Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Pass it on

Too often we forget the importance of kindness in our lives. I never truly appreciated the impact of committing random acts of kindness until I found myself the recipient of one.
My son and I set out on Good Friday on a trip to the U.P., to spend the holiday weekend with my grandmother and an aunt. We pulled into the drive-thru lane at a fast food restaurant in Portage to order a light lunch, something to tide us over until we could sit down for dinner at my favorite pizza place.
When I reached out to pay for our meal, the fast food employee surprised me by pressing change and a receipt into my hand. She told us that the customer in the car ahead of us in line had paid for our meal, and asked that we receive the change. We had no idea who was behind the wheel of the white car with Minnesota plates. We smiled and waved at the driver as they pulled out of the restaurant.
The four-hour trip north passed by quickly while I came down from the emotional high of such an unexpected gesture of kindness. I temporarily set aside my own troubles while trying to think of ways I could pay it forward. Just like a great comeback pops into your head hours after a confrontation, the most obvious solution didn’t occur to me until we’d been on the road for an hour.
I should have passed the change back to the drive-thru clerk and asked her to use it for it the car behind me. She’d looked both surprised and delighted to play a part in that stranger’s act of kindness.
The next day, after catching up with three classmates over coffee while we brainstormed ideas for an upcoming class reunion, I left money with the barista. I told her I was buying coffee for the next person to order, and why.
Harold Kushner said, “When you carry out acts of kindness you get a wonderful feeling inside. It is as though something inside your body responds and says, ‘Yes, this is how I ought to feel.’”
He’s right. It feels good, even better than being the recipient. I’m already plotting future acts of kindness.
You can, too.
Pay the toll for the car behind you, or drop money in a parking meter about to expire.
Drop off baked goods for police officers, firefighters or teachers, with a note letting them know how much you appreciate their service.
Leave an extra-large tip after eating out.
Finding ways to commit random acts of kindness don’t have to be monetary. Smile at strangers, hold doors open, wave at the people in cars that pass you by or let someone ahead of you in line at the grocery store or bank.
Be generous, but sincere, with compliments.
The Rev. Henry Burton wrote, “Have you had a kindness shown? Pass it on;’Twas not given for thee alone, Pass it on.”

Think twice before starting new year with a new look

(Originally published in 2005)
Many start the New Year with a resolution regarding their appearance, like trying to lose weight. Health and fitness changes are good for you.
I don’t recommend trying to make a drastic change, though, to other aspects of one’s appearance. I speak from experience.
At my family’s second Christmas in Marble, Colorado in 1987, I received three gifts that stand out. One was my first diamond ring, which still fits. Another was a makeup mirror that has not stopped working in 17 years. The last gift is memorable in its own way.
That present was a frosting kit. Not the kind you spread on a cake. This is a kit to “frost” your hair. My mother had taken pity on my efforts to lighten my mousy hair and bought the kit as a present.
You see, when I was in middle school, a geek with glasses and braces, I was convinced that I’d be so much better looking as a blonde. I’d tried using a bottle of spray-on lightener to little effect. The spray is activated by exposure to sunlight or, in my case, the heat of a blow dryer. This is not good for the health of one’s hair.
One school night in January of 1988, my father was out of town and my mother, sister and I were looking for something to do.
“Let’s frost your hair,” said my mother.
I got the kit from my room and we set up an at- home salon at the kitchen table.
The kit came with a plastic cap, a pick that looks like a knitting needle and hair lightener. The cap fits tightly over the head and has little dots on it, where you can stick the pick through to pull out a strand of hair. This is so just a few select strands will be exposed to the lightener.
My mother, bless her heart, is not the most patient of souls, especially when it comes to dealing with hair. As a child, having my hair brushed or put into pigtails or a ponytail for school was not something I looked forward to. At bath time, we used to beg her to let dad wash our hair, because he could do it without excessive tugging. Mom’s technique left a lot to be desired.
So there I was, wearing the cap, with my mother jabbing the hook at my head. Ouch.
Once she was satisfied that she’d yanked enough hair through the cap, she applied the lightener.
“It burns,” I said.
“Oh, it is supposed to do that,” was her nonchalant reply.
When the timer went off, I got into the shower to rinse the dye out of my hair.
Stepping out, I looked up to see my mom backing away from me, an expression of horror on her face. She was repeating, “I’m so sorry” over and over again.
I looked in the mirror to see what was wrong.
My hair was white.
Instead of a few highlights to brighten up my color, the reverse had happened. Now I had a few streaks of my natural color while the rest of my head had no color at all.
To make matters worse, my hair was mush, completely over-processed.
Keep in mind that my hair then was past my shoulders in length, with big 1980s bangs and lots of layering.
“We have to move!” I wailed, dreading the idea of going to school like that.
It was now after 9 p.m. Mom had a friend who was a beautician, so we piled in the car and headed to her house after calling to explain the emergency.
My hair had to be almost completely chopped off. I went from looking 13 to being able to pass for 60.
I’m not sure how I made it through school the next day, and have a blessedly vague memory of it. I do recall many odd looks, plenty of questions, and laughter when my back was turned.
Very few photos exist of me from that time, because I’ve destroyed the ones I got my hands on. By October of that year, my hair had grown out enough that only the ends looked frosted.
That incident cured me of doing anything crazy to my hair for many years. I tried a few more times in college to lighten my hair, but finally decided to live with the color I was born with.
It must be a hair color passed on from my mother, although we can’t be sure, as she was a bottled blonde up until the past year. My father has dark hair, and, at 52, has so little grey that friends accuse him of coloring it.
I’ve had my share of hair catastrophes, but nothing was ever as bad as me with white hair. My sister had her share of catastrophes too. She was the victim of an unfortunate perm that made her look like a well-known singer from the 1960s, a well-known male singer.
What lessons did I take away from the granny hair?
First, that my mother gets absolutely zero input on what my hairstyle or color is.
Second, that if you want to make a drastic change to your hair color, visit a salon.
The most valuable lesson is one that took me years to understand. Happiness does not come from appearance, but from within. Learn to love yourself for who you are, not who you think you can be.
Have a happy new year and don’t make any dramatic changes to your appearance. Consider a new lipstick instead.