A few months ago, I received an invitation to attend an event at The White House. I’m an ordinary guy with no special achievements, accolades, or accomplishments, so I was struggling to find some purpose in this unusual serendipity. My noble friends convinced me to turn the invitation into a celebration of ordinary, everyday acts of kindness, and I absolutely loved the idea!
I asked friends to perform an act of kindness and share the story with me so I could compile them into a little booklet to present to Michelle Obama. Despite the very short timeline, dozens of stories started streaming into my inbox. Though I felt warmed by every kind act, it was impossible to put every story into the final compilation, and that was perfectly OK, since the kindness had already benefitted those who performed it, received it, and were touched by its ripples.
Below are some of the moving, simple, extra-ordinary acts of kindness that happen every day and all around us which got shared with the First Lady. And what a blessing it was for me to hear all these wonderful stories, and become the instrument that delivered them to the President’s wife!
Tonight some friends and I got together and hosted a visitor, who is touring the U.S. after spending the last several years on humanitarian projects in Kenya, Rwanda, and India. After hearing his inspiring reflections, we were led in a closing reflection where he handed each of us a little notecard with a quote on it.
My quote read:
“Things don’t have to change the world to be important.” -Steve Jobs
I thought it was a beautiful insight and, after being inspired by many stories of goodness rippling out into the world, I decided to anonymously share this little quote with some people in the neighborhood. So, I took a couple rose-colored lilies, some hershey’s kisses, and the little notecard with the Steve Jobs quote and arranged them in front of the door across the street. I placed a smile card beside it, just for a little extra explanation.
Then I tiptoed away. I hope they bring smiles to the neighbors when they open the door! But regardless of their reaction, this little act brought smiles to my face and warmth to my heart, which is a little extra warmth added to the world. :)
I had to take a bus to meet my husband in a different part of town. After buying my ticket, i asked the bus conductor to keep the change & use it again some else’s ticket, especially when they can’t find the right change (always a battle on buses in bangalore :-))
We were super hungry later that evening, and while looking for a place to eat, we stopped to buy some lemon from a road-side bandi-wala. My husband started a conversation with the old man selling vegetables, who was also smoking a bedi (local cigarette). He then went to a near-by restaurant, packed some hot pulao. He gave this to the old man and made him promise to try to give-up smoking. He agreed with a smile.
In the meanwhile I decided to buy some flowers for the lady from whom i bought some fruits. Across the road there were a few ladies selling flowers near a temple. When i bought and paid for the flowers (jasmine), the sweet lady who sold me the jasmine also gave me a couple of roses and some tulsi leaves. I was tagged! Kindness comes in all forms. I took the jasmine flowers back to the fruit-bandi lady & she was happy to take the flowers home.
Earlier that morning (before i got your email) i had a wonderful time planting trees with some kids in their school. My husband & I sponsored the saplings as a wedding gift for our friend, and i was lucky to actually go do the planting in this school with the super enthusiastic and smart kids. The kids will take care of the plants ;-)
My wife’s friend has a rental house in Santa Rosa and some new tenants with three little girls are moving in on Monday. The house has a broken heat exchanger in the heating system so it’s not working at this time. The house if not heated gets extremely cold so I’ve been asked to go figure out a solution. I’m sure I’m not going to be able to fix the broken heat exchanger that could cost thousands so I’m bringing up some portable electrical heaters so the children don’t freeze there tootsies off. This should buy them some time until the proper people can fix the problem.
The charity that I pour my heart and soul into sent out a request to please send birthday cards to a terminally ill (fighting cancer) boy named Kiandon who is turning 5 this weekend. This truly touched my heart so I forwarded the message in a private message to about 15-18 of my girlfriends and asked the same. One of my friends knew of a children foundation through her church to spread joy to other terminally ill children. They send Joy Jars all over to these kids to cheer them up. My friend put a request in to have one sent to Kiandon. Point being… people come together by just one act of kindness (me asking my friends to help) and now this little boy will get tons of birthday letters from many people from the charity I help with in addition to a Joy Jar!!!! It makes me so happy that we can bring joy and happiness to this little boy who is fighting cancer.
The weather got really cold here all of a sudden. We have been feeding some stray cats and imagined how hard it must be for them to endure such extreme cold without any shelter. In honor of the Obama’s, we created a covered area with warm blankets for them to take refuge.
