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Author: Storyteller

Reflection and Remembrance

Week 2 - Post 10Today is the final day of the year. It is often a nostalgic time, a time of reflection and remembrance. It is perhaps one of the most mindful days of the year, where we, almost instinctively, look back upon the past 365 days. We naturally relive the events that changed us, people who have enriched us, life milestones that molded our journey, good times that made us laugh, and the sorrows that reminded us of how grateful we are for the things we have.

But why do we behave this way, today of all days? Yes, it is the end of the year, an event that all humanity shares. Perhaps it is because we are born, we live and that we one day will die, that at the end of something significant we feel we must process our experiences, thoughts and feelings. To learn, take stock in what we have, and to remind ourselves we are traveling towards a destination. It is an exercise that can empower individual growth, should we take the time.

So why do this once a year?

It is a powerful time for awareness. It creates an invigoration…an energy…to learn from the past year, and to improve our lifestyle, and deepen our life experiences for the year to come. But a positive or a negative force can drive this energy.

When reflecting, if we are consumed by negative energy, we are consumed by regret. Regret is a mental “no-win” scenario…something that I believe is a paradox, as there is no such thing as “no-win,” only something we can learn from. But that should not negate how a person feels when they are consumed with this negative energy. Regret is when all expected outcomes from an experience is undesired by someone, yet all outcomes are also preferred. It is a “damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t” conflict. I knew a person once, who, was in love, but also had to move away from her love to attend medical school. When reflecting she realized that she had strong doubts for the person she was in love with, but also, hesitation if her future to become a doctor was right for her. Either choice with that mindset would cause her regret, for in either scenario she would wonder, “what if,” she had done something differently, and how her life may be. She kept on playing out possible outcomes, weighing the advantages and disadvantages. She felt that better understanding the decision would help her avoid regret. Her failure was not that she didn’t understand her decision. Her failure was that she didn’t understand herself. When you are aware of who you are, your core values, what characteristics that define you, you are then empowered to make the decisions that are right for you.

When reflecting, if we are consumed with positive energy, we honor the past. We may honor with a celebration…jubilation of a powerful event that altered your way of being. We may honor with a smile, content with the experience and the impact it had. We may also honor with a heavy heart, by mourning, respectfully, someone or something that was dear to us and is now lost. But we must remember that our mind is like a closet where we store our memories. It is a calming to reflect on the contents of that closet, and to visit it, sometimes. But we should not honor like a hoarder, who cannot let go of his past possessions, and cause his closet to be overrun. And thus in the moment we are distracted with clutter.

So now, on the final day of the year, with positive energy surrounding you, what do you see when you look into your clean closet? Look deep into that closet, beyond this year, to the very beginning of your memory. What do you see?

…What is your symbol of nostalgia?

What is your symbol in remembrance of a time that can never be returned to, but also never forgotten? What is your symbol to help you mute out the anxiety of events to come, or worries of events past? A symbol that when you think of it allows you to return to a calm that you had in that moment. Take your time and think of yours, for it can be a powerful tool to shield you from gale-force winds when storms have shook your ability to be mindful or aware. If powerful enough, it can even quell the storms and lead you to calm skies.

I would like to share my symbol of nostalgia with you. It is a raggedly black-and-white stuffed animal…a cat. Her name is Wow, since when I was a child I could not pronounce, “Meow,” as cats do. As a little kid, the toy and I were inseparable. It reminds me of a time where there were no worries, only the possibility of an infinite world, and the curiosity that drove me to explore it.

May your reflections on this day bring you calm, may what you honor bring you comfort, and your symbol of nostalgia give you peace.

Confidence

Week 2 - Post 9In the past two days we discussed how a sense of community and its culture could influence kindness. It is valuable to be aware of the type of community you are a part, as you can assess if that is the lifestyle you want.

At the root of these societal concepts is the individual. Just as the whole is greater than the sum of its parts for a community, the same applies for an individual…people are its building blocks. And a person’s present state…his mood at a particular moment, the perspective he has on a topic based on his experiences to that day and his personality as it has grown to that point in time…is ever changing, however slightly. You can say that the moods, perspectives and personalities of a person are in evolution, and how you act is a snapshot of what you are when life’s camera takes the picture. One of the most influential aspects of how you are in your snapshot is your confidence.

Here is why…

Confidence is a powerful mechanism for you to make dreams into reality. It is the steady hand on the wheel as you drive boldly down the highway of your narrative. It will determine how aggressive you are in seeking opportunities for personal growth, which leads to opening other options you may have never intended. It is an understanding of your sense of self, by understanding what you are capable of, as well as what your limits are, in order to achieve what you desire. Sometimes an inflated confidence can be helpful in a high-risk, high-reward scenario, for example in athletic competitions. However, in most day-to-day scenarios over-confidence can lead to a corruption of self, and disrespect to others. This behavior, being overly confident, is contrived as arrogant or stubborn, and creates ego-driven acts.

What is an ego-driven act?

An ego-driven act is any decision you make with the sole purpose of self-validation. This can be because secretly you are insecure of something about yourself or you feel that you have something to prove to others. It can also be from a fear or doubt about something important to you, such as a job opportunity or your relationship status. When people act this way they are alienating themselves from others, including themselves. They put their shortsighted needs for instant gratification ahead of others, as well as blocking themselves to their true-selves…muting a possible internal honest conversation that would explore, “how can I make the most of this moment, and what will empower me to make better decisions in the future?” Sometimes the answer to these questions would be to realize how your actions are actually hurting people…including yourself.

Make no mistake, ego is important. It is the gravitational center of your identity. It is an instrument of your self-worth, and is the momentum that drives your confidence that will lead to potential future opportunities. But ego with blindness will lead you down a road of cruelty. Ego with awareness fosters kindness, for it feeds yourself and an understanding of the impact you have on others. Egos that are fed by nurturing others are the strongest form of confidence. And true confidence is a balance between knowing both your strengths and weaknesses, and deciding on what to improve to become a better person…and it is usually not your weaknesses.

But confidence is a double-edge blade. Having low confidence, and a low evaluation of a personal self-worth, will lead to self-doubt, and in extreme cases, self-destruction. The primary blockers to new opportunities for growth will be internal, not external, and a person with low confidence will likely get in his own way when attempting a pursuit, if he even tries at all. Instead of steadily handling the wheel as you drive down the highway of your narrative, your doubt will cause you to swerve at any perceived bumps in the road. Perhaps people feel this way because they have been hurt before and they choose not to be vulnerable again. It is easy to feel lost when we are victim to a cruel act. And it may feel like the best way to respond to such a feeling is to isolate, to shield, to protect from future hurt. We know that walls are strong, so if we build strong walls around our beliefs, our battered egos, we must be strong as well. But an architect who builds without purpose is a poor one indeed.

