I have been waiting to share these two stories for months now - and since today is World Happiness Day, today is the day. Get ready.
Hilena was the very first person to say YES when I decided to create The Happiness Sprinkling Project. I ran my strange idea past her in the fall of 2012, and she immediately answered: I would love to do it. I would love to Sprinkle Happiness in Washington DC! (remember 2012 in DC?) We printed a set of Signs just for that, she and her team stayed outside holding Signs for hours. The rest is history.
Then, a year later, on her birthday, she did it again and this is that day’s magic that I want to share with you right now.
Two helpings of magic, actually.
Like I said, get ready.
Straight from Hilena's words.
Happiness Sprinkling Magic #1.
“I wanted to do nothing other than Sprinkle Happiness on my birthday. Therefore, on September 2, 2013, I hosted another Happiness Sprinkling in Washington D.C., at a busy intersection. My friends and I spread out to all four corners. It was a magical day. One of the Signs in the box was a handmade “Joy” sign. Although it was unusual to have a handwritten sign, I liked the message so I kept it out of the box. One of the Sprinklers decided to hold it at the northeast side of the intersection.
Midway through the event, a young man, he must have been mid 20s, approached us at our main station, where I had Signs displayed in the grass, under a tree. He stood there, reading the Signs and really taking all of the messages in slowly and deliberately. I approached with my favorite sign —Free Hugs— and said, “we are Sprinkling Happiness, would you like a free hug?” He accepted. He moved slowly and spoke softly. He then asked me to look at the Sign across the street, the handwritten sign that read “Joy.” He said that this was brother’s name and that day was the 5th anniversary of his passing. He felt that his brother had sent him a sign.
My heart sunk and it filled with joy at the same time."
Happiness Sprinkling Magic #2.
"Fast forward to the end of the Sprinkling. Just as it was getting dark and we were wrapping up, a man approached us. He looked a bit like a tough guy. I was still holding my favorite Sign, the Free Hugs Sign and offering hugs to every passerby. When this man approached, it was no different. Until I wrapped my arms around him … and, he melted. Totally melted in my arms and started weeping. When we released, he told us that he had been watching us from across the street and that the Signs had spoken to him.
He told us that we have no idea what these Signs had meant to him and that it was a sign from God. He specifically mentioned the “everything will be allright” sign (the one with the misspelling from the early days). Later that evening, Laura received a message from him, which she forwarded to me.
The message said that he had been going through weeks of hardship and that he had hit rock bottom on that day. Seeing the Signs had made a difference.
Fast forward again to two years later.
My friend Lennon who had been Sprinkling Happiness with us that day, was at a train station in DC, waiting for his train.
The train doors opened and a man jumped off and ran towards him. It was the man who had sent us that message, two years before! He had been riding the train and noticed Lennon (he is one of those people whose looks and energy is striking and therefore unforgettable) and decided to get off the train to talk with him.
He told Lennon that he remembered him from the event two years prior.
He told him that the we had saved his life that day because he had been going through a really rough time and that he was planning to commit suicide the day that he saw us."
So there we go. No money spent, no degree needed. Just a bit of our time and then trusting that Life will partner with us in putting us at the perfect exact place at the perfect exact time. Then opening our hearts and arms.
World Kindness Day sounds like both a big, sweet call to action and a potential free pass to be kind today and flip someone off tomorrow should they cut in front of us on the freeway. Sorta like handing out warm socks to homeless people on Christmas and then waiting another 364 days to pay attention with our eyes or with our hearts.
We can do better.
Because really, there are no days when Kindness does not work. There are no days when making eye contact, sharing a smile or lending a hand is not going to be in fashion.
And as I love to remind myself and whoever is willing to listen long enough: WE ALL HAVE THE POWER TO SPRINKLE HAPPINESS - or KINDNESS.
Walking around my friend’s new home this morning, I am taking in the offerings wafting in from her living room bay window: the sea, the islands, the deep green trees, a ferry slowly leaving. So much peace and so much beauty for her to drink in every morning as she starts her day. I am so happy for her, and I tell her so.
Her response switches a light bulb in me.
She says: Yes, it’s such a gift. Even though I am out of town, it is such a gift to be here.
Out of town?
I don’t understand.
She lives a couple of blocks away from the house where I spent six years while my children were teenagers. We had moved there after leaving our lake house and had instantly been amazed at how “in town” we were. After several years of making sure we did not forget the milk when we made our thirty-minute drive home each day, moving to that neighborhood had felt to us as though we were living right in the center of everything. In fact, in the early months, we had delighted at being able to go back to the grocery store a couple of times a day (that wore off pretty soon).
Yet my friend feels as though whenever she is “in town,” she needs to make sure she does not forget anything before she makes her way home.
How does that work? Same neighborhood, two completely different stories. Two completely different stories leading to two completely different ways of being.
We usually gauge new things / places / experiences / relationships in contrast to the previous ones.
What had seemed to me like right in the middle of town compared to living by the lake, feels to my friend like a big trek compared to a home where she spent a weekend before first moving to town.
Is either one of us right or wrong? Does one of us need to convince the other? I don’t think so.
As I shared my perspective with my friend, we both felt the levity and gift of the lesson: we get to decide the story we believe. Because they are both “true”, the point of power resides in deciding which version of the equally “true” story best serves our current life.
Close to the store? Far from the store? Interesting? Boring? Wealthy? Poor? We can probably respond yes or no to the all of these questions, depending on what we compare it to.
The better question may be: Which answer is going to to inspire us to live in the most joyful way? And then consider choosing that.
I notice and delight at the way Life organizes things and sprinkles order in the midst of chaos.
I often think that from the ground level, the place where we live, brush our teeth and do our tender human clumsiness, everything can look so random and senseless - kind of like a beautiful, mad tapestry of textures and colors that don’t speak the same language.
