June 26, 2020 – The Conundrum of Forgiveness

Today is June 26, 2020. This is also celebrated as Forgiveness Day – a day to forgive and to be forgiven. How can one day be so impractical and at the same time so practical?

after the rain

Late yesterday afternoon we had a fierce thunderstorm. I don’t know if I just wasn’t paying attention or if it really did sneak up on us, but I didn’t see it coming. One moment all seemed to be just fine out side, the next minute it was raining so hard that it was difficult to see across the street.

Throughout the storm I continued to work. When it had stopped raining our telephone rang. Our neighbors Neil and Jan called to tell us to look out the window. When I did, this is what I saw.

I don’t recall ever having see a complete rainbow in my life, let along a double complete rainbow. The double rainbow is a bit easier to see in the picture below. Notice the intensity of the colors of the inside rainbow.

I ran from window to window and window to deck to get a better angle to take pictures. All the while I was rushing about hoping it wouldn’t dissipate too quickly. I needn’t have worried. It was such an intense rainbow that it was visible for close to 30 minutes. Extraordinary!


the conundrum of forgiveness

The conudrum of forgivess is this: it is never about the other person, it is always about us. The capacity and will to both seek forgiveness and forgive others is what makes us decent, fully-human people. No matter the hurt we feel or the hurt we cause, granting or seeking forgiveness sets us free.

I’ve had the experience of doing both though I’ve more often had to seek forgiveness than grant it. Asking forgiveness is one of the most humbling things I’ve ever had to do. If you are familiar with the 12 Steps of Alchoholics Anonymous, and similar 12 Step groups, you know that the act of asking forgiveness is critical. In fact, beginning with the Fourth Step, seven of the 12 Steps are all about seeking forgiveness.

In the 1980’s I regularly attended Adult Children of Alcoholics and we used the 12 Steps in our own healing and recovery work, too. Addiction requires at least two people: the addict and a person who enables the addiction. Sometimes the enabler is the whole family. It took me a while to fully see and understand my own contribution to my father’s alcoholism. While I was not to blame, I helped enable the conditions that allowed him to feed his addiction until it grew beyond control. Enablers are not to blame for the addiction; but they do have responsibility for either supporting it (even unconsciously) or addressing it intentionally through what Al-Anon calls “detaching with love.” Many may see the line between feeling responsible and feeling a sense of blame to be very thin. I assure you, it is not.

When we carry blame, we also feel shame and powerlessness. It hangs on us like a backpack full of rocks. We can never seem to wriggle free from the bag, no matter what we do.

The mindshift from blame to responsibility is actually quite freeing. When we have been able to make that shift, we find that responsibility opens us to options we never had under the oppression of blame. Among the options that appear are giving and receiving forgiveness.

The 12 Steps, particularly Steps 4 through 10, help us embrace our responsibility. I can remember working Steps 8 & 9. It was excruciatingly difficult because it meant I had to seek forgiveness from people I had hurt in my wildly chaotic quest to fix my father’s addiction.

One person I approached for forgiveness and with whom I needed to make amends was the former minister of our church. As a young and upcoming preacher, who left the Methodist tradition to become a Baptist, I was invited to speak at the community Easter Service in my hometown. I used that opportunity to unleash the whole of Baptist hellfire on my former minister in a highly public attack while he sat only feet away. Why? Because I believed he had failed my father and my family.

Still, he extended grace to me that day, years later, when I sought him out to ask his forgiveness. I got the impression that he had largely forgotten it and had dismissed the bad behavior as pure hubris. Nonetheless, that day he took two of the big rocks out of my backpack – anger and loathing.

The act of forgiving, though, is a different kind of challenge. Sometimes the offense is so small that it takes little effort to forgive. Other times it takes every single ounce of humanity we possess to do it. For me, the most powerful model of forgiveness came from a man I stood in line with once at a Chinese take-out restaurant in Des Moines, Iowa. I knew of him by his reputation and I wanted to meet him. But I was still too burdened by my hidden shame to walk up to him and introduce myself. I regret having lost that opportunity.