Confidence is a delicate balance, so, how can you be sure you have a healthy one?

Trust yourself…

Trust is confidence in future behavior. It is measured by an objective understanding of desired results, understanding the risks involved obtaining them, and how the context of your actions will impact others.

…And that is the power of confidence.

Culture

Week 2 - Post 8If community is the “what” that connects people, culture is the “how.” Culture is “the way of life” that is a defining aspect of a people. Not only that, it defines what it means to be human. The complex social interactions between people that make up a culture is a large part of what separates us from all other life on this planet. Mostly, it is not what we do that defines us…who we are…but how we do it that is our true reflection.

Culture is the collection of knowledge, beliefs, art, rules and customs. It grows over time, be it a span of years within a social microcosm, or hundreds of generations across civilizations. It allows us to represent a collective experience, and pass on social learning. In many ways it is a heritage we inherit, should we choose to follow our born or adopted cultural values.

Ancient Greece has been credited as the birthplace of western culture. Their art, architecture, literature, government, philosophy all was fueled by a curiosity to question what had never been asked. It was one of our first enlightened periods as a human race. Western culture grew upon that heritage to evolve into Roman, Slavic, Celtic and Germanic ethnic groups.

The difference between these groups is what they value. What a culture values will define its norms, which will influence the behavior of its people. It also creates a judgment structure, where “right” and “wrong” or “good” and “evil” can be measured objectively within that culture. Defining value allows people to respect that value, and to respect other people who share those same values. For example, wearing black at a funeral to respect the mourning process, for yourself who has lost someone dear, and for others who share your sorrow.

In psychology there is a concept called “terror management theory” which is the internal conflict a person faces from the desire to live but possessing the knowledge that one day he will die. It has been suggested that culture is a mechanism to combat this fear, as being part of something greater than themselves provides a person value and a sense of purpose, and therefore a means to cope with the fact that death is inevitable. Yesterday we only touched upon the cruelty of the “zero-sum game” …but this concept only plays into it. Culture is not a means to escape and blind us from what may or will happen in the future. Culture is a means to empower mindfulness, not ignorance, to be grateful for the value we have, in honor of the past, and in gratitude for what may come, including death.

We must not forget that culture is a living thing. It adapts to people’s needs and wants, to become something new as we as people evolve. In many ways it is an agent of change. Consider what happens when you gaze at your reflection in a lake. Your reflection may influence you to fix your hair if it is a mess. You also strongly influence how your reflection behaves as the person creating it, but not completely, since the ripples in the water will distort it. In this analogy culture is not the reflection, or the person creating it. Culture is the lake.

The things we study from culture…art, language, philosophy, law…are products of a collective value-based social system. Just as we discussed yesterday that communities have the power to destroy, cultures are also segmented by physical boundaries, such as geography, ethnicity and religion. Just wonder, what would it be like, if we were able to list all the world’s cultures and the values they hold dear, and instill one set of common values for all people to share. I dare to say if kindness were on that list, the world would be a different place to live.

Community

Week 2 - Post 7What comes to mind when you think of community?

Do you imagine parks where children play, boisterous public gatherings and quiet neighborhood get-togethers? Do you imagine people working toward common goals, such as a food drive, coaching little league, planting a tree or a street cleanup?

Or do you imagine something completely different?

Let’s examine this further. A community is a fellowship in organized society, or a grouping of people that have something in common. This “something in common” can be simply physically where you live, whether it is your preference or where you can afford. It can also be based on what you believe or intend to pursue such as belonging to a religious organization, a social group or an academic panel. Or it can be driven by circumstance, such as a need or risk, including homelessness or illness.

In 1887, German Sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies, wrote that community was an extension of family and kinship which forms a “unity of will.” That is to say, a community, made up of people, was greater than the sum of its parts, and was its own entity. Historically a community was known to be a subset of a larger whole, such as a metropolis or country. Although typically tied to a geographic location, or people in close proximity to each other, the advent of the Internet has made the community “entity” virtual. This only emphasizes that membership, and not physical connection, is its defining factor, and that this “unity of will” based on “things in common” can scale infinitely.

A community is not a building block of social infrastructure, such as city or providence. It is a building block of social order. It allows us to build social networks, social contracts, an exchange of expectations based on norms and reciprocity. These concepts are summarized as “social capital,” a term defined by the political scientist, Robert Putnam.

A community is more than common interests that form an entity. It is an identity. And when a large number of people identify with something they feel strongly about, it wields great power.

Community has a power to create. It creates a sense of belonging, togetherness, and good will. It creates security, balance, comfort and peace. It instills in its members the sense of being part of something greater than themselves, creating a natural hierarchy, and a purpose.

But community also has power to destroy. When disrupted, there is a natural loss of control that creates fear. When two communities come into conflict, a “zero-sum game” is formed. We will explore the cruelty of the zero-sum game in a later entry, however, it operates under the assumption that resources between competitors are limited, and one competitor’s loss is the other’s gain. This creates a defensive “us verses them” construct, and ridged boundaries.

It is when we balance this ability to create and destroy we must remember that we all belong to the same “human community.” Although we identify with many things…where we live, what we believe, life circumstances…we are all humans, and all are helpless, and all have the ability to help others.

Let us all, every one of us, become members of the “kindness community.”

Our First Ritual of Kindness

Week 1 - Post 6I am pleased to share with you a concept called the “everyday ritual.” Most may associate a ritual as a ceremony, which is pious or strict, with performed activities in scripted order. There is a historical connotation that rituals are from ancient times, in worship or in reverence to someone or something, that is greater than ourselves, and beyond our knowledge to comprehend. If this were a story to take place during medieval or dark times, rituals are spoken about in whispers and in the shadows, and to take place during the dead of the night before a storming fire.

But we can challenge this assumption with a new meaning…one of daily celebration. Cultures use rituals to embrace meaningful events, such as when a boy or a girl comes of age, as in the Spanish Quinceañera, or to maintain the balance of food in developing societies, as in the giving of pigs as gifts for the Papua New Guinea tribes. What defines the culture is the common denominator of its people by how they behave. A culture defines a city, a society or a civilization just as it defines a smaller group of people within a “niche” of friends, or a even a corporation. In all cases rituals are devices to encourage or promote a way of being…a behavior. And so we can share our own “Ritual of Kindness” to synthesize what we read this week with our own experiences, and reflect on what it means to us. The hope is an honest, internal dialog with our life’s defining moments. In this conversation we should try to be humble and accept when we have faltered, and to forgive ourselves so we may try to be more mindful of our actions. Ultimately, this is what this ritual is about…an aspiration towards mindfulness, and in these lessons may we hope to learn not what…but how…it is to be kind.

