I have stumbled on a new way of celebrating my birthday, and it is so pleasing, I have to share it.
A few moths ago I came across this post, just as I was starting to sweat about turning the big 3-0 myself. The idea of spending the day doing random acts of kindness sounded like a great way to avoid wallowing or even just avoid being focused on myself, whether in a positive or negative way.
So first, I made a plan. I wanted to do something that was truly random, not just helping people that I picked to help, or something, and I thought it would be better (somehow, I don't really know why) if I did things where the person receiving it wouldn't have to say thank you. I think I tend to get a little attached to the gratitude aspect of doing nice things for people, which really works against the real purpose of being generous. So I wanted to do something that would not result in any thank-yous, at least not to me.
I dropped C off at school. Pulling out of the preschool parking lot, I still didn't know what exactly I would do. Something was pulling me to the bookstore, so there I went. I popped Norah into the sling and went in. I wanted to do something symbolic (I am a true English student -- I love a good dose of symbolism; I can't help it) so I bought six $5 gift cards -- $30 for 30 years. I sat in the cafe and filled out the cards, saying "Here is a random act of kindness, just for you -- have a blessed day!" I thought, $5 is not going to make or break anyone, but it would be enough to put a smile on my face, if I were receiving it.
I had some tea while I waited for the ink in the cards to dry (which took a surprisingly long time!) and Norah ate some shortbread sticks. Or, rather, she ate about 50% of the shortbread sticks and turned the rest into spitty shortbread paste. She had a great time and I have a giant shortbread paste smear on my red birthday shirt to prove it.
Then, I wandered around the store with my random gift cards, deciding where to put them. I ended up in the baby book section, where I stuck one in the Dr. Sears Breastfeeding book. This exact book put me in tears (it's the one that says if you really want to breastfeed, you will be able to, so failures in breastfeeding are therefore failures of your will as a mother -- great stuff to read while you are struggling to BF). I figured any woman reading that book could use a pick-me-up. Then, my eye caught the YA section. Here, I spent three of the cards, tucking one in Matilda, my favorite book of all time, and one in Secret Garden and My Side of the Mountain, two of my other favorites as a 8-12 year-old. I had two cards left. One I stuck in a chair in the sit-and-read section, remembering how many hours of studying I did in chairs like that, and then I was headed to the how-to section, when a gossipy teen novel caught my eye. I can't remember what it was called, but it looked ridiculous. I started to walk away, and I heard the monologue in my head: "I'm not putting a card in there. That kind of reader wouldn't appreciate it."
Holy crap, the voice in my head is a huge snob!
I turned around and put the card right in that book, just to teach her a lesson. The kindness was supposed to be random, not discriminatory. ;D
It was fun. Pretty soon after that I left the store, packed a lunch, and picked up C. We headed to Wakulla Springs to spend the afternoon with Ben's cousin and her babes, and we had a wonderful, sunshiney day. One of those days that make me glad to live in Florida. The weather yesterday really was like a dream. Thanks to Mother Nature for such a great birthday gift!
I had a great seafood dinner and a nighttime trip to wander around Walmart and catch up with Heather, who I hadn't chatted with in a while.
So, even if my story stopped there, it would be a fantastic day. Sunny, fun, sparkly, and illuminated by the enjoyment of having the time for a few random acts of kindness.
But here's the thing, friends -- the universe got up a little earlier than me yesterday. Oddly enough, in spite of my 6 gift cards, I actually received more random acts of kindness -- in one day! -- than I gave out. In order:
1. After walking C to his classroom, one of the preschool teachers calls out my name. I turn and look, and she is holding up my wallet, which I had dropped from my pocket in the parking lot (!!!) She said she pulled in right next to me and saw it, so she figured it was mine. I thank her profusely, envisioning what my birthday would have consisted of if I had had to cancel and replace all the cards in my wallet. I shudder at the thought.
2. Upon arriving at the bookstore, a lady rushes to hold the door open for me.
3. While buying the gift cards, I tell the cashier that I am going to fill out the gift cards in the cafe, so I don't need a bag. He asks me if I have a pen, and offers to let me borrow one if I need it. No thanks, I say, I have one in my pocket.
4. In the cafe, the barista makes me a hot chai. I tell him I have been craving chai for days and am glad to find it there in the cafe. He makes the drink and tells me he put extra chai concentrate in it just so it would taste more like chai even with the steamed milk added.
5. Upon sitting down to fill out the cards, I discover that in fact I do not have my pen (maybe it fell out with the wallet in the preschool parking lot?). I go back to the cashier and tell him I do not have a pen, and he searches several register stations until he finds a really nice pen, which he hands over.
6. While I am sitting back in the cafe filling out the cards, an older lady comes over and tells me how beautiful and happy Norah looks.
7. Arriving back at preschool to pick up C, a whole crowd of moms and kids halt and move to the side so that I can come through the door first. "You first," they say. "You have a baby." At this point I am starting to feel like I am on candid camera...
8. While buying some food for our picnic at Chik Fil-A, someone from the kitchen area bags up all my food and comes through the side door with it. "I'll carry it out to the car for you," she says. "It looks like you have your hands full." That's right. Carryout service at a fast food restaurant (!).
9. At the Springs, Kellie and I get too ambitious and decide to take all of our gear and four tired children back to the cars in one trip. Halfway up the hill there is a terrible explosion of stuff, and an empty lemonade pitcher goes flying. A random passerby stops and helps me pick it up and get it situated again.
10. While checking out at the Costco liquor store (buying a couple of handles for the party on Saturday) I realize that (of course) my ID is somehow not in my wallet. I say it's all right, I'll come back tomorrow and buy this. The clerk squints and then asks me what year I was born. 1981, I say. It's my birthday! And then I find my ID in the outside pocket of my wallet, saving him from having the bend the law for me. But he was about to anyway, which would have saved me the trouble of going back the next day.
The last item on my list -- #11 -- is a little weird, eerie even. For some reason (the old Holy Spirit whisperings, perhaps) I wanted to cap off my day by buying gas for Heather. But I didn't know how to say it, because I thought she would probably refuse, or be embarrassed, and I don't want my desire to be generous to make someone else embarrassed, because that is not the point of sharing. So at the gas pump, she swipes her credit card and it asks her for a PIN number. Now, I have used those same pumps many times, and it has never asked me for a PIN for a credit card, ever. It asks a PIN for a debit card and a zip code for a credit card, every time. But she tried the transaction three times, and every time it asked for a PIN. She sighed. I guess I can't get gas, she said. So there I was, forced to buy her gas, without having to put her on the spot by offering to pay or anything like that. So I even got to give something to a friend without having to be thanked for random kindness.
So that's it. I did 7 nice things, and I got 11 of them back. So I start out today, at 30 years and one day old, with a debt of four nice things waiting on me as I walk out into the world.
God is so good! Here's to this next decade of my life... so far, so good! :)