His name is Ako Abdul-Samad, but this Wikipedia page does not really tell his story. Today he serves in the Iowa House of Representatives and recently he has been personally involved in keeping peace in Des Moines among the people who are protesting the death of George Floyd. He has even physically stood between police and protesters.

A more complete story, including his remarkable act of grace and forgiveness, is recalled in this article, written in 2016 but recently updated. In brief, Ako’s son was shot by another young man and died. Because it was a gang related shooting and Ako knew the shooter would not be safe from retaliation from his son’s gang, he took the young man into his own home. As he planned his own son’s funeral, he offered shelter and protection to the young man who killed his own child. Read the full story yourself, please. It is more real in Ako’s words.

Over the years as I’ve recalled Ako’s story from time to time, I’ve wondered how forgiveness and forgetfulness fit together. “Forgive and forget” is something we are all told at one time another. It seems impossible because it doesn’t seem wise. If I forget the harm done to me, what prevents me from getting hurt again? For this reason forgetting seems to be an irrational companion to forgiving.

Still, do we ever really forgive without forgetting? The answer is not simple. There is an elegant but complex dance that forgiveness and forgetfulness does within our soul.

Sometimes we can forgive and forget when the offense is slight and we have no permanent damage or scar. If this is the case, then we sometimes wonder if forgiveness is really needed at all, “no harm, no foul,” we say to ourselves.

Sometimes we can forgive and forget because we are so full of grace and faith in humanity that it is impossible for us to keep account of our hurts. This is rare indeed and if you are one of these unique people, you might consider applying for sainthood.

Sometimes we first have to forgive so we can begin to lose the memories of the pain. The act of forgiveness releases the valve that holds the memories in place. This takes great patience because some pain can leave deep impressions on our memory.

Sometimes we forgive and lose the memories of the pain but not the memories of the actions leading up to them. In these cases we are graceful and also wiser but sadder. The wisdom allows us to remain aware of potential danger. The sadness is because we grieve the loss of relationship that comes with such mistrust.

Forgiveness and forgetfulness are a mystery and inexplicably woven together. For this reason each of us have to discern for ourselves whom we need to forgive, from whom we need to seek forgiveness, and how much of our own hurt we can afford to forget. This work of discernment is also known as the Fourth Step in the 12 Step program: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

Happy Forgiveness Day!


chickenman – episode 70

Benton Harbor (Chickenman) has another costume malfunction as he tries to prepare to apprehend a shoplifter. Gladys, a colleague at the shoe store, learns his secret identity.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

June 9, 2020 – Now, What’s Next?

Today is Tuesday, June 9, 2020 and truly one of my favorite days – Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Day! Strawberry Rhubarb pie is the perfect blend of tart and sweet. Today is also the anniversary of the debut of Donald Duck in 1934. Donald Duck is one of my least favorite of the Disney characters. Maybe because he is just mostly tart.


chickenman – episode 53

Chickenman makes an appearance on the Wallace Helium radio show…no relation to Winthrop Dykstra-Baum.


now, what’s next?

As I’m writing this the funeral service for George Floyd is being broadcast live from a church in Houston, Texas. In fact, it is being carried by all major broadcast networks and a few cable networks too. I am glad that so many are joining in the memorial and celebration of his life. I’m glad for Mr. Floyd that his body is finally being allowed to join his spirit in the afterlife.

Now that Mr. Floyd is being allowed to rest in peace, what’s next?

In 1978 a little Friends Church in rural Iowa was gracious enough to give a 24-year-old with, only and just barely, a high school education, the opportunity to serve as minister to the church. The people of that church were wonderfully patient and incredibly forgiving of me. They taught me far more about friendship, patience, grace and myself than I ever taught them about anything.

In that role I preached sermons on Sunday, visited members and attenders throughout the week, and performed weddings and funerals in between. One thing I learned about doing weddings was that I did not prefer them.

One thing I learned about funerals was that I was comfortable in the presence of death and grief. Was that because I had worked as a teen in cemeteries with my dad as a groundskeeper and grave digger? Maybe but who knows? Whatever the reason, I preferred funerals over weddings.

