“ It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”
-Gandalf (The Hobbit)
I want to tell you a story about just one of those small acts of kindness that Gandalf speaks of. To you, it might not seem like that big of a deal, it was a small gift, but what it encapsulated was a lesson and reminder far bigger and more important than the size or actual gift that I received. Let me tell you about it…
Not too long ago my cousin and her husband came down for a short visit from Michigan. It was really great to see both of them and we had a great time together. We hung out, talked, laughed, watched some Netflix, and even “watched” a rugby match… even though we had no clue what was actually going on -it was St. Patrick’s Day though, and it was Ireland vs Scotland so, it felt like the right thing to do.
The first night they came over, we were comparing iPhones and talking about which ones they had and which one I thought I’d like to get. We talked about what assistive features the iPhones X’s had that might be beneficial to me. I was telling them how my 6 Plus is really the perfect size for me because of it being big enough for watching TV shows or movies, but not too big, like an iPad for instance, so that I can still reach the entire screen with the stylus I use. I also casually mentioned that my stylus had started not working as well because the fabric tip had become worn down and had small rips all over it (a possible indicator that I’m on my phone way too much). The conversation moved on and eventually they went back to my Mimi’s house for the night.
The next day they went out to do some shopping, hitting up the areas big three outdoor stores Bass Pro, Cabella’s, and Green Top, and then came over that evening to eat dinner, have some Gelati Celesti ice cream (the BEST in RVA, or the country for that matter), and hangout some more. When they came in, my cousins’ husband had a bag in his hand and said that they had gotten me something while they were out. I was surprised. He opened the bag and the first item he took out was a box of chocolate flavored Black Rifle Coffee K-cups that they know I like, but hadn’t tried the chocolate variety yet… I will always accept more coffee, and can you really go wrong with adding chocolate to anything? I think not. The second item though, I don’t think they quite understood how much it meant to me.
It was a new, extremely lightweight stylus.
“So, what’s the big deal with a stylus, and why are you writing an entire article about it?”
Well, in a way you’re kind of right, it’s just a stylus. In another way though, perhaps a more important way, a way eluded to by Gandalf, you’re entirely wrong.
For most people, a stylus is a very trivial object. It doesn’t really cost too much and you don’t really use it a lot, or at all, because you can do the same things with your thumb or finger. For me though, SMA(Spinal Muscular Atrophy) causes limited mobility in my fingers, hands, arms, and ultimately body, which makes it impossible for me to reach and navigate my phone without a stylus. In fact, in the past few years I’ve been limited to only being able to use my phone when I’m lying down on my side on the couch… unless I want to have my mom do something for me which, no offense mom but, no.
So, for me, a stylus is really my access to everything, especially as I’ve been able to get out of the house less and less in the past few years. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Safari, writing this article, playing a game, and texting have all become my outlets to the world, and I wouldn’t be able to do any of them without a stylus. As my previous stylus got older and more worn out, all of those things became increasingly difficult. It took longer and longer to just type one sentence much less an entire article. It was also much heavier and harder to move around, which inevitably lowered my expert level Angry Birds score.
…Yes, I’m 27 and still play Angry Birds. Go take your judgement somewhere else.
With this new stylus though, it’s much lighter and significantly easier to tap whatever I’m trying to at the time. I can almost type as fast as my brain is moving… almost. But while all of that is great and invaluable, and my game scores have definitely improved, that’s not the reason why the gift of this little stylus meant so much to me.
Life gets busy.
It’s easy to let our schedules and our “stuff” take over. Whether it’s work, meetings, school, kids’ sports practice, yard work, house work, wasting time on social media, or scheduling in time to binge all of the Marvel movies for the third time, it’s easy to let busyness take over. Even getting together with friends or family can become stressful, adding “just one more thing” to our already hectic lives. Eventually, we start to let things slide. Usually it’s the small stuff that goes first. Replying to texts, checking in on friends and family, making it home for dinner on time with the family, or even just being able to truly listen and hear someone while having a conversation. Many times we don’t even notice it’s happening. We have so much coursing through our brains, already thinking about the next item on our mental list or the next event in our schedule, we miss what’s happening right in front of us, in the moment we’re currently in. The people around us notice, though. Because often times, it’s the little things that make the biggest impact.
