Guerilla Kindness

justbeniceIt has been a rough couple of weeks for this Pollyanna of politics. I’ve been thrust out of several bubbles I had been living in. And it’s uncomfortable. (I was the white lady reaching for the Xanax in that SNL skit about election night.) I thought that since the people I chose to surround myself with held values similar to mine, that meant that most other people did, too. It was hard to see how wrong I was about that. It was hard to imagine someone being able to ignore the ugly packaging and vote for what I believed to be a message of reversal of times, reversal of progress.

I spent the first few days after the election reading, reading, reading. Trying to understand. I know Republicans who are really good people, and some who aren’t. I know Democrats who are really good people, and some who aren’t. I know Independents who are good people, and some who aren’t. My chosen candidate has lost more than once in my adult life. But this was the first time the outcome of an election made me so despondent. I did not and still do not know how to reconcile the fact that the president-elect of our county embodies the antithesis of what I value most: kindness toward others.

I had to figure out what I was going to do next. After sitting on the couch under my blanket fort for a few days, I knew I needed to start acting. What I’ve decided is that now is the time for Guerilla Kindness.

I first learned the term guerilla warfare in 8th grade, when I was writing an essay about the Iran-Contra Affair (I was an overambitious English student). Before that, I had heard the term but had pictured angry gorillas flinging dung at one another. Guerilla warfare is the use of hit-and-run tactics by small, mobile groups of irregular forces operating in territory controlled by a hostile, regular force (Dictionary.com).

The idea of guerilla kindness came to me after hearing this post-election story: A woman saw a mother and son behind her in a fast-food drive thru line, pointing and laughing at her political bumper stickers. She made a split-second decision to turn her anger into action. She paid for their meals. You see? Guerilla kindness. And nothing they can do about it.

My call to action/forward motion:

safetypin After the U.K. voted to leave the European Union, incidents of racism skyrocketed, and people began donning safety pins as a way of showing their support for the immigrants living in the country, assuring that they’re safe with them. And I had noticed that the trend had spread to the U.S. after our election results similarly emboldened people to act even more overtly on their bigotry.

My first act of guerilla kindness started small, with something I did to make myself feel better. I scrounged in my jewelry box and came up with a safety pin, which I affixed to my burse (my backpack-purse, which is a thing. At least it is to me.) I’m not sure what I thought this little piece of metal would accomplish, but somehow it helped me get my shoes on and out the door. You see, it was my first outing since the election, and my heart was heavy. But I had been waiting 6 months for a one-day-only mattress sale, so off I went to help stabilize our economy. The sales person who greeted me looked similarly glum. We’ll call him Abdelhadi (because that’s his name).

When I pulled my burse off my shoulder to pay, he saw my safety pin. And once my transaction was complete, he whispered, “My wife has not gone to work for two days. She can’t stop crying.” I told him I had been crying on and off, too. “You?” he said with surprise. “You cried?”

I told him it was hard being confronted with just how out of touch I was with the racial divide in our country, how painful it was to have the illusion that I had been paying attention be broken. “Now you know,” he told me. Then he reached out for my hand and said more softly, “now you know.” It destroyed me. Here was this Muslim man from Dubai comforting me about my sadness.

When we parted ways, we shared a lingering handshake. “Tell you wife…” I started, but I couldn’t finish my thought. Tell her what? What could I possibly say to her to make her feel better? Hadi came to my rescue. “I’ll tell her you cried,” he said. “I’ll tell her you cried, too.”

 

 

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Okay, you put a pin on your purse. What now? What else?

I’ve written before about a service organization called hawkwing, Inc (the h is not capitalized, no matter how much I want it to be).  They “provide essential services and support for the people of the Cheyenne River Lakota (Sioux) Indian Reservation,” and run an annual holiday giveaway that is organized in a warehouse near my home. “The Annual Giveaway brings joy each winter to some 2,600 children on the Reservation, many of whom would otherwise receive nothing for the holidays. Each child receives new toys, books, warm clothes and personal care products. We also supply dozens of Tribal programs and schools with equipment, supplies, coats, shoes and educational materials.” They are partnered with First Book and one of my favorite stations in the warehouse is the book corner. But I noticed a need for books for older kids, and when I saw WABANAKI BLUES by Melissa Zobel at a local bookstore, I picked up a copy and dropped it off at hawkwing. Stealth. Guerilla. Kindness.

 

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Okay, you put on a pin, and you bought a book. What else? I thought about the Syrian refugee family, new to my town, sponsored in their transition by IRIS (Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services) and supported by my place of worship. I had been meaning to say a formal “hello and welcome.” This would probably be a good time for me to take them cookies. Making the cookies was easy (and delish). Taking them to the door was harder. I wasn’t sure how much English they knew. Would they be confused about who I was, what I was doing there? Turns out holding a Tupperware of baked goods is the universal sign for “I’m here to say hello.” I got smiles. I got introductions. I got invited in.