Serving that little church for three years I was honored to be with several people at the time of death. Each time it felt as though I was in a very sacred place with the person and their loved ones. It was not scary, it was not horrible, it just was. I know. Not every death is like that, but I wish every death were.

For George Floyd the time of death was scary, horrible, and shouldn’t have ever been. I wish I could unsee the last moments of Mr. Floyd’s life, but I cannot. It was nothing like anything I’ve ever seen before in real time, up close. I cannot unsee it and I should never unsee it.

Just a few minutes ago in the service for Mr. Floyd, Rev. Mary White offered a prayer in the funeral service. One line of that prayer grabbed me. I won’t get it exactly right here but the gist of it was this: “When George cried out for his mama, every mama heard his cry.” Truth. It explains, in part, why this man’s death is so different and why the response to it has been so overwhelming and powerful.

Another thing I learned about funerals is that they are for the living, not the dead. Mr. Floyd is out of his pain now and has moved into the presence of his God and his mother again. Funerals recognize and embrace the pain of those left behind. They provide a means for those left behind to release their grief and to finally release their loved one. Sometimes the death of a loved one results in a change for individual survivors.

At the individual level, the loss of a loved one can profoundly change us. We may become more attentive to our own health, we may turn more intentionally to spiritual things, we may make profound changes in our relationships, or we may “step up” in ways that we never did before. As an individual, I’ve experienced change as a result of loss. I’ve also witnessed individual change like this in others.

I am less convinced that the death of one person, no matter how horrific, will change whole groups, including communities, states, and nations. When it comes to Mr. Floyd’s death and the meaning it could have to our society and world, I want to be convinced and have my doubt erased.

The death of George Floyd changes our country and our world only if it also changes us as individuals. As Rev. White noted, when George Floyd cried out to his mama, it changed mama’s everywhere. It also changed a few papas…including me.

Have enough mamas and papas, brothers and sisters, aunties and uncles, sons and daughters been changed? Please, God, let it be so that the answer “Now, what’s next?” becomes plain for all to see. Then George Floyd will have truly changed the world.

The George Floyd mural outside Cup Foods at Chicago Ave and E 38th St in Minneapolis, Minnesota – Photo by Lorie Shaull

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

Tom

Day 76 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Tomorrow will be my last in the series “Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place.” In it I’m going to reflect on this 77 day journey and give you a sneak preview of what happens next. I hope you will join me.

Saturday, May 30, 2020 – Live to Blog…Humbled by Beauty and Love

We had coffee again this morning with Alonzo and Starlee. They were camping in one of the most beautiful spots in the world this weekend and we connected on Zoom via their cell phone. The connection was remarkably good! Many people wouldn’t think the place they are camping is so beautiful. There were no mountains, no waterfalls, no beach nothing at all very exotic. However, there were no signs of human existence in their line of sight or within earshot, the stars glow and dance in an endless night sky, and they are serenaded by a symphony of nature sounds we could hear and enjoy even over Zoom. The Great Plains is a place of extaordinary beauty that too many people simply fly over. It has a kind of beauty that is so humbling. In a thousand ways it points to something so much greater and more significant than us. Thank you, Alonzo and Starlee, for sharing the sights and the sounds of where you are sheltering-in-place this weekend.


A Follow-Up on the Day 74 Blog

On Day 74 of this blog I wrote a posting about my own ongoing journey out of racist conditioning. In that posting I told the story of my friend Kevin and his role in my journey. I don’t believe Kevin knew he actually had a role until he and his spouse, Julie, read the post. He was simply being a friend and colleague to me. Actually, that was probably more powerful than any intervention he could have dreamed up.

My follow up to that blog is to share, with their permission, Kevin and Julie’s responses to it. Each sent me notes via Facebook messenger shortly after reading it. I asked if I might share these with you because I realize the blog leaves people to wonder, “What of Kevin?”

As you will see, Kevin is less expressive than Julie but he is thoughtful and makes his words count. Julie is eloquent and heartfelt in her response. However, what each wrote to me touched me deeply and, frankly, reduced me to tears.

