Be Good or Be Gone

Be Good or Be Gone

The world can be a terrible place. Paris, Beirut, Kenya. Those are the ones we know about. That is what we’re reeling from today. And if you’re not horrified by what the politicians are saying, you’re probably horrified by the hate and vitriol filling your Facebook feed. It’s no wonder we’re feeling overwhelmed, depressed, unable to stymie the flow of tears.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in South Africa, where everywhere exists a stark dichotomy between the stunning beauty and the appalling horror next to it: the poverty, the wealth, the pollution, the wildlife. To be there, you can’t root for the springbok to live and pretend the lion will survive; it’s the paradox of Africa.

I remember a crisp winter day in Stellenbosch, walking out of a store that sold local wines, the sky was that deep blue that only comes with cooler air, the clouds lingering lazily, unable to pull themselves away from the embrace of the grey mountains. A black and brown shepherd mix was coughing and gagging in the parking lot. I watched as it collapsed in front of me, most likely brought down by distemper. My husband, shocked, asked, “What can we do?” And the answer was nothing. Amid all that beauty and tranquility, the dog was dead within minutes.

But the question remains, “What can we do?”

It’s a loaded question, “What can we do?” It causes us to question ourselves, question our abilities, question our limits.

So here’s a little trick I like to do when everything feels out of control, when the world seems dark and unreasonable. It’s my way of pulling myself back up into the world of light.

I compliment people.

Seriously.

Receiving a compliment can boost your self esteem. But giving the compliment? Well, sometimes it’s scary, reaching out to a stranger and telling them something for no real reason. I’ve experienced many an awkward moment, where that person isn’t sure how to react. But once they realize what I’ve said, their face lights up, they smile, and they thank me for making their day that much brighter.

So today as I was leaving work, I decided I’d find something nice about each person I ran across, and if I had the chance, I’d tell them.

First there was the woman who held the door open for me. Her hair was gorgeous!

Then there was the grouchy parking attendant who’s kind of a jerk, but he always smiles when I greet him, so I just waved and said hi. He smiled, of course.

Next was the woman on the phone waiting at the bus stop. She was pissed off about something. Royally pissed off. I decided I liked her attitude (but I did not tell her this).

Before long, I saw the woman in the fabulous purple dress, and it really was fabulous, and the girl in the kick-ass boots, even if it was a little too hot to be wearing them. And lastly, I smiled at the security guard who was new on the job and too shy to say hi first; I liked how he kept his head down, looking up at me from beneath his cap.

I didn’t tell every person I met what I was thinking, but I felt better knowing I had something small and good to say if I had the chance. And as I drove home, that tiny optimism rolled into a bigger and bigger ball of love. I thought mostly of the Syrian refugees and how I wished I could open my home to them. I was reminded of my very good friend whose grandparents were denied entry into the U.S. during WWII  and how instead they emigrated from Germany into Ecuador. What a strange place that must have been, what a change from where they had been, what would have happened if they hadn’t been welcomed into a foreign land, to them, to my friend, to me.

So in a matter of 30 minutes, I went from giving someone an imaginary compliment to opening my home to an imaginary refugee.

But the question remains, “What can we do?”

The answer is simple. You make someone’s day better, even just a little.

And so I donated to both UNICEF and IRC. And I said thanks to Ecuador for opening its doors to a lifelong friendship two generations after WWII. And next time I see that woman by the bus stop, I’m going to tell her she has an awesome spirit.

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If you’d like to help the Syrian refugees but are unsure where to donate, please visit UNICEF USA or International Rescue Committee.

Also, be sure to vaccinate your animals regularly. 

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