Lately I’ve been feeling the weight of the “all about me” mentality. Someone revs in front of my car to get one car-length further on their own voyage. A door held open for a stranger is met with a blank stare – no smile or thanks. Someone speeds dangerously close to my daughter and I as we pick up garbage around our neighborhood. I’ve been told that perhaps my expectations of strangers are too high, but why should I wait to see what the lowest code of social behavior is?
I try to stay optimistic. I have taught my kids the importance of saying please and thank you, and to use it liberally. We try to send thank you notes. We have started making baked goods when friends come to visit. And these little expressions of giving and gratitude feel right and good. I know theoretically that giving of oneself should be the goal, but sometimes in my more cynical moments I ask myself whether it would be easier to be more selfish.
I think we can agree that it would be easier but I don’t think that it would lead to me being any happier. I’ve just been needing some proof of this to see theory in action, and reaffirm my faith in the finer points of humanity.
I decided that Monday would be a good day to hang out around home and get some work done around the house – I could put off witnessing my life-affirming moments. I put a few loads of laundry in at the shared laundry room. The kids played in the neighboring indoor play area while I used the phone to remove past residents’ names from mail databases and cancel out junk mail. Oh the thrill of tedious work! I had taken this job on to save my neighbors time, and to save us all from having to deal with waste paper while delivering mail – I considered it part of my contribution to my community.
Most of the calls were straight-forward and courteous. Then I called a cable company representative who set up one road block after the other to canceling out the pounds of solicitations that come per year. Frustration levels were rising and eventually he put me on hold to see what could be done. I didn’t get the result I wanted, but I thanked him at the end of the call. I could hear the surprise in his voice and the call ended on a positive note (for both of us.) My next call was to a cremation company. The representative was extremely thankful that I was being so nice to her. I was seeing a common thread as she told me people typically were angry and rude; I told her that we were both better served by treating one another nicely.
Somewhere along the way, a neighbor came in to put on her laundry. I had used up two machines already and had a couple more loads to do. I let her jump in and do her laundry. She took a minute out and played with my kids, and stayed with them while another neighbor came into the laundry area to help me tinker with my broken blender. The blender job became a detailed operation and my daughter slunk out to play with her friends that were just outside. I was jumping between watching my son play indoors, my daughter play outdoors, helping tinker with the blender, and move wet laundry into the dryer.
When I realized I hadn’t seen my daughter for a few minutes, I poked my head outside to find a silent playground. She was out of my sight. I started to search for her, and found her twenty paces due east in my neighbor’s house. She came back with me to the workshop and watched as my blender-repairing cohort tightened the last screws. We tried it out and low and behold, we had saved this little appliance from the landfill! I placed the blender in my hamper of dry clothes and made my way back to my house with two happy kids.
My point is this: The redeeming and profound moments in my life are most often found in the mundane. I am blessed to have found a community that values connection and working through tribulations together. There are gatherings when we share intense joys and concerns and those are wonderful, but the bread and butter is found in the daily exchanges when I can help or be helped. And when I give to another, I see and feel the benefit in a more positive synergy with that person. I canceled out junk mail and let someone use the laundry machine in exchange for childcare, appliance repair, and good conversation. Not bad for a day’s work.