Michelle, You are an inspirational woman. The time and devotion you put into healing the world is something I look up to greatly. Your kindness in looking out for the health of the future generation, your international presence as a strong woman, and your extremely supportive role as a wife are all amazing qualities that you exude so well. Women all around the world look up to your grace, style, and personality. I am so proud of all that you are doing, and you should be proud of you too!
I’m currently in China and we just finished our mission yesterday. Over 15 volunteers came together from around the world and we performed surgery on 87 patients, fixing their cleft lip or palate. One of my favorite stories from the trip is about an 18 month old girl whose cleft lip we repaired. Her 26 year old mother had an unrepaired cleft lip and we decided to perform surgery on her too! When we told her that she could also have surgery, she was speechless! Mom and baby came back a week after surgery and both were doing amazing :)
About 9 months ago my friend and colleague Susan B. contacted me wanting to support the unfolding of my documentary film “Money & Life” (www.moneyandlifemovie.com). She lives in Bethesda, Maryland and I live in Ashland, Oregon. She got together with her two colleagues Myra J. and Steven L. and the three of them proposed an advanced screening of the film-in-progress in the DC area. I said “yes” to this kindness.
Over the next 9 months they did all the work to arrange and promote the screening. Susan even sent me a check for my flight to get there. It dawned on me a few weeks before the screening that I would be flying into DC the day after the 2012 election and that we would be screening two nights after the election. While not consciously intended, it felt serendipitous and auspicious.
As I few across the country on November 7th, I reflected on the founding of this country on the principles of Freedom. And how, at the heart of it, my film is really about the reclaiming of our innate freedom to know who we are at the core, to regenerate our innate creativity as human beings, to remember what we care about and give the gift of our lives to That. I called on the ancestors and Lady Freedom to be present with me and us for the screening.
Susan picked me up from the airport that night. She took me to her home and fed me and tucked me in. The screening took place at the Lyceum in Alexandria the next evening, November 8th. About 100 people attended, more than anticipated. We watched the film and had a most generative, inspiring and heartfelt dialogue for almost 2 hours after the viewing. Everyone stayed for the conversation, because you could feel we are all hungry for it. We are hungry for a revolution of love. Hungry to come together to create a more beautiful world because collectively our hearts tell us it is possible. Hungry to live more deeply and actually into the dream and destiny of America. That night we could all feel and taste the probability!
The evening even generated $1,000 for Money & Life in proceeds! And it generated so so so much more for me in the intangible realms, confirming profoundly why I have stuck with this film for 4 long years!
Susan’s kindness (and Myra’s and Steven’s) in producing this event, allowed me to give my gift of the film and my presence to these 100 people. We were all impacted and the ripples are already moving out. The three of us met for lunch at Union Station before I hopped on the train that would take me down to Virginia to visit with my family. We marveled together in reflection of the screening and sensed into possibilities for the Spring when the film is released. And I gave thanks to them for their great generosity.
As my train left the station and the pinks of the twilight sky were lighting up the Washington Monument, the Capitol Building and the reflecting pond, I received the email from my friend Rahul (who is in the film) with the invitation to share a story of kindness that he could take to Diwali at the White House (just a week after the screening). I smiled while staring out the window watching the heart of DC recede from view as the train snaked its way Westward.
It’s impossible to pinpoint the origination of this act of kindness, because it was the kindness of my friend Tesa who introduced me to Susan, and it was the kindness of my friend Brock who introduced me to Tesa and it was the kindness of his sister Jenna that introduced me to him and so on. In the end, it traces all the way back to the heart of the Creator. And the ripples of this act of kindness palpably connect the past with the future in the present.
We can never know the true reach of a simple act of kindness. May the ripples of this one flow out in the kindness with which it was gifted.
We knew our neighbors were going to be gone the entire day and we knew their dog was cooped up at home feeling all alone. In honor of Michelle, Malia, and Sasha, we decided to take him for a great walk. He was much happier! :)
We started a small in-house garden at our home by planting fruit trees in our front yard and nurturing soil for our soon to be vegetable patch. :) Happy Diwali. :)
I know a person who has a niece who is building a house for the family. She is totally stressed since money is tight and she has a son studying engineering in a foreign country. She is unable to meet his misc. expenses of daily living. Her uncle steps in and pays the expenses for two years to the huge relief and appreciation of his niece. His only condition is when the student graduates and works, he does the same for another deserving struggling student.