So, how has kindness inspired us this week? This week was our plot entry in our “Winter of Kindness” where I wrote that…Kindness is a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, an awareness of the impact of your actions, and a desire to better yourself and others. I also went on to write that…I believe that most people are good, but that most people do not know how to be kind. Of those who know how, few actually are.

I believe this because we must first know how to be kind to ourselves before we can be kind for others, and this is a lesson…to know what it is to love ourselves…that may take a lifetime to learn. This week I stressed that kindness is a behavior that illustrates a way of being over time and not an action taken within single snapshot. It is rooted in ethics, an understanding of what is “right” and what is “wrong.” It is dependent on self-awareness, to know how your actions impact yourself and others. And kindness is self-preservation, to leave something better than how you found it. In summation I wrote…

All of these elements…behavior, ethics, self-awareness, self-preservation, can be woven together to become one trait…the wisdom to love yourself.

Next we transported ourselves to see the kindness in the Spanish tradition “Noche Buena.” We then questioned how well we can know an idea, and explored the legends of Saint Nicholas. We dove into the concept of gift giving, and reflected upon the “5 Love Languages” of Dr. Gary Chapman, namely, “words of affirmation,” “acts of service,” “quality time,” “receiving gifts,” and “physical touch.”

And I will conclude our first ritual of kindness with closing thoughts…gift giving is inherently kind, unless manipulated into something that it is not. I find it poetic that our first week of entries coincides with the Christmas holiday, when it is traditional to give gifts. Ultimately a gift can be in many forms, and can be exchanged with many people, even with yourself. It is more about the moment that the gift giving occurs than the actual exchange. And, as I wrote, it should be thought of an exchange that is not a handshake, but a hug, leaving you with a warm embrace from receiving or giving. Although our winter may be cold for some, may our “Winter of Kindness” be warm for all.

Gift Giving

Week 1 - Post 5Let’s build upon what we learned yesterday from the legend of Saint Nicholas and the idea of giving.

I believe one of the most phenomenal abilities a person can have is to create something from nothing. A creative or intimate creation…to produce a work of art from a blank canvas, a compelling harmony from an inert instrument, or most of all, a memory created by only a few words, or a few actions that resonates between two people. This could be as simple as a joke, or a sincere gesture or a passionate glance.

We live our lives moment to moment, tens of thousands of them in a single day, but what makes a particular moment so special to stand out from the rest? To have the ability to take any one of these precious moments that we have, and mold it into something we can cherish in our minds for as long as our memory serves us, is perhaps the most powerful gift of all.

Dr. Gary Chapman is a relationship consoler and author of the book, “The Five Love Languages.” If you view this work through the lens of romantic relationships, such as marriage, with the assumption that something is broken to be fixed, it is a powerful tool to foster empathy and to rekindle a quivering flame threatening to go cold. However, these “five love languages” can be applied to any relationship, and is fundamental to the idea of giving. I first learned of them in a professional context, during my “day job” as a technology leader at a prominent software company. Sometimes an event drives gift giving…be it a life milestone or celebration, such as the tradition we learned yesterday from Saint Nicholas. But sometimes it is an echo of a person’s importance to you, be it professional, social or intimate. The “love languages” addresses what type of gift reverberates most with “your person”…the person that you want to echo appreciation.

First, are “words of affirmation” or verbally acknowledging your person. It can be in response to a great accomplishment or a mundane task, which lets your person know that you value their activities. It can also be impromptu, at random, a simple “just because” celebration of what your person means to you. Personally, when I am blessed to have a connection with someone, I find myself creating these “just because” moments to the surprise of my person.

Second, are “acts of service” or to physically perform or deliver an activity for your person. This can be carrying a metaphorical burden for your person, to assume some of their responsibilities, such as washing their car, or a literal burden, such as taking in the groceries from their car. This follows the adage, “actions speak louder than words,” and holds an innate integrity…a consistency in how you act and how you feel for your person. I have a profound respect for “acts of service” as it is a self-evident reflection of how someone feels about their person. In many social situations I have seen couples who say with words how they care for each other, but show with their actions that they do not. In my experience, without an epiphany or an intervention of their behavior, the couple soon discovers they are growing apart.

Third is “quality time” or to invest yourself completely in your person. This is giving your person attention, without distractions, illustrating that, for those moments you two have, they are the center of your universe. It can be as simple as putting your priorities second to theirs after a long day, or as elaborate as orchestrating an weekend getaway that you two privately share. I have found that most of my precious memories have come from “quality time” with my person, for with it we have painted a dazzling mural from the colors of our passion’s palette.

Finally, fourth and fifth are “receiving gifts” and “physical touch.” Two more forms of gift giving that are literal and an extension of care for your person. Literally giving a gift can be simply “the thought” designed to bring your person back to a memory you shared. The act of touch is an act of intimacy, which can only be shared with permission, and with it an intrinsic trust that is earned and celebrated. Both have to be acknowledged…to let someone give you a snapshot from your past, and to let someone enter your boundaries and for your person to be vulnerable. These acknowledgments are the most sacred of experiences you can share with your person, and the wise never take them for granted.

All of these “language of love” can be powerful ways to connect with you person. But we must not forget why we choose to communicate in these ways…and to be mindful of the outcome we wish to achieve. If communicated properly, undeniably, you are capable of achieving the most phenomenal of abilities…to create something from nothing…a moment with your person. This is the most powerful gift of all.

The Idea of Santa

Week 1 - Post 4How well can we know an idea? Today, Christmas Day is a celebration of ideas. Christmas is a celebration of togetherness, to be in revelry for that togetherness, to reflect on the blessings we have for that revelry, and to marvel from that reflection in appreciation for all that we have, all that we are, and all that we know. Ultimately togetherness, revelry, reflection and appreciation can be summarized in one act…giving. The idea of giving is more than an exchange. Giving a gift is not like a handshake, where there is mostly a feeling of acknowledgement. Giving a gift is like a hug. Afterwards there is a warm embrace that stays with you, for both the one who gives and the one who receives.

So let’s examine this idea of giving, and how it came to be associated with this time of year. Saint Nicholas is known as Father Christmas, as Kris Kringle…as Santa Claus. But this is not how the legend…the idea of giving…began. Saint Nicholas was born in Asia Minor (Turkey, present day) during the 4th century. While he was still a child, his parents, who were wealthy Christians, passed away by a plight. His uncle, a bishop, raised him. Saint Nicholas began his pious path at a young age, and through his religious development was known for several legends. He had resurrected three children who were slaughtered by a deranged butcher planning to sell their meat. He had visions of a great storm before his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and guided his vessel and crew through it safely (after, again, resurrecting a sailor who had fallen from the main mast and died). But he is most famously known for an act of giving. There was a family who had three daughters and no money for dowry. At best the children would become social pariah, and at worst they would become prostitutes with no means to support themselves. As legend had it, to save the family from the humiliation of receiving charity, the night before each daughter came of age he threw a bag of gold into their window…their dowry.

