone was there. Everyone.

Beer choices were shared, toasts were made, updates were given. Warmth, what melts sadness, was ample. My parents beamed for well over an hour. Sitting on their living room couch in a retirement community in virtual lockdown, somehow their entire family had come to visit them.

As the hour passed and people moved on to their next Saturday activities, there was positive energy to spare. After I closed the room, I called my parents and my father answered, a rare occurrence. He commented with joy what an incredible experience that had been, going so far as to recognize that it’s unlikely everyone will manage to get together in person before he moves on to the great beer garden in the sky. Lives are full and distances great.

In his reflection, he recognized that the pandemic, as bad as it is, had provided him and my mother an opportunity they would not otherwise have had. For one, what would the chances be of everyone being in their homes at 5pm on a Saturday? And what reason would we have had to try to get together on Zoom?

Yet now we have one, and another opportunity is scheduled to take place this Saturday. It’s again called Beer with Grandad.

Support a Small Business #2 – Gift Cards

(Folks, small businesses that have had to close temporarily or desperately scramble to think of new income streams need our help during the pandemic. I’m promoting those I love and those recommended to me by others here on my personal blog. If you have means or your income stream has not been significantly reduced, I hope you are moved to assist. Supporting these businesses not only provides them with needed income, doing so also offers them concrete encouragement and inspiration. –Andy)

Here’s a way you can support a Seattle-area business that is experiencing a major downturn in business – purchase a gift card! Gift cards give businesses an immediate influx of money without having to provide the service right away.

For instance, purchasing a gift card to a restaurant provides them cash they need now. Once the restaurant reopens for business, you can go in and use your gift card.

Here’s a list of Seattle-area businesses that provide customers the opportunity to buy a gift card through Square. Click on the link and scroll through to find a business you’d like to support. Then click the “Buy Gift Card” link and follow the prompts. To find a different city, go to this link.

I’m aware of this because I use Square to bill my consultancy clients.

27 March 2020 – Life Lessons for Carina

(In 2015, not long after Jessica, my niece gave birth, I made a mixed tape of music for the baby, named Carina. These are the liner notes. Keep in mind, I’m writing to a 2-month-old baby.)

Dear Carina,

Here we are a couple of months after your birth and I present to you a birth day mix. Now, personally, I believe that the official Birth Day Mix, the one that is referenced with upper case first letters, is the responsibility of an uncle. I’ve tried to suggest this to Nick but I’m not sure if ground is being made in this department. If by the time you’ve got this back and forth communication thing down and he still hasn’t provided you with one, you might want to bring it up with him. If you find that difficult, know I’ve got your back. I can talk to him.

I’ve called this particular birth day mix “Life Lessons.” I know, I know, it might be a bit presumptuous on my part to think I have anything of value to share with you, especially considering the quality of your parents. So you are free to take this title with a grain of salt. If it helps you feel better about it, call it “Presumptuous Life Lessons,” “Stuff My Mom’s Paternal Uncle Thinks is Important,” or just “Things to Ignore.”

On that note, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of prudence lately, having been reading a book called “The Virtue Driven Life.” In it, the author, Father Benedict J. Groeschel, makes a distinction between what he calls natural and supernatural forms of prudence. Natural prudence, to paraphrase him, has to do with doing the sensible thing. It’s naturally prudent to look both ways before crossing the street, for example.

Ask your mom.

Supernatural prudence has to do with doing the right or moral thing. Sometimes these things are in opposition. For instance, it wasn’t sensible, or naturally prudent, for German citizens to hide Jews during the Nazi regime because doing so could cost you your life. Still, it was the right thing, the moral thing, to do. Of course, few did it, the fear of one’s own safety being so great. Those that did do it, sheltered Jews, acted with supernatural prudence.

I’m not sure exactly where the life lesson for you is in all of that. I mean, sure, that looking both ways before you cross the street is good stuff. But you’re just a kid and will be for a long time. You’re probably not going to have to make a decision about whether to act with supernatural prudence, at least not for a while. In the meantime, though, you might want to study up on peer pressure.

Back to the mix. There are 23 songs, each chosen for at least one reason. In many cases, the reason is intended to be a life lesson or, as you know, something you might want to ignore. Your call on that. Rather than leave the lesson to chance, I’ve decided to explain it, which is what follows. If you decide to publish these explanations, either for the Humor or Self-Help sections of the new Amazon brick & mortar bookstore in Seattle (what’s up with that, really?), please split the royalties with a charity of your choice. If you’re struggling to find a charity, you might want to consider The Critter Connection. They rescue and rehabilitate abandoned or neglected guinea pigs.


