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5 love notes to my grand-mother

I originally posted this story on the Help Others website in June of 2007.   It received a lot of touching comments over the following few months, and then I forgot all about it.   So imagine my surprise when four years later, out of the blue, on October 11, 2011, I noticed that the headline of the Smile Newsletter which had just landed in my inbox was ‘5 Love Notes to My Grand-mother.”   I clicked on the link out of curiosity, and was really moved to discover that the story had been read by over 7,000 thousand people.

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Madeleine Bault (1911-2009)

June 2007.  I was just in France to visit my grand-mother who is very dear to me.  I don’t get to cross the Atlantic very often, and she’s now 96 year old, so every time I visit, the two of us are very aware that it might be the last time we see each other.  Last time I visited her in December of 2004, I did a series of short video interviews about her life. I asked her what it was like to grow up with her father in the 1910s (her mother died during labor), to live through the German occupation alone with two young children and a husband away in a prisoner’s camp in Germany. I asked her about her greatest memories and life learnings so far, her favorite books, foods, stories. I also asked her about her spirituality and her thoughts about death. I learned a lot of amazing new things about her I never knew before. These were very intimate conversations and a very special time for both of us.

This year, I did not really have questions, only a great urge for her to know how loved she is. I cooked for her, and read her stories. I gave her a foot massage, which I was amazed to discover was her first ever!  As the time to part approached, I started looking for a way to leave something meaningful behind besides the memory of our time together. I ended up writing her five different love and gratitude notes to let her know how much she means to me, and hid them in different places where I knew she would eventually find them. One under the sheets, on her pillow; another one hanging from the lamp shade by which she reads in the evening; another one by her toothbrush; one in her mailbox which she eagerly checks every day; and a last one on her car’s steering wheel (she still drives to the nearby village a couple of times a week to run errands).  I left feeling really joyous knowing that these cards would surely cheer her up after I left, as she lives by herself.  She called me as I was traveling back to Paris to catch my plane back to the US and said (in French of course): “I found your three cards! By the time I discovered the third, I was laughing out loud! They did me so much good. Thank you so much!” I smiled to myself, knowing she still had two more to go! It was Sunday, so my guess is that she had not checked her mailbox and had not yet driven her car!

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At 96 Year Old

June 2009 – My grand-mother passed away on April 18, 2009. She had just turned 98 year old. I was unfortunately thousands of miles away when she left, but in our last phone conversation, 5 days before her death, we had a last chance to tell one another all the things that matter. I wrote my final love note to my grand-mother for her funeral. I know she would have liked it.  She came to me in a dream a few days after she died.  She was sitting right next to me at her funeral.  She looked at the coffin then turned to me and smiled, somehow letting me know that she was still around even though she had physically moved on.  She comes to my awareness regularly, and we remain connected through the heart.


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Spreading smiles around the world

There are many ways we can make a difference in the world.  One of the most fun and fulfilling for me is to do spontaneous acts of kindness, with a big emphasis on the “spontaneous” part of it — more about why later.  After meeting Nipun Mehta in 2005, at a gathering in Colorado about Love, Evolution and Philanthropy, I felt inspired to join Help Others (later renamed Kindspring), an online community of folks who enjoy doing random acts of kindness and then share these stories on the site to inspire each other.

Kindspring is a volunteer-run venture that was started by Nipun, his wife Guri, and a couple of their friends.  It has now grown into a worldwide army of +80,000 earth angels who like to play a game of tag which involves doing something nice for others, and leaving a smile card behind inviting them to pay it forward.  This has become one of my favorite games.  It can take all kinds of forms, from paying the toll for the next car behind me, leaving a hand written thank you note for a waitress, giving flowers to the cashier, anonymously picking up someone’s bill at a local cafe, or giving your attention to a stranger who is needing to talk.  The possibilities are endless.

The stories on the Kindspring site are excellent medicine for those moments when you need your faith in humanity restored!  I recommend reading a few of them if you want to sprinkle some extra joy and inspiration over your day. You could begin with Love and Inspiration from Japan, about acts of kindness in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake.

There are now thousands of subscribers to the Smile newsletter which goes out weekly, and it keeps growing.   Nipun Mehta is someone whom I consider to be one of the great ambassadors of the true spirit of philanthropy, defined as love (philos) of humanity (anthropos). His point is very simple: anyone can do it!  It does not actually take any money, although giving it away is also a good thing! I invite you to watch his Tedx talk about three stages of generosity.