These legends were the beginning. Nearly a thousand years later during the Middle Ages, children were given gifts in remembrance of these legends on the night before Saint Nicholas’ name day, December 6th. It was later during the Reformation (16th century) this tradition moved to December 25th and the act of gift giving with this holiday became popularized by Martin Luther.

There were cultural impacts to other civilizations. The Netherlands celebrated Saint Nicholas’ name day as well, but called him Sinterklaas, (translating to Santa Claus). In 16th century England, the concept of Father Christmas was a time of peace, joy and good food. In 1823 the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” also known as “The Night Before Christmas” forged many of the common day conceptions of Santa Claus. And in 1934, the song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” extended these ideas with the concept of keeping track of children’s behavior as “naughty” or “nice.”

Throughout history, over hundreds of years, the legend of Saint Nicholas…the idea of giving…was built upon, and evolved, to become what it is today with respects to Christmas. He is a symbol to champion something that is much larger than him, that is much larger than us. The idea that we are all capable of sharing tremendous warmth with others, as simple and as profound as a hug, and to be worthy of receiving as well.

Think about how this idea is intangible yet so inexplicably understood. Think about how we need a name, a face…an identity to associate what we cannot explain? Why do we feel that we must have an answer to every question, a cause for every effect, a why for every reason. It is possible for an act to be self-sufficient. I give a gift because I want to. I give my time, my effort, my thought, my emotion to someone important to me simply because that person is important to me. There should be no expectations in giving a gift, no matter in what form it is given; simply the act of giving should be the expectation itself. This idea is universal.

So, how well can we know an idea? May we spend if not a moment of this day in appreciation, in reflection, with revelry and with togetherness of what we hold dear…and if nothing else, to have someone to hug on this day.

A Good Night

Week 1 - Post 3Today is a sacred day. When many think of December 24th they think of Christmas Eve, one of the most observed celebrations in Christendom and Western society. If you are of Spanish decent, or from the Philippines, you will likely celebrate Noche Buena. The tradition of Noche Buena dates back to the 15th century in the Caribbean when colonists celebrated the holiday with great family feasts, accompanied by roasting a whole pig.

Consider this…a person cannot celebrate because he or she is expected. A celebration implies a person expresses himself enjoyably, which cannot be forced. To celebrate means a person is in the moment, whose focus is on the people he is with, and the experiences they are sharing. I am a huge advocate of the everyday celebration. You do not need an event, be it a life milestone or a calendar day, to express yourself jubilantly. It could be as simple as rewarding yourself with meeting an expectation, such as with a tasty treat, or having an engaging conversation with someone you care for. So, if we embrace the concept of everyday celebrations, when met with a joyous moment, which has been built over an entire year, to be shared with loved ones, the meaning is even more impactful. Which is what today is…

Noche Buena is a celebration of family, be the one you are born into, or the one that you choose.

Imagine a time in your life when you were young, still dependent on others, and the world as still a big place to you, for there was so much yet to see, and so much yet to learn. It is evening and you arrive with your family to your uncle’s house. The massive oak doors swing open, and the first thing you see is the dinning room. Adjacent, is the living room, and both are full of tables and chairs…so many chairs! Places are set with fine silverware and inscribed nametags. You waffle into a thick aroma of cooked meats, spices and yucca before you are engulf in cheer. Cousins, aunts and uncles twice removed, grandparents and family friends…yes, dear company that is not blood, all chatter with cocktails (except for you, you are too young, remember) and carol. You run around with the other little ones, chasing the wagging tail of the family dog. Outside cigars and a fire pit burn as evening turns into night. A buffet of shredded beef in a tomato-based sauce, corn stew, croquettes (bread-crumbed fried roll containing ground meat), house salad, black beans, yellow rice, plantains, garlic marinade with onions, pressed bread and, of course, a roasted pig (yes, a full pig).

You and the rest all have seconds, thirds, and don’t forget the dessert, flan (a sponge cake with sweet filling)! You find yourself falling asleep cuddled next to the purring family cat, as full of food as you can imagine, the merriment still high, but somehow less intense, as you slowly slip into a dream. But before you let go, you realize that your mother is hugging your uncle so tightly although they had a disagreement over the phone the other day, and your grandfather is laughing as hard as you can remember with your cousin, although they exchanged coarse words earlier that week…and that old family friend, who you haven’t seen in years, is back at the table.

Noche Buena is a celebration of family. If we can celebrate with our human family, as we do with the one we are born into, or the one we chose, every day, as with any everyday celebration, what hurt could be washed away, or burdens become weightless?

…May every day be a sacred day.

Kindness Defined

Week 1 - Post 2Yesterday I wrote…

…Kindness is a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, an awareness of the impact of your actions, and a desire to better yourself and others.

There are four distinct aspects I now wish to explore.

First, kindness is a behavior. It cannot be represented as a single act. Donating to charity is an act, and can be considered by some as good. Paying someone a compliment he or she deserves, again an act, can be considered nice. These are all actions, but the fundamentals, the cause that drive those acts determine the fabric of a person’s character. Moods will vary from time to time, and everyone will experience cloudy as well as sunny days. But how a person responds to those moods, to their life’s weather changes, defines their behavior. To put it another way, how a person acts, given a good or bad scenario, is only a snapshot of who they are in that moment. The aggregate of those actions over time will reveal person’s behavior as driven by a person’s character.

Second, kindness is ethical. Ethics is the moral philosophy that enables us to weigh the concepts of right and wrong. We will explore kindness in ethics in more length another day. However, one clarification before we move on is that the concept of right and wrong is subjective. This is evident in the fact that there is a field of philosophy dedicated to dissecting what could be a correct action given a scenario. I have found that using your common sense and your moral compass will steer you bravely in most occasions. So chances are if there is a little voice in your head saying not to do something, or your gut saying that you should…listen to it.