We adopted Rico, our golden retriever, from a shelter 6 years ago. He has become such an integral part of our family and we can’t imagine our lives without him.
We are very sadden by how people and animal suffering from the devastation caused by Sandy. In particular, we know that many pet owners like us would be devastated much more by the losses and/or injuries of their pets than by any material losses.
So, we, as a family (including Rico), made a small donation to the Humane Society of New York, in the hope that we can help animal lovers like us to cope with this difficult time, and to be re-united with their pets.
I have been hosting “Friday gatherings” in our neighborhood park for two years now. It has been so beautiful to witness this gathering unfold. As we live on a very busy street, it is often hard to get to know your neighbors. Two springs ago, our family walked the neighborhood sharing a hand made invitation to come and gather at the park, and bring a seasonal dish to share and yourselves. We gather for a few hours over dinnertime. From the start, we had a great turnout! Some Fridays we would have close to 30 people, of all generations. The children would all play together, and the adults had leisurely time for conversation and music! A few friends (who adopted our neighborhood gatherings) came with ukulele’s and guitars. Some Fridays, we would have maybe 6. It didn’t matter, each gathering had it’s own gifts and blessings. Over time, I noticed that our neighbor across the street was not attending. He had a brain hemorrhage a few years back, and is restricted to a wheelchair. He is a kind, soft spoken man. On Fridays, I would walk across the street to his house and invite him, and he would always politely decline. So with your inspired invitation, I called him and asked if I could bring him dinner. He lives alone and was so grateful for the thought and company! We had a lovely long chat and I was no happy to be reconnected with him again. It is a beautiful reminder to never forget the simple gesture of a kind act.
A friend called me last week, his friend had called him in desparation and my friend asked if I could help her. She had been an alcoholic for years during and after a violently abusive marriage. Following this period after she managed to leave the marriage, she had stayed sober for four years. However over the last year she had started drinking again to the point that last week she had lost control over her finances after spending it on alcohol and could not pay her mortgage, ended up in hospital after passing out drinking and could not go into work. She contacted my friend last week in a cry of desparation and said she needed help because she wanted to stop this downward spiral that was destroying her life.
He called me and asked me if I could help her. He knows that I have trained in a counseling method which clears big emotional blocks which hold people back in different ways. Of course I said I would help.
I met her and she was in an emotionally bad state but she had hit rock bottom and reached a point where she wanted to stop her out of control drinking. She also had no money left over this month and said she could not pay me for my time. So I offered to help her for free. We met every night after work this last week and we spent hours each night clearing up the underlying emotional issues which were making her reach for the alcohol. She is an incredible person who has been through a painful journey and the alcohol had become a coping mechanism. By the end of the week we had worked on and dissolved many emotional issues and she said she felt clearer, lighter and in control. She has not felt the need to reach for alcohol. I will continue to work with her until she clears the underlying pain and dissolves the destructive habit. She is a beautiful inspirational light and I am blown away by her strength, tenacity and incredible journey every time I meet her. This story is dedicated to her light. I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with her.
I gave 3 30-40 minute counseling sessions to help people going through major/difficult life transitions free of charge.
I built a winter animal shelter to help protect two rescue cats from cold weather.
This past weekend I attended the Homecoming football game, and game day celebrations were in full swing with even more alumni than usual joining in and returning to their alma mater. The stadium was packed with fans, and the student section was full of Trojan spirit. However, with more people and more celebrations, there also tends to be more chaos.
As the game went on, a young lady in the seat in front of me began feeling sick. After sitting down for a while, she vomited. Her friends gathered up their things and escorted her out of the stadium. They left behind a small mess on the floor as well as on the jeans and jacket of a young man who was sitting in front of them. When his friends and he realize what had happened they all sort of froze in disbelief and disgust. Then more and more students around them started staring, and some of the young man’s friends actually began to laugh and tease him while he staring, and some of the young man’s friends actually began to laugh and tease him while he struggled to figure out how to react and what to do.
