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I exist because of the kindness and bravery of others.

My grandmother was 6 years old when World War II began. She, along with 52 other children, were saved by Rector de Beukelaar in the convent called Bloemenhof in Schoten, Belgium. The Rector paid off to the SS 5 franks a day per Jewish child, and thus my grandma survived the war.

In one of my college classes we are reading Maus, the tale of a survivor, and the stories which come of how succeeding generations also survive.


M
y grandparents’ stories, and my mother’s, and the stories of my family members whom I’ve never met, are my own. They mix with my memories of childhood feelings and adolescent realizations; they intertwine with my self-identity; they shape my life. The stories of those Righteous Persons allow for my tale to flourish.


"Anyway, the victims who died can never tell THEIR side of the story…"
—MAUS II, p.45


~


It is important to me to pass on such selfless acts to others, be they great acts of bravery or small gestures of kindness. What stems from love in one, grows into gratitude in others; and a positive cycle begets itself.

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One of my students asked me where I was from.

"America." 

"Where in America?" 

"Chicago." 

"Ahh, Chicago. Obama!" 

"Yes, Obama!"

Obama is a good man, he said. I told him I was in Chicago on the day Obama became president, and how there were so many celebrations. I asked him where he was from, and he said Somalia.

"Ooh, K’naan!" I said.

"Yes, K’naan," he replied.

I said how much I like his music, and the man replied that K’naan is good but he doesn’t like the music so much. I asked what kind of music the man listens to, and he said that when he was younger (he has gray hair now) he liked Michael Jackson very much. He would go out dancing to Michael Jackson songs. ”Billy Jean” was his favorite, he said, and he started humming the tune, and I began singing some song lyrics.

It’s amazing how Obama and K’naan have become representatives of their countries, and how we as people of their countries recognize them as symbols that trangress cultural divides. A Chicago girl and a Somali man were connected by pieces of each other’s culture that made their ways into the other’s media. Obama on his T.V. screen and K’naan on my computer; Michael Jackson on both our sterios… 

~

I spent two weeks of academic travel on a speck of land in the Mediterranean Sea, in Malta, the most densely populated country in the EU and the landing ground of many boats departing from the northern coast of Africa. These boats have carried over thousands of people forced to flee their homes — people I met from Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, Chad, Nigeria, Libya… — who are searching for freedom, safety, and happiness. Upon landing in Malta (after leaving the threats of their home countries, traveling for months or sometimes years, into Libya, and then on sea in a small-sized boat on precarious waters for days) illegal immigrants are detained for a mandatory 18 months in a Detention Center. From this point, men, women and children move into Open Centers in Malta.

I volunteered at the Marsa Open Center two nights a week, teaching English language lessons with three other American girls through the NGO GetUp StandUp! (started by university students in Malta), and it was one of the most positive experiences of my life.

It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before, and therefore it was truly life-changing. Teaching these brave people was incredibly rewarding and fun, because the classes were voluntary for them to come to, so they came with such a genuine interest in learning as much English as they could, and their faces lit up with happiness that we were there simply because we wanted to teach them what we knew, and their eyes beamed in recognition of new word meanings and comprehension of new grammar rules, and after our lessons when we had conversations, their eyes beamed in a different way, with sadness and truth and a plead for help, but also with pride in sharing their stories of where they come from, how far and long they’ve traveled, and what they are doing now.

On another night we visited the Hal Far Open Center. Marsa is a center only for men, whereas Hal Far houses families. While the English lessons were going on for adults at Hal Far, some of us girls played intense games of TAG! with the children, and I taught maths to a few bright teenagers.

I had inspiring, uplifting, cross-culturally-connecting conversations with so many of the men I met there. I also had a lot of conversations that left me feeling sad and helpless, because there is so little I can do to improve their un-just situations, and they have worked so hard and come so far to get the better lives which they deserve. One of the students in our class was quiet for most of the lesson, so I assumed his comprehension was low. When I went over to talk to him at the end of our lesson, he spoke fluently to me and revealed that he learned English years before in Sudan, and he now tutors other people in the center. One student was a doctor, and he asked us for the English words to many specific body parts, muscles, bones, and organs. One student used to be a tailor, and he always wears a serious face with a sincere smile, and he dreams of going to America. One student taught me how to write my name in Amharic. And outside of the classroom, in the open center, one teenage boy came over to introduce himself to us, to find out where we are from, From America? Wow! and to shake our hands, and to bump our fists. One of us taught him an addition to that handshake; we fist-bumped, and then blew up our hands as they pulled away. It blew his mind.

"There are no such things as migrants or refugees, only people."