Third, kindness requires on self-awareness. The cliché, “the broader the base, the taller the tower,” is a true, encouraging statement. Meaning, if a person is well rounded, focusing on improving their strengths as well weaknesses, and is knowledgeable in many ways, he or she will likely succeed and an ambition. Although well intended, masters of their crafts, be it athletes, academics, engineers, leaders…got that way because they all focused concretely on their strengths. The difference between being good or great is separated by being exceptional in only a few or even one characteristic. Apply that same concept to us as human beings. We are, as far as we know, truly unique in this universe. Take a moment and wrap your mind around how utterly amazing we are. We have for tens-of-thousands of years been exempt from the food chain, birthing undying civilizations, thought shattering art, towers that stretch the imagination, and far reaching technologies that has brought the future to today. What is the difference between us and all other life we know? It is our gift of self-awareness. Rene Descartes said, “Cogito ergo sum” …think, therefore I am…which was the answer to the question, “Do we exist?” So it stands to reason that one way to become the best versions of ourselves is to “double down” on this gift that we have…self-awareness. Consider the inward and outward benefits of honing sharp this ability. To understand yourself is driven by understanding what you enjoy, and dislike, types of people and things you want to be around, how you respond in good as well as stressful times, to be in reverence of your past, to be present in the moment, to understand forgiveness…all in the pursuit of leading a more fulfilling life. Now apply that clarity outward, and to understand how your actions impact others. Consider the last time you thought about how you make others feel? How you treated your loved ones, or complete strangers? Did you consider your mood? Did you consider objectively how someone was making you feel? Did you consider what emotions you wanted to evoke from the person you were with, the moment you were with them? Did you consider how your inner struggles, your inner demons, may distract you from this understanding, or how the inner demons of others may deter you from it as well? This simple, yet profound, logical chain is the beginning of self-awareness. Understanding the why, and how to bring about the impact you were seeking is the rest of it.

Fourth, kindness is self-preservation. We are one human society. There are no literal barriers that divide us from the next person, only invented ones. The divisions of race, creed, sexuality, religion, ethnicity are all constructs that were made up by a legacy we inherited to help us understand why we are different. The irony is that our only true differences are our experiences. And that is what defines us, not our characteristics, which are merely a part of us. In the end we are all made up of the same things…of beating hearts, of heaving chests, of arms and passion to lift us up, of legs and will to carry us, and of stardust. We are all hurtling together on this pale blue dot through the cosmos. And as far as we know, the cosmos is an infinitely large place, and this small planet we call home is not. Be it in a family unit, a village, a civilization or a human society, we are all in this together. It should not come as a surprise that in every culture we have known the resolve to better ourselves and others have been a constant factor.

All of these elements…behavior, ethics, self-awareness, self-preservation, can be woven together to become one trait…the wisdom to love yourself. Loving yourself is one of the first aspects of being kind, which is something that may take a lifetime to learn. As I wrote yesterday, I believe that most people do not know how to be kind. Considering the depth of the four aspects we only briefly explored I hope you start to understand why.

Until then, stay mindful, my friends.

First Day of Winter

Week 1 - Post 1
Let’s start this journey of kindness on the first day of winter. Some may believe it odd to start such an exploration during what we perceive as a cold and cruel time, however, there is an elegance and poetry to this ambition.

Look outside. What do you see?

For most of the world you will likely see snow. A recent felled powder reflecting the sun’s radiance. Your familiar landscape of surrounding forests, hills, plains, houses or streets, eclipsed by a white, felt blanket. What once was vibrant and warm has now ceased. There is stillness. There is calm. There is sleep and rebirth. I don’t believe that a journey begins with a single step. It begins before that, with the conscience decision to make that step, and is preceded by the understanding for the need of that step, and the will to take it. The same goes for spring, the allegorical beginning, and winter is the end that brings about that beginning.

So, this journey we are taking, what do we hope to accomplish? It will be a journey of the physical, the physiological and the emotional. Every day this winter, we will look at kindness in current events, in other cultures and in our human history. We will delve into its philosophy and archetypes, ask ourselves “what if” given both extreme and mundane scenarios and embrace its rituals. There is no epiphany or transformation expected with the final step of the journey, only a gradual mindfulness with every one along the way.

But what is kindness?

I must be clear; kindness is not a single act, or a collection of actions that span a period. Kindness is a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, an awareness of the impact of your actions, and a desire to better yourself and others. Now I understand there was a lot to this statement, but we will explore this at length tomorrow. And I understand that all may not agree. This forum will welcome the debate for those who wish to participate. Most journeys are not taken alone, after all.

So why write about kindness?

I believe that most people are good, but that most people do not know how to be kind. Of those who know how, few actually are. On the first day of spring I will not dare to assume that this journey will teach a person how to be kind, or even to be a measure to judge a person’s actions as unkind and claim that it is wrong. Just like the sun gives off its light, you cannot instruct a person on a way of being. The sun can only shine, and these stories can only be shared. Hopefully by winter’s end, it is enough to melt snow.

Elephant Legacy

IMG_0232An elephant calf followed her father down a dusty trail. The path had withering trees, and was overcast. Far behind and beyond the bend, their herd grazed in sunshine basked savannahs. Father and daughter stopped at the top of a hill. It overlooked a barren, mud-cracked plain, covered in massive bones and broken tusks.

“Why are we visiting the graveyard again?” the calf asked. “Why can’t we romp with the herd?”

The father swatted his daughter, and she cried.

“How many times must I tell you?” he said without looking at her. “We are visiting your grandpa.”

“But…grandpa has passed,” the calf whimpered.

“Want another spanking when we get back to the herd?” the father asked and the crying calf shook her head.

The father gazed at the graveyard. “Your grandpa’s spirit still roams here, and I must understand.”

“Understand…what, father?” the calf moaned.

“You must know your origins to understand who you are,” the father said. “Your grandpa was an unkind elephant—distant and disciplined often—for reasons I do not know…and I am angry for it.”

There was silence as father and calf stared at the cold graveyard.

“What is he saying?” the calf asked but was immediately hit by her father’s trunk.

“I can’t hear with all your complaining. It’s no use. Let’s return to the herd,” he said and the two turned up the path.

“I am starting to see why origins are so important,” said the calf. “Do you think my children will be as angry as us one day?”

The father elephant stopped and looked at her daughter. He slowly shook his head and his large ears flopped from side to side. “So the spirits do speak, child. Only if we let the anger escape this moment.”

It was then the father embraced his child and the two returned to the sun and the merriment of the herd.

Golden Fox

IMG_0092The hunter was bathed by moonlight as he stalked through the forest. His long breaths shook his slender frame, and his body, only covered by a few cloths, tensed to quell his groaning stomach. There was a low growl just beyond the next bend. He tightened his grip on his spear and emerged thru the brush. In the opening was a fox that struggled to escape from a snare. He stopped at the sight of the hunter, spear posed to strike.

The snared animal spoke, coolly. “Why kill me?”

The hunter lowered his spear. “To eat, I must kill you so I can live.”

“You cannot fault neither you nor I for that,” the fox nodded.