As I saw this scene develop, I grabbed my bottle of water from my bag and reached a couple rows below me to offer it to him. My friend also had a small towel that she had gotten for free earlier that day that she did not want. So I also took this and handed it to him. He thanked me and began to clean himself off with the help of a couple of his friends. My friends saw what I had done and soon after donated their bottles of water to the cause as well. The young man and his friends finished wiping his jeans and jacket and poured the rest of the water on the mess on the floor that the other group had left behind. They thanked my friends and I one more time and quietly left their seats.
Although it is very unfortunate that situations like these occur, especially to innocent bystanders just trying to enjoy their afternoon, I am very proud of my friends for offering help and support in curbing further embarrassment for the young man and preventing it from becoming a big scene. When unexpected life events occur, we should do what we can to extend a caring, consoling, and kind hand to fellow Trojans, and to fellow human beings.
Last night a homeless man in a thin soiled jacket approached us for spare change to buy food. We popped into a nearby store and bought him snacks, warm socks, and t-shirts. He gave us a hug. I think we got the better end of the deal.
Michael was asking for money – just like so many less fortunate people in San Francisco. He approached me on a Sunday afternoon when I was basking in the sun on park bench. My first reaction was to want to say no – it’s a San Franciscan reflex – we get approached no less than 3 times a day for money. For some reason, my reflex paused this time. Perhaps it was because I was a captive audience with no intention of moving from my perfect seat on a glorious weekend afternoon. Or perhaps it was because the very sun that held me captive had melted my heart just enough to let me hear someone’s story. So I said nothing and simply listened. Michael and his wife Alicia lived in a housing project in the city. He was selling a newspaper for a $1 donation that is printed by the homeless coalition and supports those less fortunate. Michael told me that he needed help putting something in his refrigerator and that he was trying do this honestly. He had hit tough times but refused to sell drugs or live dishonestly – there was an earnestness and honesty in his voice that surprised me. I invited Michael to sit down next to me as I told him that I wanted to help him but didn’t feel comfortable giving him cash. I asked him how else I could support him and he suggested a gift card for Safeway. Perfect I said, give me your address and I’ll send you a gift card. So he did. And then I did. 3 weeks later I rode my bicycle to Michael and Alisha’s apartment in the city. The man at the front desk of the housing project confirmed that Michael and Alicia lived in apt 209 but that they weren’t home at the time. I borrowed a scrap of paper and scribbled a quick note reminding him of our conversation. I slipped the $50 Safeway gift card under the door and cycled off. I pondered my bountiful lot in life and the inequality of the universe as I rode my $3,000 bicycle home to my $2,000 a month apartment and hoped that Michael and Alicia’s fridge would be full for a few days.
In the darkness of dusk, a rag picker walks past our home to a garbage dump. Battling the street dogs with a stick in one hand, and hunting for scraps he walks the dark streets, hoping to find something of value before the sun rises and someone else take it all away. He is the early bird looking for the worm. Like Santa in reverse, he fills the huge sack on his back with discarded bottles, cans, paper, cardboard, and the-oh-so precious scrap metal. He trades these pickings at a recycling center to earn enough to feed himself the next day. The following morning sees him back with the sack. I see him when i wake up to meditate.
Last night, i filled one bag with clothes, and another with shoes. Some in good condition, some worth trading. Close to midnight, long after all traffic had ceased and there was little chance of anyone else finding the bags on the street, I walked up to the garbage dump- the very spot that the ragpicker scoured every morning- and left the bags as a gift for him.
On my way, the dogs that welcomed him with snarls, rushed up to me. Finding little use for the clothes and shoes, they too left the bags as a Diwali gift for the rag picker.
A few days ago, I found out that a new mother (I have never met her, but she is a member of a “new mom’s group” in the area) was having some trouble. She is someone who feels quite strongly about breastfeeding and before giving birth, she felt quite strongly about nursing for the entirety of her child’s first year. Her son, who is now 2.5 weeks old, has been losing weight (more than what would be normally expected). It turned out that the mother had not been producing enough breastmilk. The mother and father are extremely scared and stressed, and their son (who is constantly hungry) is also constantly crying. It’s been a very rough start to parenthood. When I heard about this, I started pumping extra milk and then dropped off a supply of frozen breastmilk to her (the bags I have been saving and storing in our freezer and the new milk that I was recently pumping). I made sure to not eat anything with soy or dairy in the event that her son has food allergies. I included some ground fenugreek for her to take to help boost her supply. In the meanwhile, I’ve appealed to other new mothers in the area to donate milk while she boosts her supply. It’s been really special to see the outpouring of support to help this new family get through a tough time.
