Recently, I had the opportunity to be a guest on scrapbook.com’s Life Handmade podcast. Sharing the story and mission of the Bring Smiles to Seniors program is always a special time for me. It provides me the opportunity to show the world what can happen when people come together for a common purpose and portray “the power of we”. I always try and take the opportunity to share real life stories from our journey, along with a message that we don’t have to be perfect in what we do. We just have to do it with heart.
Every day, people around the country and world create magic from bits of paper and send their creations to our program to help us in our mission to spread smiles to seniors. Over 215,000 cards this year and counting. Those creations wind up in the hands of a senior who may wake up and think that they were no longer remembered. A senior who now lacks importance to the family they raised. Even a senior who has outlived their family and has no one to remind them that they are special, they matter and most of all that they are still loved.
In the podcast interview, I talked about two special events that happened when we were starting out and delivering cards by hand. The lady who the community had never heard speak who uttered “thank you” after the card was read to her out load. The man who had to be fed, who they had never seen move, who reached out and took the card from our hand. Two examples of the power of that piece of paper when it is infused with compassion, caring and love.
We often underestimate the impact that we have on the world when we use our talents and gifts. We spend needless time questioning our worth because what we create simply, in our eyes, isn’t good enough. We forget that those who have nothing, or anything to remind them that they are special, suddenly become special when that envelope opens and reminds them that they are not forgotten.
My grandmother always taught me that caring for those that cared for us is one of life’s greatest necessities and one of its greatest gifts. God willing, the path of life takes us all to that senior time when we too will be looking for that reminder that we still belong in our little place in the world. The love we show and the compassion we share are just what we need to make that little piece of the world a little brighter for those who need.
Every day I wake up and I wonder if all the things I have laid out for myself for the day are even possible. We can plan for what may come. However, we know all to well that as we make our way through the minutes of our day, things will arise that take us off course, off our life path, and often even derail us. The question when that happens is how do we react to those changes? Do we brush it off as just another day? Do we beat ourselves up because we didn’t achieve the goals we set for ourselves? Or, do we burn the candles at both ends and do everything we can to finish our list, only to reach the end of those 24 hours having discovered it just wasn’t possible?
The amount of pressure we place on ourselves to accomplish tasks in life can often be overwhelming. Unfortunately, there is usually no one harder on us than ourselves. We set expectations so high that even the best of us could never achieve them. Then when we don’t deliver, the very person we blame is the person that worked the hardest to make it all happen, ourselves. Each and every time we face that situation, we have less confidence that our next attempt is going to be successful.
As Audrey Hepburn said, “Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I’m Possible!” I am a firm believer that anything that we set our minds to accomplish is truly possible if we believe, invest and have the will necessary to see it through. However, that possibility is only realized when the tasks we place on ourselves are based in reality. We often spend so much time questioning whether our efforts were good enough, that we overlook all the efforts that we actually exerted. We set our expectations for ourselves so high, that even the most diligent person could never achieve that which we desired.
Maybe it is time to sit back, reset, and give ourselves a break. Our world is full of many pressures that only add to our daily routines. Social media, television, and print add to the stress levels that we are already experiencing while trying to navigate our life path. Understanding the need to be kind to ourselves as we work on completing our tasks, often gives us the patience that we need to have a little kindness for others who are doing the same. Nothing is impossible, if only we work to achieve the possible understanding our own limitations
It’s been a while since I have sat down to put thoughts to keyboard as I have been in a bit of a writing slump. Part of the reason has been due to managing my day job, the growth of the Bring Smiles to Seniors program and trying to have a bit of a life. The other reason is that the world has just felt heavy with everything going on and I needed to take some time to focus on mental health, meditating and generally working on my body, mind and soul. I have also been planning for a YouTube channel where I will soon share the backstory of my messages and try to create a little corner of the world where we can escape the crazy and focus on those things that make our life path a little brighter.
