Life is a series of lessons. As we grow up we navigate the highs and lows, often taking a path that others want us to walk, rather than living a life that is true to ourselves. We spend countless hours trying to please everyone one else and living the life they want us to live, rather than living our own truth and making our lives what it was meant to be. This doesn’t end in our adolescent years as we continue our quest to please others in our adult relationships, while putting our lives on the back burner.
At some point, we learn that it is not others music that makes our life meaningful, but the music that we make for ourselves that makes our life complete. When we learn to let go of the necessity to ensure that others’ perceptions of who we are supposed to be are fulfilled, and start to fulfill our own wants and desires, it is only then that we can truly begin to live.
One sided relationships, where only the needs of one individual are fulfilled, are unfortunate stepping stones in life’s journey. They rob us of the ability to understand our own self worth and that which we have to offer others and the world. We work so hard at fulfilling the needs of the unhealthy relationships that we are in, that we fail to see that there is a better path to a more fulfilled self. When we are able to escape the mundaneness of that existence, it is only then that we start to realize that there is much more to life than we ever realized there could be.
Life’s moments are fleeting and time passes much faster than we would like. Do we want to spend those moments making sure that everyone else’s life is the best that it can be? Or, do we find a way to make our own kind of music, do the things that make us happy, and live our life path. When we are being good to ourselves and living our truth, we create the healthiness that is required to be in good relationships that enhance our lives, rather than make life work. Accepting each other for who we are, not asking the other to be who we are not, and allowing each other to make their own kind of music, is a recipe for the kind of life we all deserve.
Most people who know me, know that goals are an important part of my life. I need something in my sight to work towards, with milestone check-ins along the way. It gives me an opportunity to change course when I am faltering and extend the goal when I am overachieving. It is the way my brain works and what allows me to drive to success. However, it took me a long time to figure out that it really wasn’t about the goal, it was the person that I was to become along that goal journey that really mattered. Nowhere has that been more evident in my life than my journey in the Bring Smiles to Seniors program.
Starting out, I was just a guy visiting his grandmother, who recognized a need in her senior community. My visits gave me a glimpse into an unfamiliar world, where people became part of a community in their later years. During my visits I would see family and friends sitting and talking with their loved ones. Of course, I also saw those that were sad and lonely, who were longing for that human touch. Initially, I was achieving my goal, to visit my grandmother and remind her that she was loved. It wasn’t long before that goal became so much larger.
The idea that I would make a Facebook post and ask all my friends and family to send cards that I could deliver to the residents in my grandmother’s community, came to me in a visit early on. It was to be a one time thing and the response that I got was overwhelming. I received enough cards to make sure that every resident in her community received that reminder that they were remembered and loved. With that act, my goal was complete. Or was it?
That one act lit a fire inside me that would begin a journey that has been going for almost five years. I felt that the need for compassion for our seniors to remind them that they were loved and still mattered soon filled my mind. It was then that the idea for Bring Smiles to Seniors came to life. It was then that I started to discover the person that I needed to be, to fulfill this goal that I had created for myself.
Along this journey, people came into my life that supported, loved and encouraged me to be the kind of person that used a passion for others, to fill a void that had long been present. The program grew beyond any expectation, including my own, as we went from delivering over 7,000 cards our first year to over 200,000 in 2020. Along the way, I learned to do things I previously thought impossible. I found inner strength on the days of potential collapse, to find what I needed to muster through. I used the collective energy of all those involved to mold and shape the person I wanted to be, I needed to be, to achieve success.
While goals are important, it isn’t always just about the goal. On the journey of success we have to shape and mold ourselves to become the person necessary to make the achievement of that goal a reality. It is the strength that we gain, and the knowledge of our inner selves, that provide us the tools to tackle anything that our minds decide is possible.
It has been a while since I have put fingers to the keys and there is a reason for that. Like many people in the world, I have been trying to come to grips with what is going on in the world around us, and exactly where I fit in this new and unfamiliar world. For a person who tries to stay upbeat and positive, I am finding it more difficult, but not impossible, as I watch the division in the world, our country and even in our own families that has changed the very way we live. Suddenly, trying to do the right thing makes some look at you like a “monster with two heads”. Not doing the right thing makes you a target for social media that spreads at lightning speed. As I focused on this, it is here where I have landed.