In one of our lessons on synonyms and antonyms, we tried teaching the meaning of the words brave, and courageous. We acted out a few examples. “Like a lion,” we suggested, and pantomimed a roar. Then one of us teachers said to the class, “You all are brave for coming to Malta,” and the whole class became animated in agreement. A student in the back responded, “That’s right, we Make it or Break it!”

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Karma

On my way back to school… after a three hour flight, a five hour layover, and another seven hour flight, I made my way to the Zurich train station with my two suitcases, backpack, pillow, and bag of popcorn. As my train pulled into the station — the train from Italian-speaking Lugano to German-speaking Zurich — crowds of people came out. Appearing slowly behind the just-dispersed crowd was an elderly woman who was struggling to walk down the steps and carry her suitcase down at the same time. I was standing at the foot of the train already, so I reached up and took her luggage from her. I held onto it on the train platform, then reached out my hand for the woman to grab on her last step down. “Grazie mille,” she said to me, and it took me a while to remember what to say in response. “Prego.”

Once I made it to my school campus four hours later, tired and hungry, I picked up my room key from the office of student life. Two old classmates of mine were there, and after catching up they offered to help me with my bags. So each of them took a suitcase, rolled it across the street, carried it down the stairs, and brought it to my dorm room for me.

Things come around. 

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An Intermission:

Hey y’all!

I went AWOL from tumblr for a while, but I’ve still been active in my life. The modern world presents that funny dichotomy — it’s difficult to be fully present in the daily life you’re living while also up-keeping a strong online presence. I sacrificed the latter for the former. That being said…

I didn’t quit on my personal challenge to spread kindness and smiles, as you can follow here. Rather, I found that the little things like being friendly and holding open a door are the most impactful on brightening a person’s day, that the most genuine acts are done in the spur of the moment, and that there are endless ways to make a positive difference in the world. All you have to do is set out to do just that. If you’re determined to help people, things will fall into place, and your individual life can have far-reaching effects on so many others.

On that note, I’m both ending and pro-longing the 30 Day Challenge which I set out to do 30+ days ago: 

The “thirty days” part of it was initially my motivation to do something great for others every day; twenty days into it, the “thirty days” was my looming obligation to make my deadline. I truly believe that the most meaningful acts are those which are heart-felt in the moment, and I found myself scheming to be genuinely nice. It felt fake and forceful, so I gifted myself the permission to forfeit my challenge of putting more niceness out into the world, and replaced it with the joy of continuing to be a good person. I enjoy helping others, and that isn’t a one-time thing.

I’ll continue to post things which I feel are relevant into this thread of good deeds and random acts of kindness in My 30 Day Challenge — I’m certain I’ll reach and probably surpass a one-month goal. But my goal isn’t to be nice for one month, or to be helpful for a while, or to make the people around me smile for a couple days out of the year. It’s a life-long endeavor. They’re acts that I carry out while living my life…

…the one out there in the wide open world, as opposed to the world wide web.


P.S. I really love this post from settingforthintheuniverse (a really rad blog), so I’ll share the quote with you. It’s a powerful one if you read it aloud.

"‘I love this world,’ he added. ‘That is what rules my life. When I die, I want to have done all in my power to leave it in a better state than it was when I found it. At the same time, I know that this can never be. The world has grown so complex that one voice can do little to alter it any longer. That doesn’t stop me from doing what I can, but it makes the task hard. The successes are so small, the failures so large and many. It’s like trying to stem a storm with one’s bare hands."
— The Little Country (1991), Charles de Lint

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The most genuine acts

  are those that happen by themselves; they are simply inspired in the moment without prior planning. Little things: seeing a single mother struggle to pull her stroller up a flight of stairs, and offering to grab the other end of it; leaving a bowl of water out on the sidewalk for dogs on hot days; holding the door for a handicapped person; holding an elevator open for the woman running to catch it; buying a meal for the homeless man holding up a sign that says “hungry”… Perhaps one of the greatest acts of selflessness a person can give is to be there fully for a friend in need. 

To confide in someone takes great strength. Conversely, to listen to someone takes a different kind of strength.

It means being prepared to listen all the time, whether the speaker is speaking positive words or negative words, because caring for someone isn’t a part-time commitment. It means caring for all of somebody, their positive parts and their negative parts, because those parts make up the whole truth of who they are. It means asking the right questions. And to do that, it means paying attention. It means that at the appropriate time, when there is a pause in the listening, it is then time to say something: only honest things; not just good things; real insights; true thoughts. It means this: one incredible act of empathy between two people. And that act of empathy in and of itself can be heartbreaking, to feel what a struggling life is feeling; but it is an attempt to walk in their shoes, to better imagine what they might be going through, and then to try and help tackle some of their problems from this outside perspective. And at the very least, it means hearing them out.

I practiced empathy today, and it feels bittersweet.