I let the car behind me park in the parking spot I had been waiting for.
A family in a van, stranded at the airport, needed a jump for their car. I lent my jumper cables and gave them a jump for a safe journey back home.
As I was rounding the corner en route home from a long day of classes I spotted a little girl no more than three years old riding her small bike on the sidewalk. Because she was wearing a helmet I thought an adult must be close by, however on closer inspection I saw no such thing. My conscience would not allow me to drive further as I watched in my rearview mirror that this small child was approaching the end of the sidewalk where I thought that she may attempt to ride her bike into the street. Without further adieu, I made a 365 degree turn in order to further investigate. I rolled down my window and asked the child if there was an adult with her. She smiled and promptly said no. I asked her if there was an adult at home. She said no mommy and daddy. My mother bear instincts heightened as I asked her where her house was. She pointed straight ahead. By this time she had turned the corner and was riding her bike along side of my car. I told her that I thought an adult should be with her when she is riding her bike away from her house. She smiled again. I told her I would watch her until she reached her house. She looked back at me with a look that I interpreted as gratitude for looking out for her safety. I stepped out of my car and walked up to the adult at the house she was aiming for and told the gentleman who looked like he could be her grandfather that I had been concerned when I saw the child riding her bike without any adults present. We shook hands and he thanked me for my concern emanating a felt-sense of gratitude in his presence.
I baked a batch of vegan cookies, sealed them into ziploc bags with Smile Cards, and gifted them to a friend to gift to random strangers.
A chicken randomly flew into our yard and started hanging out there. We went to a local feed store and bought a big bag of chicken food. Now we’re her best friends! She’s living in our back yard under a shrub. Go figure!
I anonymously dropped off some Tibetan incense to a husband & wife couple who are friends of mine. The husband has helped me with issues at my job, the wife has helped with issues around my health, and together they seem like they embody the highest values of Tibetan culture in their wisdom, generosity and compassion. It helps that they love incense too!
I gave almonds to my mama and papa. :)
I helped a limited English speaking Chinese student on the train. She usually rides the Amtrak train but just found out that Metrolink is less expensive. She boarded my train and struggled to ask how to buy Metrolink tickets. I tried to explain that it was through a vending machine but the process is complicated even to explain to an English speaking person. I only had a short time between connections when arriving at Union Station in Los Angeles, but I walked her down from the platform into the station, stood in line with her at the vending machine and taught her how to buy a Metrolink ticket. She was thankful & I was just able to make my connecting train.
We recently had employee reviews at my office, where each of us spent some time with our superiors to evaluate performance, gauge progress, and understand goals. Being a manager, I sat in a few reviews with my own boss and some of the newer associates to provide input. My office is filled with very smart and capable people, so most of the reviews were quite positive, but we had a new associate start about 3 months ago who hasn’t been as quick of a learner as her peers. It was a tough review session, but I felt assured that all of her feedback was constructive, that she was in a safe environment to continue learning, and we would check in with her at the 6 month mark to gauge her progress.
Maybe needless to say, she left the review feeling a bit down about her performance, and approached me on a Friday evening when everyone else had left to ask for advice. I had made plans to have dinner with my husband and some friends about a half an hour before I was approached, but something told me that what she needed most in that moment was not so much my advice, as my attention. So I forgot about my plans, and spent the next hour with her answering questions about my own experiences starting out with this company, some of the challenges I faced and how I overcame them. I don’t feel like I said anything particularly ground-breaking that would be directly relevant to her as she continues to navigate through this industry and understand what kind of role she will have, but I could tell that she felt both grateful for my time and much more at ease regarding her plans towards her own progress here. And I, on the other hand, definitely appreciated the unplanned blip in my Friday night schedule. Because instead of feeling rushed to get to the next place, appointment, meeting or event – I felt present enough to the opportunities I have right in front of me to serve.
In New York City, my friend and I distributed about a dozen hand-written cards of gratitude to public servants in the city for their tireless work to recover from Hurricane Sandy. These notes were written on the tail-end of a day-long meditation gathering the week prior, and were infused with the good wishes of each participant. My friend and I were only two anonymous links in that chain of kindness, but hope that the ripples of that chain will start another chain in each person touched – including ourselves!