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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014

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Readers Blog

To Give And To Receive

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Mom always said to practice charity. “And when you give, give wholeheartedly -- otherwise, what's the point? Don't count the cost. It will come back tenfold...." And it literally worked. I gave a boy scout $10 once and joked with a stranger, "According to Mom, I should get $100 tomorrow." Lo and behold, I received a $100 check the next day for a wedding I sang for and completely forgot about. Huh.

This week's task was to follow my wise mother and practice charity with random acts of kindness. The easiest avenue was to fill out my Milwaukee Rescue Mission (http://www.milmission.org/) pledge card, which I received a few weeks ago. This organization has been helping the homeless get back on their feet since 1893. It provides two separate shelters for women and men, as well as offers uplifting programs. What better way to start the week? Time to commit. Filled out the card and dropped my donation in the mail. It felt great to get that done and out the door, but the purpose of this week was not to check something off a list.

To explore more opportunities of kindness, what better person to consult with than my dear friend Amy J.? She not only is one of my go-tos for a sounding board and brainstorming, but she has such a charitable heart. She is a creative, humble, thoughtful, hilarious woman who was an executive at a national event marketing firm. She left to raise a family of three wonderful children and does her own charity work. Amy suggested doing something she and her mom used to do – pay for someone’s toll. “They would speed and pull up next to us to wave thank you.” So of course I had to tie this task in with a little bit of shopping across the border. I told the nice toll lady to tell the driver behind me to pay it forward and to have a great week. Um, no such response of anyone waving to thank me. Neither on the way back home. Nor could I gauge the reaction of a lady who enjoyed a free pizza on me at Pizza Hut. But that is just fine…what is a couple of bucks? And as Mom said, do not count the cost.

On to the next random act of kindness. Being a bit extroverted, one would think approaching a stranger with a nice gesture should be no embarrassing task. Well, it is. After waiting for any customer to drive thru at the local Starbucks, I resorted to approaching a lady already waiting for her coffee at the window. Twas a bit awkward, but necessary to follow through. I threw any inhibitions aside for a greater cause, so I offered to pay for her coffee. She sheepishly asked, "But why would you want to do that?" I answered, "just because." She was extremely touched and felt embarrassed to accept my favor. But she graciously did, and promised to do the same for the next person. We chatted a bit and I was on my way. Huh. Paying it forward might actually catch on.

The following morning, I went to workout. Decided to treat myself to my favorite a.m. cocktail: Panera’s chai latte. I noticed a soldier sitting and working in the corner. Regardless of our beliefs in putting young men and women in harm's way, I commend these people for not only sacrificing their time for others, but time with their own families and putting their lives in danger for something they believe in. All for strangers. How many of us would actually do that? Ever since I realized the selflessness in this humble commitment, I have been trying to overcome my shyness and simply say, "Thank you for serving." So I did. Felt the tingles and started to sweat a bit as I approached him, said my thank you and left. After savoring my chai in my toasty car, I realized that that was not a true random act of kindness. What was I sacrificing? So I went back, purchased a gift card and said, “This is for your next meal. And again, thank you.” I quickly scanned his uniform and read "ARMY" and “Rivera.” Well, it was nice to meet you, Mr. Rivera. Be safe.

In performing these random acts of kindness, the joy comes from not only the experience itself, but from the person's reaction. We all know that it does not take money to make someone happy, but moreso our time. I phoned the local nursing home and asked if there were any guests who had no visitors. The director had chosen five patients and described the disposition of each. There was one in particular who had Alzheimers and lost her husband only a few weeks prior. The director was not certain, but thought this guest might be a bit sad, though she showed no difference in emotion. The director felt it might be a wasted visit if the patient is incoherent. I asked for her anyway. Her name was Lorraine. I found her outside the cafeteria in a bed. Her fingers were intertwined like roots of the rain forest covering the floor. She had beautiful long silver hair, no teeth, tongue swirling inside her mouth like a serpeant. I thought perhaps a sense of touch might connect us, so I held her hands in mine and talked to her. I asked her questions about family and her past, while her beautiful blue eyes stared intently with brows furrowed. It was as though she was processing the information, digging through trunks of history in a dusty attic. I do not know much about Alzheimers but hoped something in her had to connect with the outside world. After a few minutes of intermittent giggling, she quieted down when I spoke. She was listening. She then reached forward and tickled my side. She began cackling. Then quieted down once more when I showed her the bright red plant I brought her. I put the petals to my nose and inhaled, then held it out under her nose to do the same. And she did. When my visit was up, I asked if I could come visit her again. She began mouthing what I thought was, "whe-, whe-?" Hopefully it meant "When?" The director logged our interaction and Lorraine's response. My answer is next Thursday, Lorraine.

 In thinking of Mom's comments of charity coming back tenfold, the reward of kindness and connection is immeasurable. This gift is inside each of us. But the only way to truly receive it is to give it.

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