In that instant the moonlight broke through the forest canopy and shone off the fox’s pelt. It was golden.

“What…are you?” the hunter asked. “Your fur…it glitters like the rock veins from the east river!”

“I am only a fox, but…” he calmly turned from the spear to his body. “My fur is gold. It will fetch you a mighty sum with the traders.”

The hunter’s stomach groaned loudly, and he aimed his spear at the golden fox. “Yes, it will!”

“Hungry?” the golden fox asked.

“What?” the hunter stopped mid-throw.

“If you sell my pelt, you may eat for a few months. But if I take you to my clan, and spare me, with their pelts you will never need to worry about eating again…”

The hunter stared at the golden fox. “How can I trust you?”

“You cannot. But if you think this is a trick, you can always kill me.”

The hunter freed the golden fox and leashed him. The two ventured deeper into the forest, to a place where the moonlight did not shine. The golden fox, now black in the shadows, stopped just before a large cave. It looked like an abyss.

“There,” the golden fox pointed with his nose.

The hunter did not take three steps into the cave before a massive paw swiped his feet from under him. With another powerful swing his spear was splintered. He was trapped beneath a hulking bear.

“This was a trap!” the hunter yelled at the golden fox. “I hunt because I need to eat! You cannot fault me for that!”

“And you cannot fault me,” the golden fox began to walk away. “But you did not come to this cave for that.”

The hunter’s screams were drowned out by the bear’s roar before the dark forest returned to silence once more.

Crocodile

IMG_0077A crocodile rolled and toiled in a brackish lake, clamping its jaws, and flapping its tail. The lake rippled and stirred and slapped onto the murky shores. All about the beast was a swirl of water and waves.

A butterfly tittered by, and was struck by a rush of water. She fell suddenly, her wings wet, onto the crocodile’s nose. And just as sudden as the butterfly’s descent, the crocodile took a jagged breath and stopped.

“Why are you thrashing so?” the butterfly asked, her voice was soft.

“I am cross.” The crocodile answered, his voice a gurgle.

“Why are you upset?” she asked. She fluttered her wings, drying them in the sunlight.

“The water is too cold, my skin is too dry from the sun, and the fish in this lake are too small to fill my belly.”

“Then why not find more temperate waters?” she twitched her antenna. “Why not bask in the shade? Why not hunt for more fitting prey?”

“Do not tell me what to do!” he roared, launched the butterfly into the air, and leapt after her. “I am the fiercest beast in this lake and can swallow you whole!”

But the wind caught hold of the butterfly, whose wings were now dry. It carried her away.

“And your rage can swallow you.” she said. “That is, if that is the kind crocodile you want to be.”

The crocodile calmed. He stared at the butterfly that was now a spec wavering in the distance.

“There is another kind?” he asked no one.

Dare

dareThe beach was calm and the night was cool. The waves ebbed against the moist sand, the crescent moon splashed dim light across the dark water.

Not too far from where land met sea a few friends stood in sandals and shorts. Girls with smiles held boys with smirks. They joked and laughed but were barely louder than the tame shores. Next to them a family sat on a warm blanket. Their toddler giggled and kicked-up sand on his frowning parents. Nearby an elderly couple comfortable in their tie-dye quilt ate out of a picnic basket, newlyweds sat on the sand sharing a chocolate swirl smoothly and all up and down the beach people quietly conversed and shuffled and waited. They waited and looked up at the sky that was empty but for the moon.

There was a spark a whisper quieter than the breeze, a fizzle and suddenly…

Boom.

It was a bright green explosion that webbed outwards and shattered the night. Another spiraled upwards, yellow… white… red… blue. Their blasts as thunderous as a colossal beating drum, cracking ear-drums, reverberating chests, commanding car alarms to cry out and silencing restless children into wide-eyed amazement. The spectacle of chandelier-light reflected off their glistening eyes and echoed in their ears. Streamers crisscrossed to weave an invisible tapestry of ash and awe. There were small ones, big ones, great ones, quiet ones, loud and deafening ones made night into day. They snapped, they sizzled and they cracked. They stole the crowd into breathlessness and forced their still shadows to dance.

And they painted the black canvas so bright that none dared to turn from it.

Like Smoke

photo(4)He hurried into the dim, cold lounge. His collared-shirt and pantsuit were pressed and his tie was tight around his neck. With reddened eyes he looked at the coffee dispenser and rubbed his wrinkled cheek and greying hair. He placed the paper cup into the machine and the door opened behind him. A smoky aroma entered the room.

He widened his eyes, and was transported to a bright, humid place. His hair was now long and dark, his face, youthful and his shirt, baggy. He had a chocolate smear on his shoulder and grass stains on his threadbare jeans. The backyard where he stood had a pool and was surrounded by kept landscaping. There was a rumble of an air-conditioner and a mumbling, old man around the patio corner.

The old man had knobby knees, and sagging skin, but it was his mustache that defined him. Grand and grey, its waxed tips extended past his lips and shook in the breeze.  He worked a long poll with a contraption on the opposite end that trimmed the treetops. Every so often he placed it aside and took a puff of his smoking pipe. He held the dark wood idly in his lips or in his hand between sizing the next branch to prune. The translucent vapor twisted in the wind and swept past the child.

That was the smell. It was his grandfather’s pipe.

The coffee machine chimed and his cup was brewed. He reached for it after his eyes readjusted to the dim lighting, and the sweat from his brow had cooled. Now, a little less rushed, returned to work.

Wrapping Paper

wrapFamily and friends visited him for dinner. They had hamburger meats and red-peppered potato salad, greens with goat-cheese and grapefruit-basil dressings, sautéed squash, marinated asparagus, cucumber-watermelon-vodka drink, red wine and rum. The backyard patio where they all ate was strung with tiny-lights in the treetops, mirth from bad jokes and laughter from good stories.  All the house’s chairs were outside and filled with relaxed figures. A table brimmed with food and people sat with loaded plates.

When the sun had set, and he had eaten his fill, he sipped from a bottle of red wine and puffed at a cigar. “I don’t know what I’ve done,” he said, and the small crowd quieted, “to have such wonderful food and company to share my birthday with… but I know I’ve done something right.”

Not long later he was replying to warm wishes online.  He had received them from work friends, long-time friends, and, one he did not know, or at least did not recall. Nothing from the mystery well-wisher’s profile jogged his memory. He explored further and saw some recently uploaded pictures. A girl who was a friend of the mystery well-wisher caught his eye.  She had a carefree smile, spunky-short blond hair, and bright eyes. He was taken away, but also saw she lived far away, enough so they would probably never meet. He continued investigating to relearn the mystery well-wisher was a barista from a local coffee shop.