—A (12/12/15)

1) Yellow Submarine – The Beatles
Follow the logic. A carina is a keel. A keel is the basic foundation of a ship. A submarine is a kind of ship. So the mix begins in honor of your name. I thought about using Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had a Boat,” which really is an inspired choice to begin any mix. But there is a reference in that song to having a pony and I didn’t want to suggest to you that you should expect to have a pony, at least not any time soon. Regarding a lesson here, if you want a pony, go to the racetrack.

2) Time Enough For Rocking When We’re Old – The Magnetic Fields
The lesson in this song is pretty much in the title. But if you need it spelled out, get off your duff and go dancing. Your iPod or iPad or whatever iDevice you’ll be using to alleviate boredom when you’re a teen can wait.

3) Fall On Me – R.E.M.
By the time you’re old enough to be thinking about the environment, I want you to know that people my age were thinking about it, despite the evidence you might have to the contrary. I mean, the country of Estonia got pretty much everyone to stop what they were doing for a day to pick up garbage, for Pete’s sake. I’m not sure if they sorted it into compost, recyclable, and stuff for the landfill, but they were doing something.

4) The Other Side Of Summer – Elvis Costello
See, here’s another one. Don’t let those Beach Boys harmonies fool you, though. By the time old El had written this song, the pessimism was mounting that humans didn’t have the wherewithal to care about the environment. That’s your problem to fix, Carina. Disposables or cloth? Figure it out.

5) Chances Are – Johnny Mathis
This song is on the mix for one reason and you get to decide if it’s a lesson. Right after you were born, there were some photos being passed around of you and your parents. You were pretty much just a little blob in a blanket. I mean you couldn’t even hold your head up yet. Get a life! But in every one of those pictures, your dad has a silly grin on his face. Chances are, he still does when he looks at you.

6) Dancin’ On Daddy’s Shoes – Leon Redbone
Here’s another one about your dad. In case you haven’t noticed, he’s really tall. You’re going to find this really useful at different times. For instance, you’re going to be hoisted onto his shoulders and get a clear view of some future San Francisco Giants pitcher striking out some future Seattle Mariners slugger in the bottom of the 9th of Game 7 to clinch the World Series.

7) Start Wearing Purple – Gogol Bordello
Really, you can’t start wearing purple too early. This lesson should be pretty obvious. Ask your great-grandmother (your mom’s dad’s mom).

8) Beastly Beauty – Peppina & hitRECord
This is supposed to be one of life’s most obvious lessons but no one really pays attention to it, at least not Hollywood producers, TV show casting directors, and Victoria’s Secret. The lesson is that true beauty comes from the inside out. And when this lesson can be complemented with a French chorus, it’s all the better.

9) Je Ne Sais Pas Choisir – Emily Loizeau
Speaking of French, this lesson comes completely in that beautiful language. I’m tempted not to explain it to you with the idea that it might inspire you to learn French. Really, the best time to start learning another language is when you’re super young. You can ask, Chloe, my daughter, your mom’s cousin (I think that means you’re related to her, too). She studied this in college. Oh, regarding the lesson, it’s something about the paradox of choice. Look it up.

10) I’m Sorry – The Lisps
Here’s the deal. It’s important to apologize when you’ve messed up something. But it goes further than just apologizing. You need to make things right again. Not sure how to do that? Ask the person who was wronged.

11) Asking For Flowers – Kathleen Edwards
Let’s just get this out there, state the obvious, identify the elephant in the room. Men can be pretty dense sometimes. This song explains it really well and is the first in a series of songs I’ve chosen to help make the point. Assuming you find yourself attracted to men, make sure you give your attention to guys that know how to give you the respect you deserve. And make sure you’ve studied up on consent, okay?

12) The Quiz – Hello Saferide
If you need some guidance on how to know if a particular guy is worthy of your time, you might want to create a little quiz for him to take. For instance, it’s just not okay to talk in the middle of Seinfeld. It just isn’t.

13) All I Wanna Do is Play Cards – Corb Lund
Or watch football, or drink beer, or hang out with his pals instead of you. Buyer beware!

14) Change is Hard – She & Him
And if you do choose badly at some point, or come to your senses after being swayed by a motorcycle, leather jacket, or whatever iDevice you’ll be using when you’re a teen, have the gumption to dump his sorry ass. Yeah, change may be hard and he may immediately start dating someone else, but it’s not your fault he’s a jerk. Don’t blame yourself like this chick.