Sometimes, one of the the hardest things to do is to take care of ourselves, while we are trying to take care of everyone else. However, the importance of this has never been more evident than it has been in the past year and a half. Living in a divided world is tough. Attempting to bridge that divide has proven to be even tougher. One of the most important lessons I have learned is that we can only be responsible for ourselves and those that are close to us. We all have to make our own decisions that protect the well being of our friends, family and those that we love. Spending energy trying to fix those that aren’t fixable not only wastes our own energy, it takes time away from making our own lives the best that it can be.
Often this new beginning requires clearing our minds of the old and letting the new start to set in. The more we allow our past and the negativity around us affect our present and future, the less likely it is that our life paths will get easier. Absorbing everyone else’s mess may ultimately help them in the short term, but it has a profound effect on ourselves in the long run. The less time we have for our own well being, the harder it is to live the life we desire and deserve.
So, when things seem the heaviest, just tune out the negativity. Turn off the news, put down the paper, and distance yourself from those who tend to sap your energy. They can only do that when we give them the power. When we take our power back and do what we can to make our lives the best that it can be, it is then that we start to create that new beginning that sets us back on the course to a life well lived.
Mornings with Ron book is now available on amazon.com or on bringsmilestoseniors.com. #morningswithron
In one of my previous messages, I spoke about the importance of the 1,440 minutes that we are gifted every day. What we do with those minutes influences the path our lives take, the quality of the life that we lead, and the satisfaction we have had with those minutes when we reach our final years. We only get one chance to take advantage of the next minute that comes our way. Once that minute is gone, there is no ability to alter it, but rather regret it or bask in the knowledge that we have done the most that we could to make it meaningful.
So many times in our lives we find ourselves at a decisional crossroad. This often requires split second action because of the situation, while other times we are allowed the opportunity for long range planning. No matter what opportunity with which we are faced to affect one of those 1,440 minutes, when the minute is gone it is no longer retrievable. That is the reason that making the most of every minute we are gifted in life is so important.
Throughout my life I have made good and bad decisions. I have always tried to use the bad decisions as building blocks for better future decisions and capitalized on good decisions to drive me to the next step to make life even better. That doesn’t mean that bad decisions don’t get repeated, they often get altered until I finally reach the ultimate change that I was seeking. As most people, I do ponder those minutes of the past that could have altered the path that I was trying to take and failed, but sometimes the things that I would have missed while walking that path to that which I would have desired would have been disappointing. I also learned that it is most important to focus on the future minutes that you have the ability to change that could ultimately make life better.
Finally, the thing that I regret most is not taking advantage of those opportunities that presented themselves to affect my next minutes when I had the opportunity. Fear, inability to make a decision, lack of self confidence and simply being human, created the barrier that I was unable to overcome. We understand this less in our younger years, but it becomes much more clear as we age. The importance of living each and every gift minute that we are given to the fullest is ultimately what makes life meaningful and wonderful. Understanding the value of a minute before it becomes a memory is one of the most important tasks of all.
Have you ever delivered a gift on a birthday or holiday, sat and watched the person open it, and felt your heart enlarge a little when you saw the joy on their face? How about completing a volunteer project and feeling a sense of satisfaction that brings the same feeling as if have just completed a long workout? There is a reason for that. Many researchers have found that people who give of their time to help others through community and organizational involvement have greater self esteem, are less depressed and have lower stress levels than those who don’t. In general, people who take the time to show compassion and caring for others are happier people. The good news is there are even more physical and mental effects.
Volunteering and participating in good deeds for the benefit of others, rather than ourselves, is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves. Not only does it benefit the person on the receiving end, but it is the gift that keeps on giving. Many research studies have shown repeatedly that the health and mental benefits of those that participate in volunteer activities include; boosting physical and mental health, lower blood pressure, increased self esteem, less depression, lower stress levels, longer life, and greater happiness and satisfaction.