And yet, from up above, from where the ego mostly naps and we are gifted with an eye for synchronicity, meanings and miracles, all the colors suddenly harmonize and waltz with each other; a perfect Mandala emerges and it all makes so much sense.
I love noticing these bits of harmony.
A few years ago, all at the same time, two of my clients’ last name were that of a vegetable. I kid you not. There was a lovely Pickle and a feisty Bean. Then there was the week where I had meetings with a Mike, a Michael and a Michel, all in the same day.
No big deal, no real reason to write pages about it nor see more meaning into it. But for me this sort of thing always brings delight and some sense of peace.
Which brings me to this last summer, the summer of My Two Julias.
Julia #1 came to me as I arrived at a Retreat I was attending with my Global Kindness Team in the hills of San Francisco.
She was to be our vegan chef for the weekend and the moment I saw her, I fell in love with her energy. To be fair, I had been warned that it could happen. Julia is beautiful, strong, tender, opinionated and the complete boss of her kitchen, where she prepared meal after meal of beauty, bounty and nutrition. For three days, I made sure to be up early enough, pen and paper in hand, to learn about the wizardry she was spinning in that kitchen. I took notes on sauces, salad dressings, vegan lasagna and more. Also, I got to know her a little better.
Julia Butterfly Hill, as some of you may know her, had climbed Luna, a 180-feet 1500 year old redwood tree - and stayed up there for two years. She went up in December 1997 and came down in December 1999. That’s a whole lot of winter and for some reason, as soon as I heard about it, my mind decided to calculate how many menstrual cycles that was. Plenty.
Julia said: “If who we are being is a stand for what we care about, then sing it from the tree tops, sing it from the church tops, sing it from the roof tops.” Then also: “People always tell me: Man, you inspire me, you inspire me so much. And my answer to that is: Great, what are you being inspired you to DO? I put them on the damn spot.?” I loved that. That challenge, that invitation. It inspired me.
That night, out on the town for a late bite with my team, we met some people and talked, and shared a bit about our work with The Pollination Project. As we parted, one lady thanked us and told us that she had been very inspired by us. I knew it was a prompt, a pop quizz. I knew it was time to use my new tool. And I was tired. Three days with people had my inner introvert longing for silence. I just could not do it. But no so for my friend Liz who took one look at me, smiled and then sweetly-but-with-no-room-for-escape turned to the woman and said: “Oh that is so wonderful, thank you. Tell me, WHAT did we inspire you to do?”
I squirmed a bit.
And then, there it was. The woman looked at us and said that we had inspired her to go home and truly see her daughter. Not with her mom-eyes and the leftover argument they had had earlier. But with the eyes of love. To truly see her. She looked at us and said: “I am going home right now and I am doing this. You have inspired me.” Right there and then. I am pretty sure that had Liz not asked her, she may not have made that commitment, certainly not out loud. Wow.
Thank you Julia, for challenging us, for giving us a chance to grow. And for your vegan lasagna recipe.
Julia #2 showed up in my life less than two months later.
My mom’s health was declining rapidly and knowing she could no longer live alone, she decided one day that “she would accept to move in with my sister,” and walked out of the beach side apartment she had loved, her oxygen tank in tow. Being the woman I have always known, she also took it upon herself to make an appointment with hospice to interview them personally. On a sunny, heartbreaking day in August, exactly the same day my dad had died many years before (see what I mean? The Mandala) I paced back and forth down the length of my small backyard, phone on speaker mode, while my sister, my mom and I held an interview with a hospice nurse. Three of them in one room in Florida, me up here feeling very many miles away. We took turns asking questions and when the woman left, we had ourselves a little Lavigne Women Meeting during which it was decided that it was not time for hospice. Pragmatic, efficient. That’s us.
Two days later, it became obvious that it was also no longer time to leave my mom alone while my sister went to work.
I made calls trying to discover options. I came up empty of anything that did not involve a potentially long waiting list. It was time for magic.
Magic came in the form of Julia. The grandmother of one of my sister’s students, Julia was as close to an angel as I have seen in the flesh. She immediately started coming over daily and after her first visit, my mom declared that she loved her - and that Julia made the best asparagus she had ever tasted. If you knew my mom, you would know that this meant no small thing. The first few days, the two women chatted, exchanged life stories, became friends. One had immigrated from France and one from Poland. Both strikingly beautiful in their own way. As the days passed, Julia’s role as a caretaker quickly began to emerge more and more. Not formally trained, she rose to whatever the days brought. With love and with grace, wearing subtly elegant clothing and smiling. When I met Julia, my mom was no longer talking a whole lot yet her mind remained as sharp as ours, if not more.
Somewhat paralyzed by a dog who threatened to bite me (and eventually did) and the years of tentativeness around a complicated relationship, I watched Julia love my mom the way I wished I could. A tender hand through her hair, a kiss on her forehead, a difficult trip to the bathroom. I believe that no one could have taken her place, in these last few days. She stayed right by her side, keeping a close eye even when hospice stepped in, at the very last minute.
One of the last words to pass my mom’s lips, on that Friday morning when she finally accepted to let go, was Julia’s name. When Julia arrived, an hour after my mom had left her body, she kneeled next to her and held her hand for a long, long time, stroking her hair.
In these very short and very long days, Julia became part of my heart family forever, whether we ever see one another again or not.
I am deeply grateful to the perfect Mandala that we get to create together.
And for the many ways that we can care for and inspire one another.
And because I need practice asking this: If my words inspired you, please tell me what it is that you are being inspired to you.
Today, I invite you to surrender to the seeming chaos, and to contemplate that maybe, maybe, we are just all weaving the most perfect Mandala, together.
Wishing you a lovely, lovely rest of the day.
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