15) The Part Where You Let Go – Hem
Love songs are really hard to write. Actually, maybe that’s not true. As some Beatle said, the world is full of silly love songs. Most are drivel, superficial. GOOD love songs are hard to write and we rarely hear them from the perspective of a woman. This one meets my criteria for being good. “Is this the part where you find out I’m there for you?” Is the guy finally going to get over his ego?

16) All Because – Ari Hest
And some guys can be super sweet and genuine. They’ve got their priorities clear and their heads screwed on straight. Again, I don’t want to assume that you’re going to be attracted to men. Hell, I don’t want to assume that you’re going to identify as female. I just want you to spend your time with people who respect you.

17) White Privilege – Macklemore
Here’s another lesson that might take some time to fully appreciate. Face it, you’ve got it good. You won the parent lottery. You got a house, regular food, access to the best education. And you’re white, which affords you all kinds of privilege. Your job is to understand that privilege and learn to be an ally for those who don’t have it. Get busy. The world is counting on you.

18) Soldier’s Things – Tom Waits
Crawl inside this simple song to understand the plight of a woman whose husband, a soldier, has died and she’s trying to sell his stuff to make ends meet. “This one is for bravery…”

19) Snails – The Format
The lesson here can be found in the first line, “Take it slow.” Let things unfold, don’t try to rush them. Everything has its own pace and when we try to force our agenda on that pace we tend to mess things up. Learn from snails who see the benefits in every inch.

20) Knots – Jeremy Messersmith
It takes some effort to actually understand the lyrics of this song but it’s worth expending the energy. In short, the song is about this girl who is a bad-ass drummer. She doesn’t take flack from anyone. We can all learn from her.

21) Prettier Than Me – The Muffs
It really doesn’t get simpler than the lesson in this song that comes from Kim Shattuck, leader and songwriter for the Power Punk band The Muffs. When you do something, do it for yourself. As a woman, do you put on makeup for someone else, or for yourself? The right answer is for yourself.

22) Baby Song – Super XX Man
Carina, you’re a baby. I said it. Call me crass, but it’s true. At the time of this writing, you’re a baby, two months old. Baby, baby, baby. And while you’re only 2 months old, your parents and family have been thinking about and imagining you for many months more than that. This song kind of gets at that, all the thought that goes into the excitement of there being a baby about to be born. The singer/songwriter is an acquaintance of mine named Scott Garred. He once dedicated one of his songs to Melinda and me at a Seattle concert.

23) I Did it All – Tracy Chapman
Tracy Chapman is one of the great songwriters of the last 30 years. You can’t go wrong when you want to listen to any of her albums, and her first from 1988 was a major wake-up call to social justice issues. To wrap up your birth mix I provide this song, chosen to encourage you to live your life so that when you look back at it you can say, “I did it all!”

Support a Small Business #1 – Lady Yum

(Folks, small businesses that have had to close temporarily or desperately scramble to think of new income streams need our help during the pandemic. I’m promoting those I love and those recommended to me by others here on my personal blog. If you have means or your income stream has not been significantly reduced, I hope you are moved to assist. Supporting these businesses not only provides them with needed income, doing so also offers them concrete encouragement and inspiration. –Andy)

Lady Yum is a small, woman-run business in the Seattle area. Founded by Megan Wagstaff and quoting from the company website:

“At Lady Yum, we bring the magic of the PNW to life through our delectable macarons, champagne, wines and artisanal products from the area’s most adventurous and passionate makers. We hope your Lady Yum experience awakens your inner child, shows you how enchanting life in this city can be, reminds you how much there is to be thankful for and inspires you to find the rabbit in your hat. Because that, my friends, is where the magic happens.”

My daughter, Ella, is a baker for Lady Yum and absolutely loves her job of making macarons. The rest of the family loves that Ella works there as she often brings to us some of the broken macarons that can’t be sold (yes, we are willing to buy them, too).

Ella, like the rest of the kitchen and store staff, has had her hours significantly cut since sales have drastically diminished. To Megan’s incredible credit, she has been providing her staff thoughtful support and encouragement, telling them that their jobs are safe, giving them directions on how to file for unemployment, and even offering to help them financially if she is able. Frankly, her response to her staff is phenomenally touching, especially when you factor in the impact the pandemic is having on her dream.