From Kevin:
Nicely said. Being aware is good. Living your life with the works of caring to make a difference is another. You are living your life with the works that prove you are and have made a difference. I still have work to do in this area myself. Blessing to you Tom! And thank you!

From Julie:
Tom, I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciated the article you shared with Kevin this morning. In 28 years with my beautiful black husband there have been so many occasions when I have witnessed racism and white privilege.

I have experienced emotions that range from anger, to frustration, to sadness, to pity for such ignorance. I am about as closely related to the black experience as a person can be. And yet, at the end of the day, Kevin’s skin is still black, and mine is still white. Friends who I love say things like, “I don’t see color,” which, to me says one of two things: The person is blind – or they absolutely DO see color! Otherwise why make the statement? I love you, Tom, for being in the struggle. Recent events shine a bright light on the fact that racism is alive and well and on the rise. I am so grateful for your honesty and your willingness to admit your struggle. It brings me to tears to hear a voice that speaks to the reality of the struggle. We hear these voices so seldom.

A book that has enlightened my mind and encouraged me to stay in the good fight is Tears We Cannot Stop (a sermon to white America) by Michael Eric Dyson. Perhaps you have already read it. If not, I highly recommend it. I have offered to lend my copy to several of my white friends. To date, not a single one has taken the offer. Not one.

Thank you again, Tom. You have given me hope today…I confess that I often feel pretty hopeless in the current environment. I have said more than once in the past 3+ years: I would not be surprised to see a burning cross in our yard. I would be terrified, mortified…but not surprised.

Sending love to you and Clemencia.

Thank you, Kevin and Julie, for being our friends, for being so congruent in your lives, for your humbling love, and for letting me share it here.


A Couple of Nudges

Nudge #1: In just a couple of days I’ll be doing a Tamarack Institute webinar with my friend and colleague, Liz Weaver, who is Co-CEO of Tamarack. The webinar is titled Tenacity, Humility, and Collaborative Leadership and it will feature a conversation between Liz and me exploring these topics, with an opportunity for you to be a part of the conversation as well. The webinar is happening on Tuesday, June 2 from 1:00 to 2:00 PM Eastern via Zoom and it is FREE! Please act today to register for it. You sign up here. When last I heard, over 400 webinar seats have been filled, but there are still plenty available.

Nudge #2: ¡Charlemos con Clemencia! is now receiving registrations for the Summer Session, June 15-September 4. This is Clemencia’s website and teaching Spanish to adults is her baby. I admit that I’m a bit biased when it comes to how I view her skills. Still, I’ve spent a good portion of my life in front of audiences as a trainer, workshop leader, and public speaker and I know what it takes to do it well. (That is not to say I have always done it well, just that I know good when I see it.) Clemencia is good! She is one of the best I’ve seen in front of an audience. Learning Spanish with Clemencia is an experience.

I hope you will check out the website, watch the other two brief videos in which Clemencia explains how the classes work. We invite you to consider whether you, or someone you know, is ready for an experience in learning Spanish.

The Adventures of Chickenman

Episode 43 – The Winged Warrior is called upon to help the Mayor of Midland City retrieve a valuable possession which has been lost…is that stolen?

The View from Jeff

Jeff explains: I’m not sure if the shields are 100% germ proof, but they are at 65% sound proof. As a result I find myself unintentionally talking over them (at 6’3” I am tallish enough to not have stuff designed for my height).

Tomorrow – Day 77

Tomorrow will be my last in the series “Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place.” In it I’m going to reflect on this 77 day journey and give you a sneak preview of what happens next. I hope you will join me.


Stay safe. Be well. Keep calm. Keep washing your hands. Keep wearing your mask. And keep coming back, especially tomorrow to learn what is next.

Tom

Day 74 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

At one point, he laughed and said, “Tom, you are the whitest white boy I’ve ever known!” We both laughed, because some truth makes us laugh when it slaps us upside the head.