Although I am someone who likes to focus on ‘root causes’ and systems change, reading Kindspring stories reminds me that at the end of the day, there are very few things that are more transformative than being kind to others.  It may strike some of us as too simple to be true, but the fact is that if we all did it consistently, we would organically and effortlessly start dismantling a great deal of our dysfunctional systems and ways of operating: social inequities, all forms of bigotry, wars, corporate greed, the rapid destruction of our natural world through crazy agricultural, energy and consumption practices.  The ‘root cause’ of a lot of those things is a failure to respect, honor, listen to, appreciate, and care for life, whether in the form of people or other species.   I am embarrassed to say that in my graduate student days, I would just have dismissed what Nipun and the Kindspring tribe are up to as being a naive approach to social change.  Today, I am convinced that it is one of the most effective ways to lastingly change the world!  I mean: bringing love and caring into all our systems (education, finance, business, energy, government, mainstream philanthropy etc), how would that be for a revolution?  What I’m also learning is that loving the folks with whom we don’t find ourselves naturally inclined to connect really takes practice and commitment!  The heart is one of those muscles which we don’t often take the time to exercise, but truly amazing things can happen when we start working it out!   Check out this story (No Glass Ceiling, Just Blue Sky) about the act of kindness that allowed Alexander Fleming, who was the son of a farmer, to make it across England’s entrenched class lines to discover penicillin!   According to wikipedia, that story is actually a fable and not historically accurate, but you’ll still get the point, or rather the possibility!

And for those of you who are currently caring for an elder in your life, you might love this “Unforgettable Fishing Experience” which was written and posted by someone else.  I’m also including a link to another story I wrote in 2007, about my heart-to-heart encounter with my building’s garbage man!

So, you are hereby invited to join the merry tribe of folks who a performing simple acts of kindness toward friends and strangers.  Here are a bunch of ideas to get started!   And if you already belong to that tribe, please contribute your stories to the site and inspire others.  You can also read some of my own stories here.


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Another cape ann angel

This story was originally posted on the Help Others website on May 23, 2008.

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May 23, 2008 – This morning, I was blessed to take a walk in the woods with one of my favorite elders, a sculptor, photographer, and environmentalist who has been involved in countless community efforts to protect our local ecosystems and the many fellow species with whom we share our land and waters on Cape Ann, from whales to pine trees.  Cape Ann is in Western Massachusetts, and is composed of four towns (Rockport, Gloucester, Manchester and Essex).

It was great fun to walk around with him and learn about ghost pines, the role of ants in ecosystems, the difference between poison ivy and sassafras.   At some point in our conversation, I found myself talking to him enthusiastically about the random acts of kindness that some of us enjoy doing on Cape Ann!

He had never heard of Help Others, but he was clearly familiar with the whole concept of anonymous acts of kindness, and much more so than I had expected.   Indeed, once I was done with my little overview of what my friends and I had been up to recently, he just smiled and said:

“Every Christmas eve, I pick up the phone book and randomly select 25 names.   I then anonymously call these folks and wish them and their family a very Merry Christmas!”

He then paused and added…  “Do you realize that if we just got a few hundred people to do that, we could call every household on Cape Ann on Christmas Eve?”

As I drove back home later, I thought: Imagine that!  “Tagging” an entire community!   How is that for an awesome possibility!


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Being kind to the strangers in our own bodies

This story was originally posted on Help Others on February 26, 2008

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I have been having some health challenges lately, and it’s been a big eye-opening and humbling experience. For one thing, it turns out that they are a whole lot of folks in my life that have been working very hard on my behalf for years without my ever showing them much appreciation or gratefulness! They are called Liver, Heart, Kidneys, Lung, Cells, Good Intestinal Bacteria etc.  In my 38+ years on the planet, I can’t say I have taken the time to learn a whole lot about them, how they work, what makes them happy etc. They basically have been Strangers to me!

Worse, I have totally taken these guys for granted and put them under a lot of pressure to perform under more and more challenging situations… stress, environmental pollution, too much work, too many sweets etc. And wow, have they been patient and willing to put through a lot! I really wish I had not waited until some of them started protesting to start paying attention to them, but as they say, better late than never. In any case, I’m now committed to listen to these folks and turn them into my best friends, and guess what? …as with everyone else, it all starts with simple acts of kindness!

It’s actually fun… try this out, and do something nice for your “strangers within” once in a while. Read a sufi poem to your heart, take your lungs for a spontaneous walk in the woods, serve your liver some of its favorite cleansing herbs, and give all of them a day off now and then by fasting on vegetable juices or light soup. It’s truly amazing what happens when we start befriending these incredible beings that make up our miraculous inner world! It’s definitely broadened my understanding of what it means to ‘be the change one wants to see in the world.”

You can’t tag these folks with a smile card but trust me, they will de-fi-ni-te-ly pay it forward! Generosity is in their genes. Our bodies are a lot more sophisticated that our human systems… they are already organized as a gift-economy!


5 love notes to my grand-mother

I originally posted this story on the Help Others website in June of 2007.   It...
article post

Spreading smiles around the world

There are many ways we can make a difference in the world.  One of the most fun and...
article post

Another cape ann angel

This story was originally posted on the Help Others website on May 23, 2008. May 23,...
article post

Being kind to the strangers in our own bodies

This story was originally posted on Help Others on February 26, 2008 I have been having...
article post