Guerrilla Gratitude: Bringing Light Into Our World


                        

                                    by Neal Lemery

(Published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 9/12/2022)

Any act, any kind word, is capable of making a change for the better in our world. Each of us has so many opportunities to make it a better place.  A few kind words at the grocery store or post office, a simple act of kindness to help someone along in their day, maybe a cheery note or a phone call. It can all make a difference.  

            I was in a hurry last week as I came into my favorite coffee shop, intent on getting to work on what I thought was an important project, one that couldn’t wait. 

            I pulled open the coffee shop door, focused on ordering my coffee.  I nearly ran over a woman holding two cups of coffee and looking stressed.  I looked behind her, seeing her frail mother, struggling with her cane and trying to keep up with her daughter.  

            It was time to pause and show a little kindness.  I pulled the door fully open and held it for them, letting the woman with the two hands of coffees navigate outside, as she offered her arm to her mother. They shuffled out the door, both of them thanking me, and breaking into smiles.  I muttered “no problem,” and smiled back.  

            It was time for me to take a breath, admire the beauty of the fall day; time for some gratitude.  The world had given me an opportunity to be kind, make people happy and take care of the community. 

            The opportunities continued.  A couple had followed me in, seemingly in a hurry to get their coffee and resume their journey.  I stepped back, letting them have first place in the queue for the barista.  The man gave me a funny look, like I was doing something strange, out of the ordinary.  

            “No problem,” I said.  “I’m taking it easy today.” I repeated the smiles I’d received from the mother and daughter, and felt my day brighten. 

            He just nodded, likely not knowing how to respond.  There was a lesson or two there.  At least, a lesson for me, taking time to let things unfold, to be part of an accommodation in someone’s day, making things go easier.  But, I got my reward: a nod, perhaps a sense of someone being kind and gracious to them, maybe some reflection on what the day was about.  

            I’d assumed they were on vacation, which is hopefully a time for some rest, a pause from the routine of daily life, and simply enjoying a sunny fall day in a beautiful place, topped off with some great coffee. The least I could do for them was to be kind. 

            My coffee shop punch card was filled by my usual order, and I gave it to the barista, asking them to use it to treat the next person who would come through the door.  I’ve been reading a book about “guerrilla gardening”, where you surreptitiously add beauty to public space. Perhaps this is “guerrilla gratitude”. We can all be rebels with a cause. 

            When I checked in at a hospital last week for some lab work, a very kind man gently and efficiently guided me through the process, even walking me over to the lab and then guided me to my next appointment.  He was extraordinary. Yet for him, it seemed just an ordinary day, just doing his job. He made my wife and me laugh and feel at ease, as he went about his work. His saintliness was just what I needed, calming my anxiety and frenzy. 

            Other employees were also extraordinarily kind and helpful, bringing to me an atmosphere of gentleness, welcoming, and professionalism. You could tell they loved their work and were proud of their competence, knowing they were saving lives. It was nice to see that a large organization doing important work appreciated great customer service. 

“If you light a lamp for someone else, it will also brighten your path,” said Buddha.  We need to be a society of lamplighters, and not keep our compassion and kindness hidden away.  It is the treasure we need to share.     

            Life, real life, a good life, is really about kindness and accommodation and patience.   Life is paying it forward, diffusing the crisis of the moment, and quietly getting things done and put in order.  The cost is really non-existent.  A little time, perhaps a few more minutes spent with someone, some kind words, a few deep breaths, and exuding calmness and service to others. We get that back, at least tenfold, in our lives.

            I keep re-experiencing those lessons, and the need to be patient and kind, both on the giving and the receiving parts of life.  Such wisdom bears repeating, along with a whole lot of doing, part of “guerrilla gratitude”.  

9/12/2022

What I Learned This Summer


                       

                                    -by Neal Lemery

(published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, August 29, 2022

            The calendar and the changing light in the mornings and evenings tells me that this season is in transition. We are leaving summer and moving into fall.  Perhaps it is also the appearance of all the teachers’ cars at the nearby school and the chill in the early morning air. 

            September always seems to be the real new year for me.  School starting back up, vacations ending,  the lazy warmth of late summer days, the harvests from the garden, all signal a new beginning.  The county fair and all the summer weekend festivals are over.  There’s an optimism in the air, a time for something new, different. There’s an expectation of change.

            And, there’s nothing like a bout of Covid in the middle of summer to make one appreciate their health, and the power of one’s body to fight off a potentially fatal illness and to be able, once again, to be active, to do the things one loves to do. I’ve had the time to reflect on what I’ve learned this summer.

  1. There is power in collective action and organization.  The real work comes from the collective actions of a small group of people. I’ve gained new appreciation for the power that small groups of people have for deciding to get something done, and then going about getting it done.  This has been a summer of reunion and reorganization, with groups again putting into motion their activities, and moving ahead in their lives.  By attending these events, I’ve become reacquainted with friends and neighbors, and celebrated the power of togetherness.  From signature gatherers on political issues to re-invigorating social events, things have gotten done.  It is grass roots work and it wouldn’t have happened unless people got moving and worked together.
  2. Relationships are Essential.  Our family gathered for a wedding this summer, resulting in some deep and loving conversations, emotional support, and shedding a lot of the loneliness and isolation of the pandemic.  We realized the importance of family, and became reacquainted with what brings us together.  I took the time to talk with people at the grocery store and on the street, reaffirming our common ties and interests, re-weaving the frayed fabric of what the media often paints as a divided and angry society.  Those brief conversations have taken on a new value, and a new relevance for me.  I’m again realizing the importance of good friends, and deep conversation. 
  3. Connecting with your own creativity brings joy to your heart.  I’ve taken time to play my guitar again, to paint, to take photos, to garden with others, to explore and honor my own creative juices. I again feel the joy of what children experience when they free themselves to simply be, to create and bring joy into their lives. I joined an art group, which meets every week to simply paint together, without judgment or criticism, and simply enjoy the communal act of creation. 
  4. Take time to do the right thing.  I sometimes let things go undone, and I neglect to take responsibility for my own mistakes and missed opportunities.  Sometimes, I need to apologize, to make amends, and to focus on doing what is right.  I sometimes neglect relationships, or let a wondrous act of kindness and service go unrecognized.  I’ve humbled myself, and reached out, making connections, sometimes apologizing, and often simply recognizing and appreciating the good works of others.  I’ve learned the power of the sincere sympathy card or note of thanks, and how why that may seem insignificant, receiving that acknowledgement moves people to tears. The price of a card and a stamp is incredible, and changes lives. Appreciating others and embracing them, loving them is really what we are here for. I need to do that more often.
  5. Experiencing nature is an essential part of self-care. I often forget to take care of myself.  Having Covid this summer was a re-set on that value for me.  Self-care can keep you alive and upright, and able to get back to your to-do list, and the things that bring you love and joy.  The other day, I was at loose ends, and the things I thought I needed to do that day dropped off of the calendar.  I took that time, and went outside. I went to the beach, the forest, and sometimes just looked up into the sky. I spent the day enjoying the day for what it was, an incredible gift.  I was reminded that life can be beautiful, that we live in a gorgeous place, that I can find peace and contentment anywhere I look.  I took photos of flowers, really looking at a single flower, examining and taking in all of its beauty. I need self-care. If I was frank with my doctor about my need for self-care, they’d put it on my medication list, and expect me to follow through.  Take time for me.  Respect and honor me.  And let me take myself outside and into the fresh air and sunshine. 

8/29/22