               

Day 22/30

Photoset

A while back I saw this poster for a Lost Cloud from moneyissues, and I thought it was clever and whimsical, and it forced a chuckle from out my mouth. Inspired by that, I drew up and printed out these couple of “MISSING,” “LOST,” and “HAVE YOU SEEN?” posters  and started posting them up around town. 

The first poster pictures a dream of social equality, the second asks for a helping hand, and the third is looking for a smile. The text is a bit long on some of them, but they all have a message which aims to promote some human-to-human friendliness. Hopefully they might mean something to a passerby that stops to read one.

               

Day 21/30

Photoset

Templates for Spreading Joy!

Print, Copy, Post. 

To be put on bulletin boards, telephone poles, bus stops, trees, walls, and public places everywhere.

The four above I typed out, but got my inspiration from elsewhere. (If you’d like me to send you the files for better printing quality, just let me know!) To see the originals, in this order of take a chance, take a smile, free compliments, and you can make a difference, check out these posts from ilovelifelifelovesyouyeahtheperceivorandtheperceived, thingsandschemes, and AwakenOurWorld.

There’s also these really cool pre-made print-outs I recommend checking out of Free Positive Thoughts from onepowerfulword, and clever-cute Tiny Stories from hitRECord.

Have fun with ‘em! There’s so much you can do.

               

Day 20/30

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Today I passed along some small acts

of friendliness.

In the Chipotle line, I took a minute to ask how my food-maker’s day was going, instead of only caring about my food; I started up a conversation in the elevator with a security guard who’d been on the job for seven tiring hours; I cracked a couple corny jokes with the secretary at my dentist’s office, and I passed the time waiting for my appointment by laughing and making small talk instead of pretending to read some magazines.

This statement is true for so many things in life, but especially when it comes to caring for someone in a relationship or situation where they don’t always expect to get respect — a little bit goes a long way.

              

Day 19/30

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BABY BLANKETS!
I picked up the project from one of the many brilliant ideas Awaken our World shares for How to Make the World Brighter … and followed this pattern for making no-sew fleece blankets.
They’re rectangular-shaped to fit in a crib, and I kept the fringe relatively short so that they are more baby-friendly. My stuffed animal, Nuzzles the Pooch, graciously offered to pose for this photo. (The fabric feels real soft and cuddly, too… I may end up making a bigger blankie to keep myself cozy with.)
There are two blue blankets for baby boys, and the pink fabric with teddy bears on it in the background will soon be made into blankets for two special girls. They’re still a work in progress since the project took me longer than I anticipated with all that cutting (speaking of, the bit in the tutorial about using good scissors is some crucial advice). The fabrics smell a little like factory and dye, so I’m going to wash them before giving them away, and then donate them to a local hospital. 
The patterned fleeces I bought were on clearance, so all-in-all the blankets cost me about $20. I hope each of them goes to a family where that little bit of cost to me will make a great difference for them.
               
Day 18/30

BABY BLANKETS!

I picked up the project from one of the many brilliant ideas Awaken our World shares for How to Make the World Brighter … and followed this pattern for making no-sew fleece blankets.

They’re rectangular-shaped to fit in a crib, and I kept the fringe relatively short so that they are more baby-friendly. My stuffed animal, Nuzzles the Pooch, graciously offered to pose for this photo. (The fabric feels real soft and cuddly, too… I may end up making a bigger blankie to keep myself cozy with.)

There are two blue blankets for baby boys, and the pink fabric with teddy bears on it in the background will soon be made into blankets for two special girls. They’re still a work in progress since the project took me longer than I anticipated with all that cutting (speaking of, the bit in the tutorial about using good scissors is some crucial advice). The fabrics smell a little like factory and dye, so I’m going to wash them before giving them away, and then donate them to a local hospital. 

The patterned fleeces I bought were on clearance, so all-in-all the blankets cost me about $20. I hope each of them goes to a family where that little bit of cost to me will make a great difference for them.

               

Day 18/30

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Let’s do a tumblr “pay forward the love”

wordsfromv:

From the idea of “Paying forward a favor.” 

Go on Anon ( if you want) and tell three blogs a compliment, “I love You” or just something sweet.

You don’t have to receive a message to start it, just tell three people you adore them or their blogs. Then if you do receive a message, tell three other people. Watch the love spread. 

:) — I love love.

               

Day 17/30

(Source: stanstans, via stars-and-quasars)

Link

I bought this book today — “Change the World for Ten Bucks: Small Actions x Lots of People = Big Change" — but it was 50% off so I in fact "changed the world" for only $5. The book shares 50 ideas of small actions anyone can take in their every day, and in buying it I already practiced a few. I seized the moment (#28), declined a plastic bag when I bought it (#01) and put the book into my backpack, shopped locally (#09) at the art store which sold the book, and smiled (#05) at the people in the store.

