Maya Angelou was the keynote speaker at the International Association of Business Communicators conference in Boston. You could have heard a pin drop in that vast room of 1400 communicators. No paper rustling. No chairs scratching around on the floor. Just silence.
Maya made us laugh. She made us cry. All with words and tone and drama unlike anything I’d ever heard.
We drank in every beautifully uttered syllable. And she lifted us up.
Given her recent passing, may her memory be for a blessing, I’ve been wondering what lifts us up? What kindnesses, words, music, tapestry of events can make us breathe in joy more deeply? And what actions can we take to offer those kindnesses to others?
Three of her famous quotes about kindness:
“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
“I’m convinced of this: Good done anywhere is good done everywhere. For a change, start by speaking to people rather than walking by them like they’re stones that don’t matter. As long as you’re breathing, it’s never too late to do some good.”
Connection with Jewish tradition
Performing acts of loving-kindness (gemilut hassadim), according to many Jewish sources, is “the highest form of doing good in the world.” (Anita Diamant, Living a Jewish Life). According to Anita, it calls for “face-to-face encounter with real needs.”
She lists six traditional forms of gemilut hassadim:
1. Providing clothes for the naked
2. Visiting the sick
3. Comforting mourners
4. Accompanying the dead to the grave
5. Providing for brides
6. Offering hospitality to strangers
Teaching our children kindness from the earliest years is the first step. But some of those top six are a tall order for young children. How do we break the concepts down into more manageable bits?
I watch our daughter model kindness for her sons. They are learning that when other moms are sick, their mom invites those children over. Or brings that family dinner.
And they are learning about gifts from the heart (like the Mother’s Day present our grandson made for me – see picture above). He chose to plants beans. What a metaphor for love growing by the day!
There are also powerful whole-family activities. When families work together, they build the strongest, shared memories.
Thanks to contributors from JEDLAB (a facebook community of Jewish educators), here are two wonderful ideas for families with young children:
1. Birthday boxes – If your local food pantry accepts these, put together birthday boxes with party supplies (e.g., cake mix, disposable pan, frosting, candles, birthday hats, paper plates). Children can help assemble and even decorate the boxes with stickers and ribbon.
2. Gardening and yard clean-up – Do you have older neighbors who have trouble with gardening? Offer to weed and plant for them. Even very young children can help sweep up weeds on a sidewalk.
As Maya Angelou said, ““I believe that each of us comes from the creator trailing wisps of glory.”
What have you done with your family that shows loving-kindness to others? What wisps of glory have you seen in your children, in their sharing with — and caring for — others?
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