Last week I wrote to you on my birthday, letting you know that the idea had dropped in (thanks, Life!) to offer 48 acts of kindness to 48 people in 48 hours. All I can say is, "Wow." I had no idea the profound effect this experience would have on me.
I don't know about you, but for me birthdays can be a grab bag of emotions. One year I might just roll along and savor all the gifts and greetings and attention. Another year I might feel incredibly lost or lonely inside. Sometimes there just isn't enough attention in the world to fill up the pit inside. Sometimes my birthday cup runneth over with joy and celebration. Sometimes the passing of another year fills me with comparison, regret, or questions: I thought I'd be there by now; look at her, she's a decade younger and way more successful; am I living as fully as I can? I do my best each birthday to just stay close by my own side and offer kindness, compassion, and celebration no matter how I'm feeling.
But this year, I hit gold.
This year, with life's perfect guidance to turn my attention to others, I found myself having a birthday that just kept giving and giving and giving. And as cliche as it sounds —and lordy, I know it does— there was no separation at all between myself and the people I was giving to. It was just simply flow. energy. joy. life. offering. receiving. connection.
Every email I received from one of you— "my sister has a heart condition and she is scared," "my daughter tried out for cheerleading and didn't make it," "my friend is grieving for someone she dearly loved," "I am overwhelmed," "my mom is lonely," "she doesn't know how she will get through this" —every email like this cracked my heart open a little more. With each one, I let in the feelings of what it is to be a human being. All the sorrow and disappointment and heartbreak and loneliness.
But I saw so clearly how those feelings don't exist in isolation. Like a vine, wrapped around a tree, each one was encased by someone's great love and concern. So I didn't just see the daughter who felt like a failure. I got to see the mother who loves that daughter with love as big as the moon. I got to see the friend who would do anything to take away the sorrow of someone she loves. I got to see how those places of vulnerability, fear, grief, and anxiety are fertile ground — perfect for compassion to stubbornly poke its little green head out of the hard ground and into the sunlight —not only for the person experiencing them, for but everyone around. I felt that compassion, over and over again.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about a birthday of mine which was really hard. One in which I got to experience, "celebrating in the dark." i can't help but connect the dots to this birthday, seven years later, in which there was also a lot of celebrating in the dark. Every time someone wrote to me about a loved one who was having a hard time, there was the hard time, yes. But there was also the absolute love wrapped around that pain. There was someone in pain. There was a loved one wanting to offer kindness. There was me, a stranger, reaching out in some way to offer compassion. There was the one in pain receiving the kindness and offering back a loving connection. There was me, receiving that connection. There was a feeling of us all being in this together. One moment I'm the stranger giving kindness; next moment you're the one offering. Celebrating, together, in the dark and in the light.
I know I haven't even gotten to tell yet about the various experiences — the flowers and books and gift certificates and poems and all — how and what I chose to offer to each person. But drat, this email is already pretty long. And very shortly, Ian, Bob, Kayne, and I are packing up the car to head to Half Moon Bay for a belated birthday celebration, which includes pumpkins and a hay bale maze and the ocean's roar! I gotta run!
I'll tell more soon. This has truly been an experience in what I call the "circle of giving." And it isn't done. I feel a nudge to continue this 48-48-48 project in some way. I'll keep you posted.
Thank you so much to all the folks who responded by letting me know the people in their life who needed a little extra support and compassion. Each of you deserves the greatest of kindnesses for your big hearts and generous spirits!
Sherry at 48