I know there are many people whose opinions differ from mine on the topic of immigration and resettlement. I would implore those interested to read the Time Magazine article: This is how the Syrian Refugee Screening Process Works. “Of all the categories of persons entering the U.S., these refugees [people from Syria] are the single most heavily screened and vetted.” – Jana Mason, senior adviser to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Picture the kids from Aleppo you’ve seen, covered in ash from bombing raids. Now picture them living next to and playing on the Hubbard Green in Glastonbury, CT. Which would you want if it was your child?

We must put education before fear. We must see each other as human beings. Cookie-eating, book-reading, family-loving, human beings. My way of doing that is going to be with this idea of Guerilla Kindness. I’m going to be a mobile irregular force of small hit-and-run acts of kindness. And I’m going to be kind to you no matter who you voted for. Or how you worship. Or where you came from. Or who you love. And you can’t stop me.

Like a friend’s yard sign says:

“🇺🇸  we treat all people with dignity regardless of origin, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views ”

 

Join me?

 

carmagnet

 

 

 

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The Book Aunt’s Gift-Giving Guide 2014

If you’re casting about for gift ideas for your friends and family, I suggest you consider giving BOOKS! You might not steal the show at the holiday gathering, but later, when you have tired kids who want to curl up with the original hand-held escape, the glory will be yours. When the mid-winter relatives have cabin fever, and the book you gave is their salvation, you will be thanked. (If you’re worried about giving books as gifts in case they’ve already been read, just be sure to include a gift receipt!)

There are SO MANY great choices out there. This is a small sampling of some I’ve come across in 2014. In each case, I suggest a “pair with” gift and a profile of who the book may be best suited for. Happy shopping!

Picture Books (ages 0-5+)

Flora

FLORA AND THE PENGUIN by Molly Idle. This is a seriously adorable wordless winter tale of a friendship on ice. Young kids will enjoying “reading” it themselves, over and over. Great for kids who like interactive (lift-the-flap) books, ice-skating, and/or penguins. Pair with a stuffed penguin or a coupon to take the recipient ice skating.

Novak

THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES by B.J. Novak. On the flip side to Ms. Idles wordless book, this book is pictureless. Perfect for the “little devil” on your list, the book goads the adult reader into saying silly sounds and words because “Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say.” Pair with a whoopie cushion.

Middle Grade novels (ages 8-13ish)

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THE DIRT DIARY by Anna Staniszewski. The first in a series, this book introduces us to Rachel, whose imperfections make her perfectly lovable. Rachel is a girl who loves to bake, but to help out her mom, must clean toilets instead. Great for the kid who always seems to have good intentions that lead to bad results! Pair with a cookie sheet and baking mix.

Hattie

HATTIE BIG SKY by Kirby Larson. Another first in a series, this is perfect for Little House on the Prairie type fans. Hattie is a 16-year-old who leaves Iowa to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim near Vida, Montana. Pair with a pair of warm socks and/or a cat.

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DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, THE LONG HAUL by Jeff Kinney.  Kids simply can’t get enough of this series! A natural choice for reluctant readers, text and pictures intertwine to tell the latest adventure of Greg Heffley and his family as they set out on a road trip. Pair with one of the DIARY OF A WIMPY KID book journals – a combination of blank pages and journalling suggestions – to get kids writing as well.

Young adult novels (ages 12 +)

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THE FIFTH WAVE by Rick Yancey. This book is perfect for your older sci-fi loving kid. In brief, it’s a classic “alien’s attack and take over the world” scenario, with fantastic pacing and lots of layers. I read it because I was vetting it for my own kid, and was surprised how much I liked it. There is a smattering of profanity, but it is used as needed, not gratuitously. Pair with an air-soft gun.

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ALL THE TRUTH THAT’S IN ME by Julie Berry. I thought this was going to be another sci-fi story, due to the setting being a town called Roswell Station. But this haunting book is actually historical fiction. The main character, Judith, is unable to speak, yet you will never forget her voice. Perfect for older kids who will understand the nuance of mentally imbalanced adults, and the importance of sometimes sharing secrets. Pair with tickets to a local colonial village.

Fiction and Non-Fiction for the grown-up set

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UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand. This is the incredible story of olympian-turned WWII Lieutenant Louis Zamperini. Recently made into a movie, this book will appeal to the avid runner and/or history buff on your list. Pair with a WWII documentary, or movie tickets to see Unbroken when it opens.