This week, Megan began promoting online ordering and is offering self-determined 10%, 20%, 30% and 40% discounts on online orders in celebration of tomorrow being National Macaron Day (who knew?).

If you’re in the mood for some Lady Yum macarons (and, c’mon, who isn’t?), head on over to this site and take a look. If you decide to order, use any of the following codes to get a discount:
TAKE 10 – 10% off
TAKE 20 – 20% off
TAKE 30 – 30% off
TAKE 40 – 40% off

Keep in mind that the macarons being delivered to you will have been made by Ella and her fellow bakers AND that you will be supporting a Seattle-based small business.

15 February 2020 – Planting Seeds of Kindness

Through our thoughts, actions, and attitudes, we are constantly planting seeds. What kind of seeds are we planting?

Six years ago I invited people to consider this question.

Each day, over ten consecutive days, and using inspiration through original drawings created for this activity by an artist named Fish Astronaut, I encouraged people to complete at least one mindful act of kindness each day.

By mindful, I meant the participants would be well aware of engaging in their acts in response to being involved in this activity. I told them that they could think about them and plan them in advance, or they could come upon them spontaneously. I just wanted them to be mindfully aware of their acts of kindness as they completed them, the mindful part being the fertilizer of their seeds.

Each day, I posted a new image of encouragement. I suggested these drawings were the water and the sun.

For anyone interested, you can access this activity via this link (click on the word “Next” in each posting to access the next day’s drawing).

7 February 2020 – A Simple, Spontaneous Act of Kindness I Learned From My Mom

In a previous essay, I told the story of how I suffered from night terrors as a child. I subtitled that story, “I know the meaning of peace and serenity. It’s your mom lying down next to you and rubbing your back at 2am, moments after being so terribly scared.” 

That subtitle is no small thing for me. While I don’t want to suggest that other people don’t have a deep connection to their mothers, especially my two brothers, there have been moments in my life in which my connection to my mother has a profundity to it beyond description, beyond what I think others have.

Most of these moments have been in what might best be described as ordinary interactions or activities. It’s like how we used to watch the old TV detective show “The Rockford Files” and seem to get a charge out of Jim Rockford’s humanism.

Then there are countless moments in which she’ll say something with a double meaning but not having initially recognized it. I’ll just look at her and cock my head to the side with eyebrows raised, hopeful that when she hits the rewind button and plays back what she just said she’ll hear the other meaning. 

When she gets it, she will either laugh or yell out a flabbergasted, “Andy!” (assuming she doesn’t first use the beginnings of one of my brothers’ names, “Sc, St, Andy!”). When this happens in front of one or more of her grandchildren, it’s all the funnier. This is especially true if the double meaning is of, shall we say, a mature nature.

Like the time on Valentine’s Day back in 1980 when she pointed at the midsection of my 17 year-old brother who, as a decoration, had attached a construction paper red valentine’s day heart to his belt buckle. In front of a roomful of his friends, including his high school girlfriend, while pointing at his belt buckle, my mother blurted out, “You have a heart on!”

Go ahead, say it out loud while imagining you are pointing at the belt buckle of a post-pubescent male. Hear the double meaning?

If you still don’t get what it sounded like, understand that in the Pacific Northwest we often pronounce our T’s as D’s (this is especially true with double T’s - the city in which I live, Seattle, really sounds like SeaDDle).

Funny stuff, right?

My overall point here is that my mom is super sweet, super nice, and sometimes unintentionally super funny. It continues to be a privilege to be her son.

For most of my adult life, perhaps for all of my adult life, perhaps, even, for my entire life, I have been drawn to what I’ve come to call ordinary acts of kindness. These actions might historically be called being thoughtful or polite or simply nice. And I know I learned this from the example set by my mom.

If you’re lucky like I am, you grew up in a neighborhood in which you had extended relationships with the people who lived near you. Borrowing from Mr. Rogers, it was always a wonderful day in the neighborhood in which I grew up. And I’ve come to think of this as having a lot to do with my mom. 

Ours was the house where the neighborhood kids gathered. Need a casserole, my mom’s got you. Flower baskets on May Day, my mom’s on the job. She was our Den Mother (that’s a Cub Scout reference), and along with my dad was the co-president of the PTA. She made many of our clothes and, I suspect, shared this expertise with Norma, Helen, Jan & Eunice, and any other mom in the neighborhood.

