Saturday, October 31, 2009

Kind of matters.

Have you ever tried changing lanes on the LA freeway system? Fought for a parking space at Costco on a weekend day? Waited in line only to have someone jump in front of you and had to say “Excuse, but I think I was next???” If you have, and have had those experiences repeatedly as I have, then you will understand why I say that I never expected our world to be a particularly kind place. Each man for himself. Survival of the fittest. Dog eat dog and so on.

It turns out that I was wrong. Our world is filled with kind people. I know this because I am the beneficiary of random acts of kindness from complete strangers almost every day of my life. Living with a disability has taught me that.

My disability has progressed as my disease has. In time I needed a cane, then a walker and now use a wheelchair from time to time. As my disability became more visible to the outside world, I began experiencing more and more of these acts of kindness.

I used to travel for work and often someone, a complete stranger, would see my awkwardness, grab my bags and help me get on or off a shuttle to or from the airport. One day I was getting in my car and dropped something as I was fumbling with my keys. A stranger driving down the street pulled over, jumped out of his car and handed me the dropped items. Random acts of kindness from complete strangers. WOW!

These repeated experiences have completely changed my view. The world is filled with kind people who are willing and ready to help a stranger. Random acts of kindness are much more common than I ever dreamed of and as the beneficiary, I make it a point to acknowledge and thank these people from the bottom of my heart.

But kindness is often more than performing a simple task or favor. Kindness reveals itself in many different ways. It may be in the form of an anonymous donation to a cause or simply picking up an item at a store for someone because it may be wanted or needed.

Kindness can be the act of just listening to a loved one or a complete stranger who just needs to be heard or get something off their chest. It could be as simple as saying “hello” and “how are you” to someone who rarely gets asked at their job or work, like a cashier or bank teller or someone working behind the counter at a fast food franchise.

Kindness reveals itself in a thousand different ways. But it always is a selfless act that for at least a moment, makes someone else’s life better. I know. Acts of kindness continue to fill every day of my life.

I have learned to expect the best from people and am rarely ever disappointed. There are times when I need help and today I am confident that I always can and will always find it. It turns out that the human race is a pretty good one to be a part of. My faith is restored. Kind people are kind people and there are plenty of them.

That has been my experience. What is your experience? Is the world a kind place? Or is it cruel? Do people really care about their fellow man? I would love to know about your experiences.

Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Denial: A Basic Survival Skill

A friend of mine who is a psychologist, told me that I am suffering from “Chronic Euphoria”. She says I am far too happy for my circumstances and teases me about being in denial. The truth is that she is right. I am in denial. In fact, it may be our most important survival skill.

We all live with varying degrees of denial. If we didn’t, we would never leave the house. Fatal car accidents occur every day. But not to me. Houses and buildings burn down every day. But not where I am. I live in Los Angeles and someday there will be a catastrophic earthquake. But it won’t hit my house. A certain amount of denial is required for us to be able to function in this modern world of ours. I consider this a ‘healthy level of denial’.

What is an unhealthy level of denial? Denying what already exists. My psychologist friend is worried that I may be in denial about how my disease/disability affects others around me. I don’t think so. In fact, I think I am particularly sensitive about how my disease affects others, especially my wife who is my primary caregiver. In many ways this disease (multiple sclerosis, for those who don’t know) is harder on her than it is on me. I am aware of that. No denial here.

Unhealthy denial may also occur when we deny that we have control or influence over circumstances in our lives. Or, at a minimum, controlling how we respond to those circumstances, events relationships, etc.

Healthy denial may be denying a possible adverse outcome. Denying a possible adverse outcome is also how many of us function every day. Car accidents, burning building and earthquakes occur almost daily, sometimes more often. If we really thought that these events would hurt or kill us, we would run and hide. We, or at least most of us, live our lives with an expectation that “bad things” won’t happen to us. While it is true that bad things happen all the time, we don’t expect them to happen to us.

I do know people that always expect the worst. To me, denying possible positive outcomes may be the UN-healthiest form of denial.

I live with a chronic disease and there is a great possibility that my condition may worsen. I know that and don’t deny it. But I live my life in anticipation of good things, accomplishing physical goals and expecting new treatments to improve my quality of life. To me, that is healthy denial and that is okay with me.

According to my psychologist friend, there is no such thing as “healthy denial.” Instead, she says that these are coping skills and being able to cope with the realities of life is good….and healthy. She is probably right.

Call it healthy denial, coping skills or whatever you like. Being able to accept reality is always healthy. There is no denying it.

Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Get out your POM-POMS!

I use wheelchair or walker everywhere I go. So you may be surprised to learn that yesterday, for the second year in a row I crossed the finish line at the MS Bike Ride.

Okay. I didn’t do the bike ride. But I was there and had an extremely important job to do: Greet and cheer for all the riders as they rode past the finish line.

My job, all of our jobs really, was to thank and express gratitude to those who are making our world a better place. Very few people have a physical disability that prevents them from cheering and acknowledging those who are making a difference. Besides, it is a lot of fun……..and there is free food too!

Theodore Roosevelt put it best when he said “No man has the moral right to withhold his support from an organization that is striving to improve conditions within his sphere.” I couldn’t agree more.

When it comes to making the world a better place, we can be participants in events, give money (which is always good) or give visible moral support to those that can and do these activities. It is important. It makes a difference. It is our obligation.

I used to be a jogger. I frequently paid my $20 or $25 registration fee, got my souvenir t-shirt and participated in these 5K or 10K events. At that time, it didn’t matter to me what the money raised was for. It could have been for Cancer, Capricorns or comedians. I just wanted to do the event.

Today when I am there to greet the participants at the finish line, I am in my wheelchair. I am a sort of visible representation and reminder of why they are riding and who they are riding for. When I say thank you, they know that I mean it from the bottom of my heart.

We (my family and I) do our own fundraising for the National MS Society. We also make donations to other organizations throughout the year (Diabetes, Alzheimer’s, AIDS, etc.). When we can, we also give money to others raising money for the same causes.

We lend our visible support at the Finish Line. It is our way of saying thanks and job well done. What it also does for us is keep us involved. Being surrounded by all that energy and excitement gets our blood flowing and gets us out of our daily routine. It also gives us an opportunity to make a difference to those who are making a difference for us.

Get involved. Become a cheerleader. Swing a pom-pom. Say thank you. Get a friend to join you. Feel alive. Be at the finish line. You, and the participants, will be glad you did.

Participate. Make a difference. Live a life that matters.