The ability to make a difference lies within ourselves. Living our life to make everyone else happy is impossible. Living life to make ourselves happy is a much easier task. When we extract ourselves from what everyone else is doing and focus on what we ourselves are doing, life becomes much more manageable. At the end of the day, is it everyone else that we have to answer for, or is it the life we lead and the example we set for others that really matters?
The key for me getting through this past year has been to focus on my well being, both mentally and physically. A regular exercise plan, followed by meditation, has allowed me to stay sane in an unfamiliar world, where all the things I would normally do currently don’t exist. Dinner with friends, trips overseas and family gatherings have been replaced by alone time by the pool, hours on end in my house, and trips to the grocery store turning into a major outing. While I have been dismayed by the action of others, I have not let it become all consuming as I focus on keeping me and my family safe.
I do wonder what it would be like if we were all navigating these difficult waters together, rather than apart. If we were supporting each each other no matter our difference in personal or political beliefs. If we were spending our time helping others shepherd through these difficult times, rather than making it more difficult. Perhaps a utopian world, but it doesn’t hurt to dream. That brings me back to living in our world.
When we are living our truth and what is right for us, that should be what comforts us and helps us get through our days. When we deny others the opportunity to affect our goal of making our life path the best that it can be, we have more time to focus on that goal for ourselves. When we are doing what we believe is right, having compassion for others, and doing what we can to leave the world a little better off than we found it, that should make us content with the person that we are striving to be.
There is no question that the world feels heavy at this moment in time. We go to bed with worry, wake up with worry, and throughout our day it permeates all that we do. COVID, along with the election, the economy and the unrest we feel as a society, is placing unprecedented pressure on us as we try and go about living as “normal” a life as possible. Never has it been more important to get in touch with our inner selves, emotions and feelings than at this point in our lives.
Much of what we experience is out of our control, yet affects us from an emotional and mental standpoint. Many things that control how we feel aren’t things that affect us personally, yet become part of our core feelings, because we are ultimately part of the collective “we”. It is during these times that we rely on our faith and resolve to see us through this portion of our life path that has turned out to be quite different than what we ever could have expected.
It is easy for people to tell us to remove ourselves from it, or just to ignore what is happening. However, the twenty-four hour news cycles and technology that has been placed at our fingertips has made that utterly impossible. Escaping is no longer easy, it is a chore. However, it is a chore that we must embrace for the sake of our personal sanity.
Think about this scenario for a moment. Turn off the television and shut down your phone and tablet. Turn the ringer off your landline. Put away the newspaper and turn on some favorite music. For the next hour, own those sixty minutes and avoid letting any outside influences into your inner space. Meditate, pray, or just be alone with your thoughts. Concentrate on all that is good in your life and be thankful for those things that make positive contributions to your life path. When you repeat this scenario over and over, a pattern emerges that allows you to escape that which is heavy and replace it with that which is good.
Being successful with this exercise is no easy task. There are a myriad of distractions that will attempt to sabotage that which we are trying to do. If we have the resilience to persevere, one attempt at a time, we truly can begin to remove some of the heavy that surrounds us. We owe it to ourselves, our loved ones and our life journey. When successful, what others see in us becomes contagious. Only then can we truly begin to plant the seeds of change.
We are at a unique time in our lives where the world feels different than it ever has in the past. There is a weight around us that often feels oppressive, consuming and sometimes down right unmanageable. Every day we wake up to the same thing, or sometimes even worse, and continue to question whether or not things will ever change. As we sit back and watch it all go by, the one thing that we often fail to realize is that watching doesn’t help, while doing is often the key.
The power to feel, act and even the way we let others affect us, lies totally within us. We sometimes choose to allow ourselves to wallow in the mire that is around us, which often engulfs us in the negativity that comes with it. That is human nature and often the most common path. Or, we choose to take control, make a difference, rise above the fray, and be the light that the world so desperately needs.
When things seem to be a mess, it is easy to become part of the mess. Sometimes without even realizing it, we become a piece of the problem by enabling those that are creating the problem to continue doing what they do. We become the fuel that they need to keep their negativity going. We fail to realize that we have the ability to enable change, when we make the choice to be the outsider and to stand out for that which is good, decent and necessary to make the world a better place.