Thursday, May 28, 2020 – Live to Blog from Under Cover of Shame

Keeping Social Separation
Keeping Social Separation in the Time of COVID-19 – #alonetogether

Given all that is happening this week in Minneapolis, New York City, and, recently, in Brunswick, Georgia, I need to write about race – specifically the dynamics of white racism toward black people. I have never felt fully competent to offer a meaningful opinion on race. Even more, as a white male I wonder if I even have standing to offer an opinion given the horrific history of white male oppression of minorities and specifically black people which continues even to this very day. Let’s face, white men, we’ve blown it…again…and again…and again and we keep blowing it. Still, to remain silent is to ignore the racism in our country and to become complicit in it. While I often refer to this blog as being full of “drivel,” race is not a drivelous matter. For this reason I will move forward with this blog on race, but carefully, thoughtfully, and respectfully. I will save drivel for tomorrow.

A Little Context

My father figure gave me my first education about race. I vividly remember him often saying this: “I don’t so much mind the n****** and s****, but its the g**** that really get to me.” Unfortunately, that racist perspective defined or informed my view of nonwhite people and race for many years. Growing up in very rural Iowa, inhabited and surrounded by white, Anglo, Northern European people like myself, I had little life experience to challenge that understanding.

Only one time did I ever see black people in my hometown. In fact, they visited our home. It was a woman my mother worked with at a department store in a city about 20 miles away and her husband. They were out on a drive that Sunday afternoon and decided to drop in on us. My parents were wholly unprepared and I thought one or both were going to have strokes. They quickly ushered the couple into our house, all the time looking about to make sure the neighbors hadn’t noticed. We had a very awkward visit which I very much enjoyed. I was, after all, just at that age when teens enjoy seeing their parents suffer.

An Awakening

There was a time in my life when I was like Amy Cooper. Not long after I left my hometown I was working for a religious youth organization in a larger city in Iowa. I was meeting with a group of white youth in a park and we were playing volleyball together. A group of young black men came up and asked to join the game. My conditioning told me they were probably dangerous to the white youth, so I ended the game early and segregated my group from them by moving on to a Bible study activity for just them…the white kids. How ironic, eh? I have always felt embarrassed and ashamed of my actions that afternoon.

Though my social conditioning told me one thing, my conscience told me another. I began to wonder why I acted that way toward those young black men and, over time, the lingering shame I felt opened me to exploring it. At just the right moment of my life and career, two people helped me with my growth. One was Kevin, a black man who worked with me at a nonprofit organization in Iowa. Kevin was on my staff and by getting to know him, I got to know myself better.

A Transformation Begins

Both Kevin and I attended a diversity training sponsored by the local YWCA, but at different times. He attended it first. I attended it the next time it was offered. When I finished it, I came back to the office and was telling him all about my experience and what I had learned. At one point, he laughed and said, “Tom, you are the whitest white boy I’ve ever known!” We both laughed, because some truth makes us laugh when it slaps us upside the head. Even as I remember this and write about it today, I still smile with appreciation because his candor was so genuine, so refreshing, and so right on.

This week I saw this video going around on Facebook and it reminded me of Kevin. If you haven’t seen it, please take a moment to watch it. If you click on the image below, it should take you to a Facebook page where the video appears.

The other person who helped with my growth was Al Vivien. Al’s father is C.T. Vivien, a close associate of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, a Presidential Medal of Freedom Honoree by President Obama, and the creator and founder of the diversity work and organization Al leads today. Al was the facilitator of that diversity training I attended.

It would take many blogs to describe that experience as it was one of the most momentous and transformative of my life – hence my rush to share it with Kevin. I will only report now that I gained a lot of content but knowledge alone was not enough. The knowledge only provided context for me to understand what I experienced. It was the experience that Al facilitated – the experience of being skillfully transported, for a few hours, into a black man’s life – that impacted me.

Still, it was my friendship with Kevin that actually prepared me for what Al would teach me about the common humanity of blacks and whites. The stories we shared about our lives, the conversations we had, and the experiences we shared as co-workers prepared a place in my soul where Al’s message could be received and embraced. I have not been the same since.

The Need to Keep Moving Forward

Today it would be easy for me to pull a muscle patting myself on my back for how far I have come. I have a diverse group of clients – white, black, Hispanic, Latino and Asian. I live in a black majority county in a very diverse neighborhood. I have a very diverse group of acquaintances and friends. My Colombian spouse does not self-identify as a white woman.