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CASTING OFF by Nicole R. Dickson. This book tells the story of Rebecca Moray, who comes to an island off the coast of Ireland to research a book on Irish knitting, and how she and her daughter interact with the people there. Perfect for the knitter on your list. If they’re Irish, extra points. Pair with knitting needles/yarn.

I’m sure you know of several more books in each category that you’ve loved and could give as gifts! This year, I encourage you to do just that. Happy holidays, and happy reading!

George Clooney and First Book

I think about George Clooney a lot, but it’s not what you’re thinking.  Well, sometimes it probably is what you’re thinking.  Because, really. But honestly, most of the time it is because of his philanthropy work, and specifically something he said in an interview a few years ago.

Really, I'm only in it for the philanthropy!

Really, I’m only in it for the philanthropy!

The reporter asked him how giving back came to be such a large part of his life. And George (I’m assuming he’d want me to call him that) said that from a young age, his father always took the kids with him whenever he was volunteering for something.  When the reporter asked if he’d enjoyed this, George answered honestly and said something like, “No, he dragged me kicking and screaming.” But he admitted that those early experiences helped influence how much he commits to philanthropic endeavors as a grown up.

I think of this every time I drag my own kids on do-gooder adventures.  It would be SO much easier to leave them home.  And it might even be more productive for whatever group I’m trying to help if they weren’t there.  But little by little, I see them moving into the asset column, and being less of the kicking-and-screaming liabilities they once were.  And always, I hear George whispering in my ear, “this is going to pay off later.”  (No, he doesn’t whisper other things…get your mind out of the gutter!)
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Recently we had the opportunity to help out an organization based in our town called hawkwing. From their website: “hawkwing is a Native American Federal non-profit 501(c)3 organization created to offer cross-cultural education while assisting the people of the Lakota (Sioux) Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota meet their basic human needs.  Each year, we conduct a major collection drive in order to bring basic need items to some 3,000 children and 500 Elders on the Cheyenne River.”
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The scale of this effort and the way it is organized is astounding.  We showed up at a warehouse that was packed with supplies and well-trained volunteers, and were greeted by hawkwing founder and president, Rochelle Ripley.  Each year in the late fall, Rochelle oversees the organizing of supplies and packing of a large truck, which then makes its way out to South Dakota for distribution.
Rochelle Ripley, the brains and heart behind hawkwing

Rochelle Ripley, the brains and heart behind hawkwing

As volunteers, we were given a sheet of paper which detailed the needs of a specific family group.  We then took an empty box and worked our way through the warehouse, picking out personal care items, toys, clothing, and sometimes shoes for specific people.
New toothbrushes went in every box

New toothbrushes went in every box

My kids had a lot of fun in the toy section, being directed to pick out “a toy for a 5 year old boy,” or “something for a 12-year-old girl who likes to draw.”  This made the idea of who we were helping very tangible for them.
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Donated clothing items and outerwear were brand new, and each area had a trained volunteer that helped make sure we were picking out the correct sizes and items.

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Many of the hats, scarves, and mittens were handmade

Many of the hats, scarves, and mittens were handmade

And then we came to MY toy area, the books!  It was just so thrilling to pick out books for the children, especially after learning that some areas of the reservation do not have libraries. 

Look at all the books!

Look at all the books!

The “book corner” volunteer had everything sorted according to age and reading level, and gave advice with the wisdom of a librarian (she probably was one!).  I saw many new books that I’d have loved to have gotten my hands on myself.

Middle grade/YA books

Middle grade/YA books

Picture books

Picture books

Knowing what kind of shape my children’s books are in when they get around to being donated, I asked where so many pristine, new books had come from.  The answer was that several of the books were purchased, at drastically reduced rates, from the organization First Book.

From their website: “First Book provides access to new books for children in need. To date, First Book has distributed more than 100 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the United States and Canada. First Book is transforming the lives of children in need and elevating the quality of education by making new, high-quality books available on an ongoing basis.”

And while I’m tooting First Book’s horn, as many of you know there are other equally great programs that are working to get new books into the hands of kids who might not otherwise have access to them.  Some of my favorites are: Book Train, which works to “[help] foster children discover great books – and keep them!” and Reading is Fundamental.

Rochelle pointed out that it is especially helpful when people donate money to hawkwing, because she can use that money to get so many more books through First Book than she can if the same donor bought books from a traditional retailer.

There are so many organizations and people using their powers for good in this world.  Pick one and get involved! Donate or volunteer!  You might just meet George Clooney!*

Also, if you are interested in current Native American culture,  I encourage you to check out Sherman Alexie’s book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, about growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation.  It’s a fantastic and eye-opening read.

*This is probably not going to happen. Sorry.