It is only human and natural to have and voice opinions, feelings and observations about the world around us. It is when we fall into the trap of others attempting to sway us to their side, often against the core of who we are, where things start to deteriorate. When we are not living our truth, making the navigation of our life path the best it can be and serving as an example for what the world could be, we are not only doing ourselves a disservice, but all those around us as well.
We owe it to ourselves to live our own lives in a way that is right for us. However, decency, honor, respect, compassion and love are all part of the foundation of who we should be. When we make those values part of our every day lives, the contagion that they possess are truly the things that begin to change the world.
As we were growing up as children, most of our life was all about us. Seeing that our needs were met, that we were educated, that we stayed healthy, and preparing us for the life that was ahead of us. As we age and get our own families and careers, life starts to become less about us and more about we. We then take on causes, added responsibilities, hobbies and extra curricular activities. The minutes in our day start to fill up to the point that suddenly there is no time to be with ourselves and focus on the needs that we have as individuals.
This doesn’t seem to be a problem in our earlier years, but as we move into our fifties and beyond, we often find ourselves spending so much time taking care of everyone else, that there is little time to do the emotional and mental work that is necessary to take care of ourselves. Without that nurturing and attention, we often fail to develop the strength and resolve necessary to ensure that we stay on stable ground, while we lend our help and support to seeing that others needs are met.
There are some who would consider focusing on ourselves selfish. We are supposed to help other people navigate their life path. We are expected to assist those that are in need. We are required to help those that are less fortunate than ourselves. In doing “what is right”, we often lack the time, energy and stamina to focus on taking care of ourselves and our own well being. Avoiding what others consider selfish, is simply an opportunity for failure when we are trying to make our lives the best that they can be.
The reality is that there is time in our day, week and month to focus on ourselves, if we are willing to claim it as our own. Fifteen minutes that doesn’t belong to anyone else, can be just the catalyst to adding additional time that can be used to nourish our own souls. Focusing on a passion, hobby, desire or even silence for a period of time, that no one else can claim, makes us less resentful when we have to give our time to others who may be in need.
Our ability to care for others, lies in our ability to care for ourselves. When have the mental and physical strength to ensure that our needs are met, only then can we muster up additional strength to ensure the well being of others. So, the answer to the question of whether or not there is time in our lives for ourselves is yes, if only we are willing to claim it as out own.
There is no question that I was always one of those people that worried about everything. I have a bit of an obsessive compulsive disorder where everything has to be perfect and in order. It comes in handy in terms of organization skills. However, it is quite taxing when it infiltrates every part of your life. I question if the pictures are straight, whether there is order to the layout of the furniture, if things match, and the list goes on. It was only the past couple of years that I realized how much pressure that was putting on me and my life as a whole.
My infatuation with perfection was getting to a point where it was causing unneeded stress in every aspect of my life. Unpleasant situations in which I found myself, became opportunities for inner turmoil that would, in some cases, last for days. I knew that something needed to change. Either I could continue my life like this or I could do something about it. I chose the latter.
Growing up in the church I was very familiar with prayer. Although I had heard about meditation, it wasn’t something that I was familiar with and also something that I was really reluctant to try. However, I knew I had to do something. Continuing on this particular path for the second half of my life was not a choice.
One of my colleagues at work, who now happens to be my boss, suggested an app to try out called Headspace. At first it was difficult. It seemed almost impossible to get my mind to stop wandering and thinking about all that I needed to do, or things that may be going on. What I quickly learned was that practice was the key. Repetition and motivation quickly became my mantra, as I slowly integrated meditation into my life. They say that it takes an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic. That is about the time it took for me.
The best way that I could incorporate meditation into my routine was right after my four day a week work outs, first thing in the morning. As soon as I am finished, I go into the pool, put on one of my meditation apps with spoken word or music, and zone into a time that belongs to no one but me. It allows me the time I need to center myself to get ready for my day and meet difficult situations in a way that I had not previously experienced. For those moments, I don’t have to worry about anything but the peace and tranquility that I am experiencing. I don’t owe anyone anything and I am able to focus on gratitude, inner calmness and all the things I need to make me a better person.
Many people think that you choose to meditate because you are part of a certain religion or cult. That could not be further from the truth. Meditation does not replace prayer, it supplements it. As a matter of fact the two can be combined. As powerful as prayer is, so is meditation in getting you connected to your inner self and learning tips and tricks to bring calmness to your life, in ways you could not have imagined. Eventually, those things that brought negativity to your life either lessen or no longer matter. Meditation helps us understand who we are, why we do the things we do, and alter course to become the person we want to be.