They exchanged messages, and he visited later that week. They caught up between orders of lattes and micro-brewed beer.  The barista soon looked to the door and smiled.

“Oh, didn’t I tell you?” the barista said. “My cousin is visiting from out of town. She’s here now.”

There she was, the girl from the picture. The barista introduced them. He was charming, and she, charmed. They talked for a while, and then a while after that, until the shop had locked its doors.

On parting, he said: “When I woke this morning I didn’t know what today would bring. It’s like ripping the wrapping paper off a present and in that moment the gift could be anything. I have had everything I wanted from this day.”

Face Value

spotlightI don’t say what I mean. It’s not that I react poorly in a moment of emotion, or blatantly lie, but I do indulge in impulsive exaggerations. I am confident, but also compelled, without cognition, to stretch the facts.

Why?

Looking into someone’s story can let you read your own more clearly. This story starts when I dropped off my car at the dealership for maintenance and took the courtesy shuttle home.  That was how I met the shuttle driver, Stan.

He was an old man and drove slowly. We had time to talk about the everyday, and he shared his opinion on everything. He was not concerned about the impact of his words. There was no good or bad, simply how it was. Along the way he received a call from a lady who wanted to rendezvous with the shuttle at 5PM. He simply could not accommodate since his last pick-up was thirty minutes earlier. Her pleads were in vain. He would not bend. He would not stretch the facts to make it better. And he would not apologize for it. He was face value.

What did I see in myself while I listened?

I do not mind the heat of the spotlight, but I do suffer from the anxiety of wanting to be seen in the best light. I critically compare myself to others, and should not. Instead I should focus on what is right for me. If I accept myself as I am, it would be easier to say what I mean, always, and to act at face value.

Thank you, Stan.

Mirrored

mirroredWhat do you see when you look into the mirror?
I see someone of whom I am proud.

Of what are you proud?
I am proud of my values.

What are your values?
They are what define me.

How do they define you… by how you act?
I treat others as I would like to be.  I treat myself with the same respect.  I act the same when watched as when alone.  I act with purpose.

…By what you say?
I can say my word is my bond.  I can say my life has meaning.

…By what you know?
I know I do not have all the answers. I do not dread the knowledge I don’t know, and I will not shy away from finding it. I know one of the most rewarding feelings is to earn an answer, to earn your own accomplishment. I know the greatest mysteries in life are within us.

…By what you have learned?
I have learned the greatest lessons cannot be taught.  I have learned it is ok to have your heart broken.  I have learned how to love and to how be loved in return.  I have learned mistakes are made, how to never fall victim to regret, how to forgive oneself and how to accept actions as your own. I have learned how to live free from pain, fear, and guilt.

So these are your values.
Yes, you are the mirror, after all.

From

fromThe droplet fell down his cheek. He didn’t realize the tear was his, or that he had shed it, until it fell to the windowpane in a flattened splash. His head rested against the cold glass and he looked at the wet spot. He wondered where it came from… he knew from his eye, but where did it come from?

He felt no sorrow, no regret. All he felt was the winter morning’s chill, and the receiver pressed against his ear. He listened to feminine sniffles on the other end.

When it happened he was far away. The weather then was warmer, the sky, bluer and the sun, brighter. He conversed with a friend on a boat a mile off the coast. Condominiums were dwarfed in the distance and cast tiny shadows on the crowded beach. They whipped their fishing lines into the slow current and sipped at bottles of something unhealthy. There was nothing between them besides their chuckles, the whistling wind and a few seagulls crying for bait.

“I’ve been wrestling with a thought,” he said, hardening the light tone of their chatter. “Have you ever faced a change that challenged you? Not a challenge like practicing for a competition, but challenged you, your beliefs… how you look at things?”

His friend reeled in his line a bit and replied. “Are you asking about change, or how you face it?”

He stared at the water’s jaded blue-green surface. “I don’t know. I know it’s silly, but I feel I am staring into a cave. It is dark, and I believe it’s dangerous. Where it goes I do not know. I don’t know what will happen when I enter, but I feel I must, although I’m scared.”

His friend faced him. “What are you afraid of if you enter the cave?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know. Of being hurt by something lurking there… of being scarred by the attack… of being lost alone in the dark… of being lead somewhere I do not what to be.”

His friend swallowed a swig of drink. “Are you saying change is bad? Challenging who you are is wrong? You are constantly changing whether you are conscious of it. The difference here is you are fearful of becoming something you do not wish to be. You are not talking about change. You are talking about acceptance.”

They looked to each other and raised their bottles. A droplet of condensation glided off his chilled glass and fell onto the deck.

A sharp sob brought him back. He was no longer on a boat with a friend, warmed by the day and the talk. He was returned to the frigid phone call. He looked to the windowpane and the pool of tears.

He took a deep breath and asked: “When is the wake?”

 

Last Meal

last mealHe arrived late to brunch. He was young, and well dressed. On the patio an orange awning shielded him from the sun. A table for four was set near a cobblestone wall. On the other side were the choppy bay, sailboat canvases and boat-goers slapped by stiff winds.

He approached the table. Two of the three sitting there, an older woman and man dressed in their Sunday best, stood to greet him. The older woman, his mother, wrapped her arms around his fitted shirt and smiled as though they hadn’t seen each other in a lifetime. He nodded as if they had seen each other last week. The older man, her beau, had a silver mane, yet his broad shoulders betrayed his age. They exchanged a brief glance and shook hands.

The last member at the table was a much older man. He did not welcome him, nor did it seem he knew he was there. Instead, he stared at the boats swaying in the coarse waters and tilted his head at a distant memory. A light touch on his shoulder brought him back.

“Abuelo,” the young man said.

“My man!” He exclaimed in a thick Spanish accent, forcing a show of excitement. His words were slurred through a half-eaten mouthful of eggs and ham.

His form was an unhealthy slender, and his face had lost most of its pigmentation. His mustache was frayed, his hands shook, and splotches trailed up his forehead and under his thinned hair. Still, his cracked lips curved into a grand smile, and they talked about their old chess matches, fishing trips never taken and whether they would have café con leche with dessert.

The meal ended too soon, and the young man helped his grandfather to the car. He hugged his mother, nodded at her beau, and looked hard at the elderly man sitting in the passenger seat.

“The meal is over?” asked the grandfather. He was surprised he was no longer at the table. The young man nodded.

“It was a great meal,” the grandfather said. His grandson agreed.

“The greatest thing about it was… the greatest thing,” the grandfather said, amused, not speaking to anyone at all.

The grandson hugged him, and gently closed the door. Soon, the engine tenderly roared, waves shook through the tinted windows, and the car faded into the distance of the long avenue and out of sight.