There are hundreds of other small acts for positive change listed on the book’s partner website above, We Are What We Do. Be the Change! :)

I’ll be sharing more from the book as I explore their different ideas, and if any of you want to borrow it just let me know!

              

Day 16/30

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There’s a homeless artist who sits on the street nearby my work most  days; he paints and plays guitar and holds cardboard signs with  a-typical messages like “fuck, it’s just a buck" and "cops stole my art supplies, need money to buy more.” One day two traveling boys and their dog were passing through, and they joined him to also beg for money; their punny sign read “hungry hungry hobos.”
I gave the artist a handful of brushes and paints — extras that I had at  home since I haven’t been painting for a while, ten brushes and twelve  tubes of acrylic. He thanked me because he was running low and needed  more. We chatted a bit, then smiled and parted ways. He had very sincere & friendly eyes. 
               
Day 15/30

There’s a homeless artist who sits on the street nearby my work most days; he paints and plays guitar and holds cardboard signs with a-typical messages like “fuck, it’s just a buck" and "cops stole my art supplies, need money to buy more.” One day two traveling boys and their dog were passing through, and they joined him to also beg for money; their punny sign read “hungry hungry hobos.”

I gave the artist a handful of brushes and paints — extras that I had at home since I haven’t been painting for a while, ten brushes and twelve tubes of acrylic. He thanked me because he was running low and needed more. We chatted a bit, then smiled and parted ways. He had very sincere & friendly eyes. 

              

Day 15/30

Quote
"Love Bomb is a very simple concept; it’s a group of people who spend just five minutes a week to literally change someone’s life."

Drop a Love Bomb here… I just did :)

I found the site through an article on Tiny Buddha, a great source for daily pick-me-ups. Love Bomb is, as the quote says, simple: hundreds of people sending heartfelt messages to individuals who need it. And aren’t the simple things in life the most extraordinary? 

This week’s Love recipient is Heidi and her 6-month old daughter, recommended by their friend Annie,

“I suggest my friend Heidi – her 6 month old, Lydia, will be having open heart surgery this Thursday.  My 5 month old had open heart surgery in June so I can relate to the anxiety and fear that she has going in.  There is nothing scarier in life than handing your baby over to a team of doctors and praying to God that they can repair your child and return them to you.  I know Thursday is a big day for Lydia, but it will also be a long day full of nervousness for Heidi and her husband.”

               

Day 14/30

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hope in a jar,inspired by this post from g-r-a-s-s-stains’s tumblr.
I colored the jars using this tutorial from Craftberry Bush, but I didn’t have food dye so I used watered-down acrylics. (I found that the glass dried more smooth and less sticky with no glue in the mixture.) My jars came out much darker than hers, and are thus a bit more streak-y, but they matched the sky so beautifully when I was placing them all around the beach tonight.
Inside each jar is a note that says, “This jar is for YOU. Fill it with your hopes, and it will never be half-empty.”
If you wanna see someone else sharing kindness in jars, you can check out Kindness Bomb.
seven jars bought from The Brown Elephant? $7.00a jar full of hopes for a stranger? priceless. 
               
Day 13/30

hope in a jar,
inspired by this post from g-r-a-s-s-stains’s tumblr.

I colored the jars using this tutorial from Craftberry Bush, but I didn’t have food dye so I used watered-down acrylics. (I found that the glass dried more smooth and less sticky with no glue in the mixture.) My jars came out much darker than hers, and are thus a bit more streak-y, but they matched the sky so beautifully when I was placing them all around the beach tonight.

Inside each jar is a note that says, “This jar is for YOU. Fill it with your hopes, and it will never be half-empty.

If you wanna see someone else sharing kindness in jars, you can check out Kindness Bomb.

seven jars bought from The Brown Elephant? $7.00
a jar full of hopes for a stranger? priceless. 

               

Day 13/30

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My tumblr feed is filled with pictures of inspirational quotes written on notes and placed in random locations; they make me smile when I see them, so I decided to take em off the screen and to the streets. 
I filled a pad of sticky notes with nice quotes — inspired mostly by thinkphreely, who shares a lot of really cool posts on his tumblr — and then stuck them around wherever I thought passersby may see them.
               
Day 12/30

My tumblr feed is filled with pictures of inspirational quotes written on notes and placed in random locations; they make me smile when I see them, so I decided to take em off the screen and to the streets. 

I filled a pad of sticky notes with nice quotes — inspired mostly by thinkphreely, who shares a lot of really cool posts on his tumblr — and then stuck them around wherever I thought passersby may see them.

               

Day 12/30