Heck, my parents sponsored the African-American family who moved onto the block in Nebraska where we lived in the 1960’s as part of an integration initiative. They served as godparents when the family’s younger child was born and stood up when a cross was burned on their lawn.

Maybe that act goes beyond the “ordinary acts of kindness” I referenced above. Still, I hope it gets to the core of my parents and, for the purposes of this story, my mom.

After my dad’s employer transferred him, and therefore the entire family, to the Seattle area in 1974, my mom’s altruistic efforts continued. With my brothers and me getting older, she focused more attention on church activities, volunteering as the church librarian and being available to others who needed something.

What’s remarkable about all of this as I reflect on it is that she engaged in her supportive activities with no need of recognition. To her, I think, it wasn’t about being kind or thoughtful or nice, it’s always been about being human.

I found myself thinking about my mom last spring when I was in Oakland with my wife, Melinda. We had moved to the Bay Area several months earlier as part of what some might call a mid-life crisis. I had stepped down from a job I had held for 24 years, the head of a school Melinda and I had founded in 1994. I was trying to figure out what was my next move at age 55. Melinda’s dad had passed away just a year earlier, the first of our parents to have died. He had grown up in Oakland and Melinda was drawn to tracing his roots while getting away from the drudgery of Seattle winters.

So there we were, along with our little dog, Bentsen, in a park in Oakland. I was discouraged from having just heard from a potential employer that the job I had applied for, and for which I felt well-suited, was going in a different direction. I had applied for over a dozen jobs at this point and this was the first one in which I had gotten past the screening process. I was excited by it for a number of reasons, among these being that it was a decent salary with good benefits and I wasn’t going to be in charge of the whole thing.

To relieve my disappointment, Melinda suggested we take Bentsen for a walk and pointed us to a large park on the water in Oakland. It was perfect, like finding an oasis. Bentsen was beside himself with joy, and the way the sun hit the water with a view of San Francisco across the Bay was glorious. Things didn’t seem so gloomy.

As happens, nature called. I mean, we had been at the park for quite a while and I was trying to meet that eight glasses of water per day protocol. I entered the public restroom in the park. The place was a mess. All over the bathroom were used paper towels and strips of toilet paper.

This is what got me thinking about my mother, who many years ago told me that one of her life practices was to pick up the strewn paper towels in public restrooms as a way to tidy the bathroom for the next person who comes. She said she wipes down the counter, too, making it look better.

Thinking about that, my attention turned to the subject of simple, kind acts people can do. I believe opportunities to complete them are being made available to us all the time, and I mean that literally. There is ALWAYS a kind thing we can be doing, even if it involves something as simple as a thought.

I proceeded to tidy up the bathroom.

In many ways, this was a small action. No one saw me do it and it didn’t take much effort. But maybe it wasn’t so small, after all. And this is where my mom’s example really started to kick in.

Perhaps the next person in that public restroom felt just a tiny bit better for having a cleaner bathroom to use than he would had the bathroom been a mess. He exited the bathroom and moved on to his next event in life in a better mood, treating everyone he encountered a tiny bit better.

Thinking this way, I went on to imagine that this ripple extended further, that those people positively impacted by the man who encountered a clean public restroom were also nicer to others than they otherwise would have been.

Treated nicer, each person on down the line had their moods improved, and so on and so on and so on until everyone in the world was touched.

I don’t think that’s such a ridiculous consideration. It’s also how powerful I think we are, and it can start with the simplest of acts. Like tidying up a public restroom.

So here I am, nearly a year later, writing about this. And I’m thinking about how many positive ripples my mom must have started, and at age 86, continues to start (she’s the building representative in my parents’ retirement community and among the many things she does is make sure everyone’s birthday is acknowledged).

How many positive ripples?

I don’t think there is a number that high.

22 November 2019 – The Importance of a Well-Timed Recommendation

In the spring of 1984, a dear friend named Martha suggested I look into the Big Brothers program, the one that matches men with boys who are lacking positive adult male role models in their lives. It was an interesting time in my life, not unlike now, one in which I was in the midst of a transition. I was 21 years old, working a fun but low-paying and soon-to-be ending job. I was three years removed from high school and not really thinking about college.

I had not heard of Big Brothers and wondered why Martha recommended it. She said something to the effect of, “You’re good with kids and I think you’d get a lot out of it.”