Imagine a world where we were not judged by the color of our skin, religion, political affiliation, orientation or way of life. A world where everything we do is for the betterment of the common person and we as a collective society. Even a world where a sense of entitlement doesn’t exist. We do what we can to make the lives of our fellow person better, all while living in our own world with a sense of fulfillment and wonder at this beautiful life that we have been given.
While that may not be our current environment, all it takes is each of us living our truth to begin to bring that world to reality. I recently went through a diversity training at work. It was probably one of the best I had ever been through, put on by the Pillsbury Theatre Group. When I watched the acting that was taking place on the screen, I cried. I saw people I knew and even myself in scenarios that I have seen and experienced that were so unnecessary. The different scenes highlighted situations that I may not even had previously considered offensive to those around me. They made me realize that I have unwittingly participated in bias, without even realizing it. That is not how I was raised.
From an early age my brother and I were taught respect. While we didn’t have a lot, we never wanted for anything. We did fundraisers and other activities to help make others lives a little better. As I grew up and went out on my own into the world, that compassion always stayed with me. I always tried to remember those teachings of my youth, but that didn’t mean that bias didn’t find its way into my life, whether I realized it or not.
Never have we been more divided, biased and separated as a people and society, as we are in this particular time. With cell phones in hand, our every move is watched, recorded and often displayed on social media for the world to see. We see the best of humanity and more times than not, the worst of humanity. Our bias, whether subconscious or conscious, has reached a heightened level that has forced the need for us to look deep inside ourselves and determine who we are and who we want to be.
Maybe I am an optimist, but I have to believe that our current situation is reversible. However, for that to happen it has to start with us as individuals. We have to evaluate our own actions and the effect those actions are having on the behavior of those around us. Especially the younger generation who often learn by our example. When we start to realize, admit to, and own our own bias, we can begin the work that is necessary to change it. Our change is often contagious. One by one that change has the ability to transition ourselves, those around us, our communities and eventually our world.
Previously, I have written about the “power of we” and how coming together to do good deeds has the power to change the world. I would be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to share what has happened in the Bring Smiles to Seniors program and how “one card, one smile at a time” we are reminding seniors all across America and overseas that they are loved and matter.
In 2016, when I founded Bring Smiles to Seniors, I did so because when visiting my grandmother in her nursing home I saw many seniors who were lonely and neglected. I saw a need to bring some love and joy back into their lives and give them a reason to believe that they still mattered and were not forgotten. Starting with my grandmother’s senior community, we have grown to seek to deliver on that mission in all fifty states and even communities in the United Kingdom. Our main program in Florida, along with Diane who manages our Michigan program, coordinate deliveries to the United States senior communities. Our card angels Elaine, Geraldine and Clair handle our United Kingdom community deliveries. However, just sending cards to senior communities wasn’t enough.
Early on we added a home delivery program run by Renee who would ensure that seniors at home also received cards and other goodies. That quickly expanded as we took on Meals on Wheels programs run by Liane, who not only coordinates deliveries to programs all over the country, but makes the cards herself. Finally, our social media groups took on a life of their own with the creation of two private groups on our Facebook page. Lola’s Smile Bunch, named after my grandmother, sends out cards to thousands of seniors each and every month. Moderated by our card angels Dawn, Janet and Ellen, major coordination takes place to ensure that seniors on our lists receive multiple cards every month. Our second Bring Smiles to Seniors subgroup is moderated by Jocelyn and Anita and provides a community for all our card angels to share ideas, supplies and their beautiful card making techniques with each other. What has been the result of all this effort?
In the first four years of the program, Bring Smiles to Seniors delivered 138,630 cards. In 2020 alone, we have now delivered more cards than we did in the first four years combined at 139,282. We have provided an outlet for those who want to give back to be a part of our mission. Companies have used us for team building events. Schools work with us to remind children the importance of honoring our seniors. Civic groups participate to show seniors even more love.
When I started this program with my friend Linda in 2016, I said that I had a little dream that I hoped one day would become a very big reality. Because of each and every person that believes that seniors still matter, that dream has come true. Every day we work hard deliver on our mantra of “one card, one smile at a time”. Almost 278,000 smiles in time time this program has been in effect is the best confirmation that the “power of we” is alive and well.