However, I know my early racist conditioning was continuous and strong. I cannot and should not ever forget that that is how I learned to be. If I do, then I risk falling back because the racism of our culture today rivals that in which I came of age. Yes, we have a pandemic of COVID-19 that is stressing everyone and makes all things seem worse. It still cannot hide the pandemic of racism in the United States that has silently infected the souls of us white people througout my lifetime.

One reason I decided to tell this part of my story is so that people who care about me will hold me accountable when I fail to do it myself. You see, I’m a pretty nice guy. The “me” most people know today is very different from the “me” of years ago. They probably don’t know this racist past of mine because they have never seen it. At least I don’t think they have, except Kevin who is incredibly insightful and authentic, and was brave enough to call it out.

I know I’m responsible for my own life and for being the person I am. In asking others to hold me accountable I’m not asking them to be responsible. I’m just saying that I’m human. I can make mistakes. I can fail. When I do, I want people who care to snap me back on track. That’s all.

I do not want to be Amy Cooper, or the cop who strangled George Floyd, or the cops who watched him die, or the man who shot Ahmaud Arbery, or the man who instigated the shooting. I do not want to be a person who inflicts any level of pain on another person because they are black or a member of any other minority in this country.

As much I do not want to be that kind of person, I have to live daily in the knowledge that I am not so far away from it. My social conditioning, combined with our current racist environment, can call forth aspects of my still unconscious racism in the Unknown region of my Johari Window.

There are two kinds of deadly racists in our country. The first are those who know they are racist and are proud of it. They are the ones who show up in places like Charlottesville. They are dangerous but, frankly, not as dangerous as the second kind. The second kind are the socially conscienced unconcious racists. They are the people who think they are not racist and tend to deny its existence today, preferring to believe “we are better than that.” They are the ones who stand by and do nothing while racism kills people. However, afterward, they do stand around with friends like themselves and lament how bad things must be for “those” poor people. I do not believe I will ever be the first kind, but I am never far enough away from being the second.

If white folks were being honest, I think my reality is close to theirs. This, I believe, is what Don Lemon was trying to school Chris Cuomo on last night on CNN. This is a 9+ minute video clip from the start of Don Lemon’s show, as Chris Cuomo was “passing off” to him. It is a powerful, honest dialogue between two men who claim to be, and who I believe, are friends. Take the time to watch it now, and I’ll pick this up on the other side with a couple of questions.

Okay, thanks for watching the video. May I ask you a question: If you are a white person, did Don Lemon’s comments get under your skin? Did you feel for Chris Cuomo who was squirming just a bit? Did you squirm just a bit yourself? Did you feel even a little offended by Lemon’s comments? If you are a white person and answered yes to any of these questions, then you still have work to do.

You are not alone, though. I’m there with you. I still have work to do because I don’t like the alternative if I don’t remain attentive. In fact, all of us white people have work to do…lots of work…continously. The roots of racism – especially white racism toward blacks – run very deep in our country. We cannot allow ourselves to believe it isn’t there. We cannot delude ourselves into thinking we have, or can, iradicate it from our beings. These beliefs and delusions continue to kill black people and others who do not look, or sound, like us.

It is past time for us to wake up into the reality of our delusion.


Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and, if you are white, keep searching your soul for the unconscious racism that lies within. We only become better when we are willing to confront the problem and heal the illness.

Tom

Christmas Eve at Aldi

December 24, 2018. Last minute errands on Christmas Eve are a holiday tradition in our home. Usually the last mad dash to the grocery is quite uneventful. Not so today.

December 24, 2018. Last minute errands on Christmas Eve are a holiday tradition in our home. Usually the last mad dash to the grocery is quite uneventful. Not so today.

I had two errands to run this morning. The first one was to the bank. The second one was to Aldi to pick up pineapple chunks for the ham, Señor Rico’s rice pudding (to which I may have developed an addiction), and to wander the special buys aisle to see if there was anything I thought I needed.