The Big Brothers’ office wasn’t far from my north Seattle apartment so I made an appointment. I still remember the name of the person with whom I met, Cindy Libowsky, who became my caseworker. The process of screening men for a placement is a long one so it wasn’t until August that I was matched with my “little brother,” Matt. I remember my early meetings with Matt as feeling like the stars had come into alignment. I felt good about myself and that I was making a difference in someone’s life. This is what drives me to this day.

Clearly, this recommendation from Martha was life-changing for me. It made clear my calling, that I am here to serve people and that this would begin as a teacher. For the first time, I was drawn to college, now knowing what I wanted to do.

Big Brothers asks its volunteers to commit to a weekly activity lasting 2 to 3 hours with their little brothers. So deeply engaged and having the time available, I met with Matt twice each week for at least that amount of time. On Wednesdays, I brought him to my apartment and together, after a quick trip to the grocery store, we’d make dinner. One night we invited his mom and younger sister, Mica, to join us. Matt was in charge of the dinner and made boiled hot dogs. His mom said it was the best meal she had ever eaten and I think she meant it.

On Sunday afternoons, we’d go somewhere, often to a park, to play. Sometimes I involved other members of my family, one of my brothers, Steve, and his wife, Deb, living close by. My other brother, Scott, joined on a least one of these occasions on a day that included Mica. I can still hear Scott’s voice playfully referring to Mica as “that pesky little girl” during a game of whiffle ball in Steve’s & Deb’s backyard. Scott’s wife at the time, Mary Jo, helped me make Matt a beautiful slot car track for his 8th birthday in September.

Late in the year, Cindy from the Big Brothers office contacted me to say that I had been named Big Brother of the Year. Publicity pictures were scheduled to be taken with Seattle mayor Charles Royer. I picked up Matt from his elementary school to take him. He was all dressed up and the pride resonated from him as I, his “big brother,” walked into his classroom to take him to meet the mayor.

For those of you who have appreciated me as your teacher, who have appreciated PSCS as a school, and/or appreciated me as a mentor, you can trace it back to Martha’s recommendation.

Becoming a big brother propelled me forward.

1 November 2019 – May I Be Filled With Friendliness

A little less than ten years ago I enrolled in an online class on the subject of Loving-Kindness meditation. I was living in France at the time, on sabbatical with my family, with the goal of coalescing the amount of kindness-based material I had created over the previous 15 years into a book.

The working title of my book was “The Practice of Kindness” and each of my planned ten chapters was going to feature one of the ten lessons I had created for my most popular kindness class, also called “The Practice of Kindness.” I had envisioned the lessons starting at the center of a circle, core, or heart, and moving outward. Specifically, the first lesson was to do something kind for yourself, the second to do something kind for someone you loved, the third to do something kind for a friend, etc. Start inside and gradually move outward.

Significantly, the tenth lesson was to again do something kind for yourself, my hope being that by the tenth lesson the students would have recognized that each act, regardless of how far removed from their center, was also an act of kindness for themselves. In other words, completing acts of kindness, true acts of kindness, is always a win-win. Your recipient is benefited. And you are benefited.

So there I was, on sabbatical in France, working to put together my book on kindness. I enrolled in the online Loving-Kindness meditation class as a supportive activity, something that would help bring focus to my book project. Interestingly, what it did is help me realize that I didn’t want to write a book about kindness. What I discovered I wanted to do was find a better way to promote kindness. I had thought writing a book would do that.

A book, though, is a static thing. Once it’s written and published, it can’t be changed. That’s not what I wanted.

Instead, I built a website, one to which I continue to add content to this day.

If you aren’t familiar with Loving-Kindness meditation, it’s pretty simple to summarize. You sit quietly and silently repeat several phrases, statements like “May I be filled with loving-kindness. May I be happy. May I be safe from dangers. May I be healthy.” How long you sit and how long you silently repeat the phrases is up to you. You even tailor them for you preferred language.

We were told that those who practice Loving-Kindness meditation derive many benefits, some too hard for me to believe literally. Sleeping better certainly made sense, but not being stung by bees, not being bitten by a tiger, and having something catch me if I fell over a cliff were harder to accept.

Still, the concept of reducing conflict and being more consistently at peace made sense to me. And I remembered from watching episodes of my favorite TV show from the 70’s, “Kung Fu” starring David Carradine as a Buddhist priest, that the lead character once walked through a pit filled with rattle snakes without getting bitten because he was at one with them.

At the very least, the benefits provided food for thought.