People often ask me why I spend so many hours involved in the Bring Smiles to Seniors program. The most common question is, “Do you ever sleep”? The answer is yes, and quite well I might add. As I often tell people, working a full time job and running a nonprofit is hard and often tough work. I also tell them that my day job feeds my stomach, and my nonprofit feeds my soul. I truly believe that my involvement in giving back to the community has resulted in all those things listed above.
Years ago, I took blood pressure and depression medicine. I didn’t feel so great about myself. Exercise and meditation weren’t even near being a part of my daily routine and stress was definitely out of control. Working to make the lives of others better has had an effect on all of those things. Today, I am much more calm than in the past. My blood pressure is normal. My stress levels have decreased dramatically. I am definitely a much happier and more satisfied person. The same has been heard from many of the people that participate in the Bring Smiles to Seniors program.
People have been kind enough to write me or send emails to let me know what the program has done for them. Individuals who were looking for purpose and meaning in the their life have found it. Those who were depressed or even suicidal have found an outlet to connect their life to something positive that has given them a reason to get up every morning. When all that culminates with the friendship, help, sharing and love that people are experiencing every day as a part of our groups, the prescription for many of the things listed above have been written and filled.
People often think volunteering and giving back takes money. That is far from the case. For those that desire to be involved, there is always a way to do so, without placing a financial burden that would cause unneeded stress. If you have been looking for that purpose and just can’t seem to find it, find something in your community where you can make a difference. Even the smallest effort can help boost that physical and mental health that we all strive for.
Responsibility for a world filled with compassion and caring begins with us. To live a life of truth, means that we recognize each other for our individuality, accept each other with our faults and strive to treat all individuals as equal human beings. This is done while doing what we can to live our best life. There are many who make that task difficult for us. However, if we stay true to who we are and draw on the lessons of compassion and caring that we were taught as children and young adults, we truly can be the vaccine that injects change into this turbulent world.
Many times we tell ourselves that we are only one person and have no power to affect change. When the number of people who do that multiplies, it is likely that will prove out to be true. Yet, when we have the courage and wisdom to be the one person that makes a difference, that is often the injection that the next person needs to make their own stand in the world. One becomes two and eventually enough people take the necessary steps to create the change that is needed for the moment. If we truly want a better world, sitting back and watching the world go by is simply not an option.
We often spend so much time caring about what everyone else is doing and how they are living their lives, that we fail to do what is necessary to live our own truth. Not doing so negates the opportunity for us to set the example that others can learn from. When we lead the way with conviction, those that know and trust us often follow. It is then that the possibility for change begins. Refocusing all the energy that is spent on negativity, on that which is positive and productive, creates the foundation necessary to make a difference.
To survive a world of division, there is no other option than to live our truth, not expect others to be who we want them to be, rather than who they are, and respect our differences, while celebrating our similarities. Understanding that each person has the ability to make their own contribution to the world, in their own way and respecting that, creates the space for the change that is needed. At the end of the day it truly does all start with us. With the appropriate effort, we truly can be the much needed vaccine for change.
There is no question that technology has changed the world. The days of pulling over to look at the map to see where you are going, faxing information to those with whom we do business, and leaving voicemails to make contact with individuals all seem to be relics of the past. Communication is now instant, often with expected instant response, and information is at our fingertips with just a few keystrokes on our computers or smart phones. The ability to increase our knowledge has grown exponentially. The opportunity to interact electronically is now at our fingertips. However, at what cost has this advancement in technology been to our art of conversation and development of interpersonal relationships?
If you wanted to speak to a friend or family member before smartphones, you walked down the street, got in your car or met up at the local coffee shop or restaurant for a conversation. For those minutes you interacted with each other without disruption. You were truly interested in what each other had to say and were intimately involved in each other’s lives. Sundays were reserved for family dinners. We sat around the table in the evenings for our evening meals. Family outings involved interacting with each other on a personal level. While technology has brought so much to our lives, in some ways it has stolen those things that we held most dear.