U.S. Highway Route 1 bisects Laurel, Maryland where we live. Both the bank and Aldi are located on the West side of U.S. 1 though the bank is the furthest. It makes sense, therefore, to go to the bank first, and then stop at Aldi on the way home, which is what I did.

Leaving the bank I turned onto Rte. 1, moved to far right lane, and prepared to turn into the strip mall entrance where Aldi is located. A car quickly appeared behind and tailgated me as we turned into the access road beside the large parking area. The driver of the tailgating car turned into the parking area one entrance before the one I used. What I didn’t know is that the other driver was in a fierce hurry and began to cut across the empty parking spaces. When I made my turn and looked up, there was the other car on course to T-bone the passenger side of my car. I slammed on my brakes. The other driver slammed on her brakes then started gesturing impatiently and, might I add, rudely, toward me. I turned to her and offered the universal gesture for “What THE are you doing?” (No, I did not “go nuclear” with the gesture, just to be clear.)

I went on by and then she continued to race across the parking lot without looking. She parked her car – but too far away for me to yell at her without sounding like a mad man myself. Then, she proceeded to go to the cart rack at Aldi, put in her quarter to unlock a cart, and go inside. As a further assault to civility and decency, she was wearing holiday decorated yoga pants and sweatshirt. Considered together, in my only slightly biased opinion influenced by our mutual near death experience at her hand, I thought her outfit looked like the hands-down winner of any ugly Christmas outfit contest on Earth…and I thought I might let her know that when we finally met in the store. Instead, I settled for glaring at her at every opportunity. And, yes, I did get that opportunity…twice. She ignored me.

I finally got the items I came for, couldn’t find anything else I didn’t come for, and gave up trying to make the badly dressed driver feel bad. I got in line and put my items on the belt – including a nearly two week fix…er supply…of Señor Rico. I chose this checkout line because I believed it would be faster than the line next to it where a woman was buying for a massive Christmas celebration and the items overflowed her cart.

Behind her was an elderly woman whom I had seen earlier holding a couple of canned items and scavenging for a small ham in the meat section. As the first woman, with the overflowing car, was just about to pay her bill, she told the clerk to put the second woman’s items on her bill and she did. At first, the second woman didn’t know what had happened until she tried to pay for the items. The Aldi clerk explained to the woman that the first woman had paid for her items. The elderly woman was shocked, began to thank the woman profusely, gave her a hug, and burst into tears. Together they went to the packing area together to bag up their bounty. Except that we are living in such divisive, hateful time, it should not be noteworthy that the first woman was black and the elderly woman was white.

Witnessing this powerful act of kindness washed away the anger I was feeling toward the badly dressed driver who nearly ran into me. Even more, it reminded me of the kind of person I aspire to be. I do not aspire to be the angry guy gesturing wildly to the bad driver. I do not aspire to be a judgmental fashion critic. I do not aspire to be the crazy guy that is looking up and down aisles in Aldi for a “chance” run in with the bad driver so I can glare at her. I aspire to be the person who kindly buys the groceries for another without judgment or expectation of gratitude.  

This year’s Christmas Eve run to Aldi was more meaningful than most. I learned something about myself. I learned how easy it is in a world where incivility seems to be the norm once again to also default to incivility myself. Shortly after Thanksgiving I sent out an eblast to clients, colleagues, and friends that offered this aspirational thought: Peace on Earth starts with the simple acts of kindness, compassion, and civility we do and give to each other everyday.

I offer it again here but only as a reminder of my own humanity and of the kind of person I still aspire to be.

Whatever holidays you celebrate, celebrate them with joy.

Be greater, do good, everyday…change forward.

Tom

Just 1 Story – Episode 2 Is Airing!

Episode 2 of Just 1 Story is now available and airing. It is titled “The Pay-It-Forward Mentor.” This episode tells the story of a man whose career and life was transformed by a chance meeting. Just 1 Story features stories of defining moments and personal leadership in the lives of people. Do you have a story that has defined your life and work? If so, consider sharing it in the second season of Just 1 Story. Click here to learn more about how you can share your story in the Just 1 Story podcast.