Fantastic

fantasitcHe woke alone at sunrise. The hot rays that popped through the window had snapped his eyes open and dragged him from his dream. He wet his salty lips, vaguely remembering the foggy images now slipping from his memory… he was in a crowd… it was hot… and there was the smell of butter.

He could not remember more. He stretched and felt that the pillow next to him was still warm. Her nightgown was left on the floor. She had left a little earlier.

He flung the blanket away. The balcony just beyond the bed let in the sun. The view was glared, but he made out the shoreline and the white crests of crashing waves. She must be out there on the sand, watching the daybreak.

Fragments of his dream returned… she was there too… in the crowd… but was upset… she was crying.

He was suddenly enveloped in sweat. It could have been from his dream’s remnants or the beating sun. He leapt out of bed and quickly dressed. He was soon tapping the elevator button. The door opened. It was full. He would not wait for the next one… he crammed into the box.

The elevator was hotter than his bedroom. There was a dull ding, and the door opened. He exploded out of it, but his body felt hotter still. The hallway, lobby and street were a blur. When his feet hit the sand, he was on fire.

It did not take him long to find her. She wore a yellow bikini, was asleep near the water, and a bottle of tanning butter was beside her. He approach slowly. He struck the sweat from his brow. He fell to his knees at the sight of a trembling kernel on her bare-belly. He squinted as it sizzled…

He then burst from out of his shell.

Drawn

photo“What are you to be?” His thick accent was barely understandable.

“A dancer,” she said.

The park leaves hadn’t turned color yet. The afternoon was chilly and the young couple held each other tightly on a wooden bench. They did not rest against the back, their shoulders were taut and their glances were fixed ahead.

A man in a suit holding a newspaper passed. A leashed Yorkshire terrier pulled a woman along. A couple pushed a stroller and coaxed a dawdling child. A tuxedoed man held hands with a woman in a white dress. A few lying about on a grassy hill applauded. A man in dark glasses swayed to a broken rhythm from his portable electric piano and shrieked the words of a smash hit from the seventies.

“And you? What are you to be?” the man with the thick accent asked.

“Her musician,” he said.

A horse towed an empty carriage and its hooves clopped into the pavement. A pair of runners jogged by and a pack of cyclist charged in the opposite direction. Nearby were the hum of automobiles, and streetlights flashing from green to yellow to red and footsteps against the sidewalk.

The couple relaxed when they saw the man with the thick accent, who sat behind an easel, stop sketching.

“Done,” the man said, and handed them their drawing.

First Speech

First Speech

The champagne bubbled over the crystal brim and down its surface to the marble countertop.

There was laughter and chatter in the spacious room.  She poured the first glass and handed it to a man who treated her like a best friend, yet they never shared a memory. They had talked about nightlife adventures, college experiences and career horror stories. She poured the next pair of glasses for a couple who treated her like a daughter, yet they never celebrated a birthday or holiday together.  They had talked about an upcoming trip to a far away place, embarrassing childhood stories about their son and how lovely the new linen looked in the bedroom upstairs. She then poured a set of glasses for a group who treated her like a colleague, yet they never worked together. Their conversations were a montage of mirth, with awkward moments, stories ending with punch lines and a man who was a little too fresh for her taste.

She poured the last two, kept one and handed the other to him.

He was unusually quiet now, and looked across the room: at boxes still left unpacked, furniture yet to be arranged and bare walls that needed painting. He then took a fork and tapped the crystal; its ring silenced the clamor. He raised his glass and the room obeyed.

“My entire life can fit into half this room. I was terrified when I packed my first box to move into this empty house. But now, seeing you all here, I am not afraid. You are the closest to me: best friends, my parents, and my colleagues. Yet it has taken how small I can feel from such a big change to realize how important you are to me. Thank you for teaching me this, and thank you for making this house so warm.”

The home remained silent as they took a sip, and a little longer after that. It wasn’t broken until she gave him a kiss.

Nine Cents Worth

The afternoon sky was dark, and poured rain onto the city. Men in ridged suits and women in sharp dresses zipped to overhangs and awnings. Briefcases and newspapers were their only fleeting reprieve.

A man paid his taxi driver and prepared for the dash across the street. He eyed the gauntlet he was to take: puddles ebbed into lakes, gutter-runoff streamed into rivers and roaring cars splashed waves.

He burst into a lobby. Hair now unkempt, jacket now drenched, and socks now sopping; he exhaled and peered at the window and into his blurred reflection.

In that moment he was caught. He was no longer standing inside an illuminated hall, but was miles away. He seemed paralyzed, except for his thumb which fingered his wedding band.

“Penny for your thoughts?” asked a security guard who sat behind a nearby desk.

The wet man was pulled back. He smiled at the guard and pulled a dime from his pocket and placed it on the countertop. “Some thoughts are treats you keep for yourself. Please, keep the change.”

Cigars and Stars

“You’ve saved my life more times than I can remember.”

The slender man sat in a chair and took a puff from his cigar. The only light on the rooftop terrace came from the lampposts on the quiet street below, and from the moon and the stars.

The short man discarded some ash from his cigar. “There aren’t that many occupational hazards in an office building.”

“You know what I mean–not danger, but myself.”

The short man laughed. “In your case there isn’t much of a difference.”

The slender man sighed.

“You know what your problem is,” the short man said, “you think too much. You are too much of an idealist. You can never keep your feet on the ground.”

“That’s what people tell me. I could be talking to someone but my mind would be on the other side of the universe. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“True, but a ship, no matter how fast it’s going, still needs a rudder.”

“Fair enough,” said the slender man. “I just feel that no one sees value in how I express myself. I don’t get it. Or maybe I don’t want to get it. It’s as if the world is a cruel place and I’ll have to learn to accept it.”

“That’s a little dramatic, don’t you think?”

The slender man took a deep puff and looked up. “Perhaps. Do you think we’ll make it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Humanity. Do you think we’ll make it?”

The short man closed his eyes and shook his head. “I can only answer yes to that.”

“I’m just thinking about the state of the world—the natural disasters, the wars, the depleting resources, the corruption, the economic struggle… the conflict. I stop to think, will we ever reach the stars?”

“We have to,” the short man said softly.

“And what are we doing to get us there? Working in business attire in an office space? I feel I should have dedicated my mind to science, to help create a renewable source of energy, or the cure for cancer. But instead I only dream about it.”

“There you go, thinking too much again. The greatest thing we can do is contribute to the development of society. For five thousand years, we have been building this civilization with our minds, and we need to enrich it to ensure we are here for another five thousand years. You say our world is cruel from conflict? Why don’t you do something about it?”

The slender man stared at the stars for a long time. “There you go, saving my life again.”