Think about it. Picture the last week in your own homes. How many times were you sitting together on the sofa, having dinner, or in friends or family’s presence and the majority of that time was spent on your smartphone? How many times did you actually sit and have a conversation, asking about each other’s day or had an in-depth conversation about what was going on in each other’s lives? How often has our interpersonal relationship been with an electronic device, rather than those that we care for and love? For me, I think about this a lot and find myself guilty of all of the above. This caused me to examine the effect that this has had on my art of conversation.
There is no question that technological devices have become addictions. However, they are now ingrained in our lives and have become the tools that we need to accomplish so many things. Breaking that addiction has become difficult. Having better relationships with our devices than those we love has affected not only the art of conversation, but the interpersonal skills that we desperately need to regain the respect we need for each other as human beings, so that we can move away from the division that we experience daily.
While technology has served us well in our current Covid world, it seems that finding time for a break from the technology in the home, and outside the home in a post Covid world, is more important than ever. It will not only benefit our close personal relationships, but the way we see society as a whole. Good robust disagreement with facts and truth are healthy and building blocks for strong relationships. Relying on often incorrect information that spreads like wildfire through technology serves as a detriment to this effort. At this point in our lives, I believe that we can all use a scheduled technology break during our weeks. Take a walk together, share what is going on your lives, revive the art of conversation and enhance your interpersonal skills. That in itself may be the starting point for a better world.
It seems like waking up each morning, I increasingly find myself in a world that I hardly recognize. The effort to promote and portray positivity seems to take far more effort than in years past. However, the desire to live in a world full of caring and compassion for our fellow person remains as strong as ever. As I try to make sense of it all, I find myself increasingly struggling to understand why each day brings about another story of violence, hatred, suppression, regression and certainly failing compassion. I wonder if I have entered this alternate reality where me is always first, we seems to not exist, and they is always at the forefront of blame. I then have to remind myself that the best that I can do is take care of my part of the world and live the life that I need to live to set the example that many others need. It’s not easy.
When you have an innate compassion for people, there is a natural tendency to want to avoid conflict. “Why can’t we all just get along” becomes a constant refrain in your head, while the brain tells you that as long as there is a desire for power, money and position, the likelihood of that ever coming to reality is practically nonexistent. From the beginning of time, the desire to have more than we need, have power over those who do not, and advancing ourselves by whatever means possible, has been ingrained in so many societies. So much so, that we often forget our true purpose for why we are here and the responsibility we have to make the world better, not only for ourselves, but also for those around us who may be less fortunate.
There are times when not caring would be so much easier. Looking out for only one’s self and not caring what is happening in and to the rest of the world, would certainly be the easy way out. However, unless we as the people of a common society take the stand that is necessary to make the world a better place, and leave it a little better off than we found it, then the hope of a better world truly is hopeless. When we stop putting “me” first and focus on the needs of the collective “we”, it is only then that we plant the seeds that are necessary to achieve a desirable society that cares about the whole rather than the few.
Politics, greed and the need for power have replaced compassion, caring and the desire for peace. Failing to focus on that which benefits all people rather than the few, robs us of the chance to live in a world where we are able to focus on the good, rather than trying to survive the bad. At the end of the day, it all begins with each and every one of us. It requires us to do our part to enact change, provide the examples of caring and decency, and to live a life that serves as an example for those that follow us. When rooted in everything we do, compassion has a unique and powerful way for taking hold and spreading. We have proven that time and time again. It is within the truth of compassion and caring that we have our best chance of living in a desirable world that we all deserve.
So many times in our lives we often fail to dare to dream because we believe that the chance for success is so low that it is hardly worth the effort. What we often fail to realize is that it is usually those small dreams that find their way into very big realities. Never was that more evident than the dream that I had for the Bring Smiles to Seniors program that I started almost five years ago.
I first recognized the need to remind seniors that they were loved while visiting my grandmother in her nursing home. I had a dream to turn the faces of those that I saw who were sad and lonely to having a smile and happiness that someone had reminded them that they were important. All I wanted was a few cards to deliver to the residents of my grandmother’s community, to make a difference in their lives for that one moment. However, I knew after that first act, that I was dreaming too small and I needed to go bigger and better. I also knew that the scary aspect of dreaming bigger meant that it was a dream worth pursuing.