The little things like:
Sending a text just to check in.
A $5 donation to a cause that matters to someone.
An encouraging word.
A card in the mail for no other reason than to let someone know that you’re thinking about them.
An invite to have a beer or two… or if we’re being honest, three or four.
It’s a smile in passing or hug just because… but not like a Joe Biden kind of hug. Creepy.
It’s hearing that people from across the country, and even world, are praying for you.
Making the coffee for your husband or wife in the morning so it’s ready when they get up.
Taking dinner to the people who just moved into the neighborhood, or had surgery, or lost a family member, or just because you can.
Or in this case, it’s the gift of a little stylus.
You see, it wasn’t them buying me a new stylus that meant so much to me. It was that they heard me.
My cousins were actually listening. They heard me say something that was making my life a little bit more difficult, and took the time to seek out a solution to it.
They actually heard me even more than I heard myself. A statement made in passing conversation, that I probably didn’t remember saying 2 minutes after I said it, they heard as something they could do to make a difference. An unconscious ask for help. They took an interest in how my life was going, what I was saying, and were willing to act. They were present and aware in the moment. When we allow busyness, and ultimately the selfishness that succeeds it, to creep into our lives though, we miss or entirely eliminate those opportunities.
We stop hearing people.
We stop seeing people and only see the next item on our list.
The texts to check in stop.
The invites for a beer stop.
The donations stop.
The encouraging words or a passing smile stop.
We are no longer present in the moment and we begin to miss the little things.
We don’t necessarily intend for this to happen, and it’s not out of malice or some kind of grudge. We just often don’t even realize what we’re doing. Eventually though, we isolate both ourselves and the people in our lives who felt the love and kindness of those acts.
I know first hand what it means and feels like to be isolated.
In the last few years, because of my SMA currently making it more difficult for me to get out of the house, I’ve been more isolated than I’ve ever been. I didn’t choose it and I don’t particularly enjoy it. So, I know what all of those texts, conversations, random cards in the mail, a beer, or something as simple as a stylus can mean to someone. I know what it means for someone to make a donation to a cause that means the world to you. Or to know that when you’re sick, or even when you’re not, that people across the country are praying for you. I’ve felt their presence and I’ve felt their absence.
For instance, probably two years ago now, I reached out to someone who was going through a really rough time and had posted on Facebook asking for prayers. I wouldn’t say, at that time, we were really friends. We’d always been friendly, but he was a bit younger than me so, we never really hung out as kids besides stuff that both of our families were involved in- plus, as a kid, I (incorrectly) thought I was too cool for school, and wouldn’t have been caught dead hanging out with someone younger. After I sent the message just letting him know I was praying for him and willing to talk if he ever wanted, we began to message back and forth pretty often. Sometimes it’s about serious stuff- our struggles, girls, our hopes for our respective futures- and sometimes it’s about trivial stuff like movies, TV shows, or politics. It’s ended up becoming an invaluable friendship, and it never would’ve happened if both of us hadn’t taken the time, and been willing to reach out and actually care about how the other was doing.
However, I also know what it feels like for all of those to slowly fade away. Texts from friends first get less frequent and then eventually stop. Conversations quieted. The feeling that people understand and care is replaced by the feelings of abandonment and that the friends who you thought “got it” in reality don’t, or maybe they just forgot. In response we recoil. Drawing into ourselves and further cutting ourselves off.
“If they don’t care enough about me to check in, then why should I care about them?”
“Friends are overrated.”
These become our thoughts. A self defense system employed to disguise our hurt. They are just as dangerous as the acts that predicated them though. Neither done out of malice, but rather a lack of awareness and a degree of selfishness and self preservation that exists within us all.
It’s not just me.
Odds are, at various times throughout our lives, we’ve all experienced both sides of the equation. We’ve been both the one wondering why we feel so alone, and also the one forgetting the small stuff and too busy to care. You don’t have to be chronically ill, or have a “disability,” or even be actually physically isolated from other people to feel the absence of those “little things.” And you don’t have to be swamped at work or overwhelmingly busy to be the one allowing the little things to go by the wayside. All it takes is the ups and downs of everyday life to bring us to either situation.