In my class, as I describe above, we began by speaking in the first person, directing these positive messages to ourselves. As our lessons progressed, the teacher invited us to extend our good wishes to a loved one, then to a friend. One of the many things I appreciated about her guidance is that she said there was no one right way to do this. If we wanted to stay focused on directing loving-kindness to ourselves, that was what we were encouraged to do. As we practiced, we were told, we may feel drawn to extend our good wishes to others. If so, do so. Beyond loved ones and friends, we were invited to consider people we didn’t know well, then complete strangers, then people we didn’t like. If so moved, we could silently send good wishes to people we were mad it, those that have hurt us.

I was thrilled to see the overlap between the meditation class and my kindness class, how the practice started with the individual and moved outward from there. Also like my class, there was the obvious benefit the meditation students received as we extended loving-kindness to others. Of supreme interest, extending loving-kindness to someone with whom I was upset or who I felt had wronged me triggered forgiveness. I learned that resentment exists within me, has a hold on me. Loving-kindness is a way to let go of it.

Like I said, the class was nearly 10 years ago. As it wrapped up, I launched my Kind Living website. And like I said, I continue to add content to it. As to Loving-Kindness meditation, I return to it regularly, finding it to be a great calming and cleansing activity.

What prompted me to write this story, however, is an interview I read with Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg earlier this week. Salzberg explained that Pali is the language of the original texts that brought forward Loving-Kindness meditation from the past. She said that there are lots of other English words that could be used for what is most commonly translated as loving-kindness. Love, good will, connection are all acceptable translations.

This got me thinking. Since I first learned of Loving-Kindness meditation, I’ve encountered a lot of people who are turned off by its name. Loving-Kindness sounds too woo-woo, they say, especially in combination with it being a meditation practice. On that note, I know a lot of people think that meditation requires them to sit in an uncomfortable cross-legged position for an extended period of time, their index fingers making a circle with their thumbs, and with their mind being blank.

That’s certainly not my experience. I can’t do that, don’t want to do that. Me, I just try to sit quietly, or lie quietly, and relax.

Anyway, setting the meditation structure aside, it was another of Salzberg’s translations that I started thinking might help the average westerner, maybe the average American, find the practice more approachable.

That translation is friendliness.

So instead of framing it as a meditation practice, what about simply saying to yourself, “May I be filled with friendliness” as you go about your day? If that resonates, you might feel drawn to silently wish your bus driver to be filled with friendliness, the cashier at the grocery store, your partner, your teacher. Maybe the person asking for spare change. Yes, maybe you’ll be drawn to wish the person with whom you are angry to be filled with friendliness.

Imagine everyone on your bus, in your school, around your city all expressing friendliness to themselves and each other. That’s a pretty great place to live.

I know it starts with me.

May I be filled with friendliness…

25 October 2019 – Oral Surgery Teaches Me a Lesson About Wholeness

A little over a month ago my dental hygienist pointed out to me a dark spot that had shown up on the edge of the X-ray she had just taken. She called in the dentist who recommended I have the spot reviewed by an oral surgeon as soon as an appointment could be had.

A few days later, there I was, having a much more complex X-ray taken, followed by a conversation with the surgeon:

That dark spot on my dental X-ray turned out to be a cyst.

“There’s no reason to think this is malignant; in fact, I’m virtually certain it’s a cyst. But it needs to come out.”

“Okay, what does that entail?”

“Well, I’ll detach your palate to open up a space to remove the growth.”

“Detach my palate?”

“You’ll be asleep. When you wake up, you’ll start to swell and have bruising, and the top of your mouth will feel like your worst pizza burn ever. And you’ll have stitches between most of your upper teeth.”

“What about the hole left behind?”

“I’ll fill that with donor bone.”

“Donor bone?”

“Yes, from the bone bank.”

I had gone from a routine teeth cleaning a few days earlier to learning I had a growth in my head that needed to be removed and the hole left behind needing to be filled with donor bone from the bone bank. That’s a lot to wrap one’s mind around. I will say, the surgeon did a great job of answering my questions in a simple and straightforward way. I left her office with the surgery scheduled for her first available opening, about three weeks later.

Two days post-op…

I’m writing two weeks after the surgery, having just returned from my post-op appointment in which the surgeon pronounced me well on my way to recovery. The “pizza burn” has pretty much healed. The stitches have dissolved. The swelling in my face that blackened my left eye and caused it to swell shut is gone. And, most importantly, the pathology report came back as the surgeon predicted, a benign cyst, a nasopalatine cyst to be precise.

She did tell me that mine was odd in how it grew and for its size, the largest she has seen in her career.