The process to create a nonprofit, obtain your tax exempt status and build donors and donations, brought scary to a whole new height. I knew that if I could be successful, the payoff for dreaming bigger was going to be far greater than anything that I could have ever imagined. “If you believe it, you can do it,” became a mantra that would make every twist and turn along the journey worth the payoff that was waiting at the end of each effort. From over 7,000 cards delivered the first year, to greater than 200,000 in 2020, people I met along the way who became a part of the dream as it grew helped scary become satisfaction. Had I been content with that initial effort and failed to dream bigger, the ability to touch lives all across the country and in other parts of the world would have never materialized.
Second guessing ourselves is easy. Staying within our comfort zone and away from that which is scary is also easy. However, when we believe that the results of our efforts will be far greater than any discomfort we may experience along the journey, the ability to create magic makes dreaming big one of life’s most pleasurable experiences.
There is no question that I have an amazing life. I have a good job, great friends, an awesome spouse, a nonprofit that fills my soul and plenty of people around me that are my cheerleaders. There is much to be thankful for and for that much thanks is given. I do my best to stay upbeat, keep others spirits lifted and work hard to continue the mission my grandmother laid out for me through the Bring Smiles to Seniors program. From the outside, many would look at me and think I have it all and don’t have a care in the world. In our lives, we see many people like that. However, what we often fail to realize is that we are all humans with real feelings, going through life’s journey the best we can. Naturally, the question that people often ask is “with all that you have, how could you possibly feel lonely?”
The answer often comes in the circumstances that surround us. In my regular job, I work from home. In normal times that is taxing as I am in the house five days a week. My interaction with the outside world is through a video screen, which in the best of times is bearable. There is an opportunity for evenings out for movies, dinner with friends, social gatherings and of course weekend events. Fast forward to these current times and those opportunities for escape from the daily routine have all but disappeared and five days in the house quickly become seven. An outing to the grocery store or post office becomes a major event and I find myself driving slower to and from simply to make the most of those things that I am still able to do. A year of that has certainly taken its toll.
The decision I made for myself to abide by the guidelines wasn’t political, it was personal. I made a conscious effort early on to not only protect myself and my spouse, but having a father with Lymphoma, there was no way I was going to take a chance for a few minutes of pleasure that could put those that I love at risk. Without judgement, I have watched others make different decisions and go about life as normal. As I began to question whether or not I was the crazy one, the loneliness started to set in and the impact began to take its toll.
The loneliness enters a new phase as I watch all those around me getting access to vaccines, while I find myself in an age group waiting its turn that never seems to come. I feel caught between the younger generation that seems to have the ability to fight off whatever may come their way and the older generation that needs the vaccine desperately to ensure that they live. That in itself creates a space with new feelings and emotions that naturally increases that feeling of being alone.
At some point, the pressure becomes too much and the emotion finds a way out. One morning recently it came out in full force and fifteen minutes of a good cry was in order, which often relieves the pressure. If only temporarily, it did. Through that act, I am reminded that I am human, I have the same need for comfort and support of everyone else and despite all that I have, I too can be lonely. It is what I choose to do with that loneliness that becomes the most important thing of all. When that feeling takes over it is important to acknowledge it, understand it, and do what is necessary to find our way to the other side. There is always an other side if we persist.
Having an incredible life doesn’t mean that we can’t be lonely. Learning to deal with that loneliness helps us create a foundation to deal with it when it arises again. There is no question that it will, but with each episode, we hopefully learn new methods, tools and tricks to get us through. Understanding the difference between being alone and being lonely is key to how we are able to overcome it. Acknowledging and being open about it provides others the opportunity to return the favor and be there for us when we need them most. When you are able to overcome the loneliness, celebrate the success, make note of the tools you used and be ready for when it shows its face again. The foundation for dealing with it becomes stronger with each episode and that my friends is how we grow.