Even so, sometimes with social media it can feel like we’re more connected than ever -and perhaps in some way we are- however, recent studies have shown just the opposite. My generation, millennials, feel more disconnected and isolated than ever. I’m not sure exactly what’s causing it -I’m no psychologist by a long shot and smarter minds than mine have their theories I’m sure- but perhaps to some degree, it’s because of busyness. Depression, suicide, drug use, mental illness, etc., are all on the rise, and while they aren’t directly caused by busyness and feeling isolated, both can undoubtedly exacerbate them all. I’ve seen it happen and I’m fairly certain you probably have as well. The same reasons I listed above, that causes us to become individually unaware, disconnected, and to a degree selfish, are leading us to become a society unaware and unconnected to the pain that’s occurring right in front of our eyes. We’re missing the subtle cries for help from our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and even family members. We’re missing the little things, the things that keep us connected, as a society.
So what can we do?
To be honest with you, I’m not 100% sure. As I said, I’m certainly not a psychologist and I don’t have a PHD. I think a good place to begin though, is with being mindful about our mindset and our priorities in life. We might have intentions of not letting our schedules and busyness take over our lives, but sometimes it’s just inevitable. It’s these times when it’s important for us to remember to be intentional about the little things. Make them a priority. Set a reminder on your phone to check in with your friend who’s currently having a rough time -you can even make Siri yell at you in a ridiculous voice if that helps. When the rest of the staff at work goes out to lunch or for a beer after work, go with them, get to know them outside of work, and find out how their lives are going. Buy a bunch of funny, slightly inappropriate cards (the best kind) and some envelopes and stamps so that when someone you know is sick -or really, just for the heck of it- you can easily write them a note and send it.
Gasp! I know, actually writing something on paper and sending it in the actual mail?! Who does that?!
I think it also comes down to training our brains to look for the subtle cues that people give that say “I need some help” without actually saying it. As someone who lives with a disease that requires me to have help doing nearly everything in my life, I know a little bit about this. For me, already having to have help doing so much, asking for help with “one more thing” often makes me feels like I’m a burden. I know deep down that I’m not, my family and those who’ve helped in the past have always been the best at selflessly and lovingly helping me with whatever I needed, but the feeling still exists. I think that feeling exists for everyone. We know that everyone has their own lives, struggles, and busy schedules so, when we’re having those times our natural response is to just bury them or hide them so we don’t add burden to our family or friends lives. As someone who does that, we have to train ourselves not to. We have to let people in. For me, having always been reluctant to share about my life with SMA, writing these articles is a big part of that.
On the flip side of that equation is the need for us to be able to identify when people are doing that and reach out to them. This requires us to be present and aware in the moment. Listening to what people are truly saying as we’re having a conversation. We have to train our brains to hear and be ready to act on the little things. Because just as with my cousin and her husband listening and hearing me say something that I was struggling with, -and their kind gift of my handy dandy (does it feel weird saying “handy dandy?” I think it feels weird) little stylus, and just as Gandalf pointed out- it’s the little things that matter most.
So as you go through your next week or two start training yourself to be on the lookout for those little opportunities. Throw out your predetermined thoughts about why someone is acting a certain way, or saying and doing something, and see them for what they really are, who they really are. Make a difference in their day. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, or buying something for someone. It can be as simple as the words, “how are things really going?” or “I’m here for ya,” or maybe the gift of a stylus, but we have to be ready and aware when the opportunity arises. Will you?
Well, those are my remARCs. I hope they in some way, big or small, might have resonated with you. Whether it made you laugh, cry (I hope not too much), smile, or maybe think about life from a different perspective, I hope you take something away from this article that makes your day even the slightest bit better. I’d love to hear your remARCs as well. Feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment on the My RemARCs Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram pages… unless you hated it. In which case, why are you even still reading this? Hope to see you back here soon. Until then, be well and live remARCably.