A large cyst means a large hole was created. At the post-op visit, I asked her how exactly the hole was filled. I had been picturing that somehow the donor bone would be shaped to fill the hole (bone is hard after all, right?), and that in some clever manner this shape would be squeezed into my face while my palate was detached.

“No,” she said, “the donor bone is actually granulated. It’s like sand, which makes it easy to put in the cavity. Over time, it will solidify and merge with your bone.”

I was fascinated by this, imagining her filling the hole with a sand-like material, maybe using a funnel, like I do to fill the pepper mill. She showed me an X-ray she took after the surgery was completed and while I was still unconscious.

The rounded section inside the highlighted area is filled with granulated donor bone.

“There, that round spot is where I put the granulated bone. You can kind of see how it looks a little different than the area around it.”

“Can you tell me more about the donor bone, where it came from, that sort of thing?”

“Well, there are people who donate their bodies to science. Among the different ways these bodies are used include harvesting bones. What we used in your surgery came from what we call the bone bank.”

I found this supremely interesting but didn’t know what else to say. I mentioned that I had this vague recollection of talking to her after the surgery, asking her if I could find out who the donor was so I could thank this person’s family (and maybe know whose bone was at that moment starting to merge with my face).

She laughed, “Yes, you did ask about that. We really have no way of knowing.”

And with that, there was no more to say other than pleasantries. I thanked her for her good work and left the office, a place close enough to where I live that I could easily walk home.

Outside, it was overcast with a bit of drizzle, a pretty stereotypical fall day in Seattle. One foot in front of the other, looking down at the sidewalk, I was still thinking about the donor. I pictured a person making arrangements to have their body donated to science. I wasn’t sure how this happened, if there was some governmental office one goes to in order to make this arrangement or something more simple, like how I’m listed as an organ donor on my driver’s license.

I also started thinking about this as an act of kindness, kindness being a topic to which I’ve devoted a great deal of my life. In the early 90’s I offered what is likely the first online kindness class, and I’ve only expanded my offerings from there. I keep an archive of what I’ve created, all available for free, at kindliving.net.

Several years ago, responding to requests from several of my kindness students scattered throughout the world, I created a class I called “Anonymous Kindness.” Scheduled over ten weeks, each Sunday night I posted an “assignment,” a suggestion for a kindness act that the participants would complete anonymously over the next week. A couple of days later I would send them a message designed to stoke their thoughts and enthusiasm, what I called a message of inspiration. And I ended each week by providing them a summary message, one reflecting on my thoughts about that week’s assignment and their responses to it, which by then they were to have posted to our class website.

It was a wonderful experience for me and, I think, for most of the several dozen participants.

An early assignment had to do with completing at least one and ideally several small acts of kindness. I suggested that opportunities to complete these often come upon us spontaneously, like allowing a driver to merge in front of us, returning grocery store carts to the store, cleaning up paper towels in a public restroom, that sort of thing.

Now, as I was walking home from the oral surgeon’s office, I thought about how simple, how small, of an act it was for me to have checked a box on my driver’s license form to become an organ donor. I wondered again about the donor of the granulated bone in my face. How simple, how small, of an act was it for them to have done something that started a chain of events that led to their bone becoming part of my face, part of me?

It was both small and magnificently huge.

This is the point that I made in my reflection message the week of the “small kindness act” assignment, that we actually will not know how big of an impact our small acts might have. Waving a driver to go in front of you could change their whole demeanor. They may feel more apt to be kind, thoughtful, to someone they see. And then on and on. One small act leads to many small acts that together change the world.

That’s The Butterfly Effect applied to human action.

The back of a sign I saw on my walk home.

A smile, which just a few days earlier I couldn’t manage because of the swelling, came over me. I touched my tender cheek, the space above where the granulated bone was placed, and imagined the donor. At one point this person was alive and went for a walk, the bone in them aiding in their movement. Now that bone was in me.

Whose bone is it, I wondered.

It’s theirs, it’s mine. It’s… it’s, and then an epiphany, it’s ours.

It’s our bone.

And if it’s our bone, then everything is ours, meaning everything is to share. It’s interconnectedness. It’s wholeness. It’s oneness.

Turning onto my block, I had a little chuckle, given I like to play with words. A pun had dawned on me, one that also carried for me profound meaning. The oral surgeon had filled the hole in my face, which had led to me experiencing interconnection and oneness.

The pun?

Filling the whole.