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Once upon a time in a life long-removed from the one I lead, my Prince Charming invited me into his castle and into his heart. Can it really be 27 years ago when I knew I’d found my forever Valentine? That the snows fell on top of bare footprints left on the patio in front of a sizzling grill? That a house I barely knew was already starting to become my own, my future?

The gleaming three-single-guy kitchen became something magical when seen only by the light of candles standing in borrowed candleholders. Wineglasses filled with deep burgundy reflected flickering flames, but my dinner date’s smile burned even brighter. How could I not fall in love with this man—and his slightly slobbery but ever adoring springer spaniel who sat attentive at his feet?

(c) 1987 Trina Lange

(c) 1987 Trina Lange

So many adventures, so much laughter, so much joy, alongside so much loss—such is a life well-lived together. Despite fairy tale expectations of romance, it’s in the staying and helping each other where we show a lifetime commitment to love. We are no longer those young people beginning our journey together, yet we remain together on this journey, come what may.

And come what may, may we never forget to keep the candles—and the sense of possibility—burning in our lives together.

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(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Some themes I just keep returning to because they won’t be ignored. Oh, I know they represent personal themes for me, but some of them keep coming back because I really believe our society needs to value them more—for the sake of everyone.

The word for today (and every day) for me is kindness, boys and girls.

Yes, I know the more I rant about kindness, the more likely it is that you’re going to catch me not being kind—or at least not acting in a kind way in the moment. Because the truth is there are days when I am too frustrated, angry, sad, tired, sick, whatever to take the high road—I am sure I am not nearly as kind as I believe I should be—or even as think I am.

So, yes, I’m just going to start out by admitting my actions often fail to support my own belief in the value of kindness. But, hey, as Scarlett (O’Hara) said, tomorrow’s another day. I’ll admit that the how of showing kindness can by challenging from time to time, but not the why.

For me personally, I like being treated with kindness, so I’m going to make an assumption that treating others well helps them along their journeys, big and small. In many ways that’s reason enough for me.

The thing is, we often have no idea how something we do affects someone else—which is true for most of the good, bad, or indifferent actions we take in this life.

At the same time, we really don’t know all the burdens others carry.

In these days of increased awareness surrounding mental health, stories keep emerging of people who harm themselves or others—or both. Our kindnesses may or may not stop these people from destructive journeys but why does our society seem, in many ways, to promote actions that could help push a struggling person over the edge?

People in charge of others, such as bosses, teachers, and parents, particularly need to realize the power for good or evil they possess. Actions such as making unwarranted assumptions, playing games, shaming, and indulging in power trips are not just unkind—sometimes they can be deadly, especially when someone is already carrying quite a bit of baggage.

I’ve said it before and I guess I’m just going to keep saying it: be kinder than necessary for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of a battle.

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

Almost a decade ago our newly-relocated washer connections started spewing water all over the basement floor—sounds I heard from upstairs. After running down the stairs, I spied my then-twelve-year-old son staring intently at the game on his computer screen. Our conversation went something like this:

“Jackson, do you hear the water?”

“What water?”

“Can you grab me some towels immediately?”

“What towels?”

“The ones in the linen closet.”

“What linen closet?”

I finally got him to follow me to the linen closet (the one in the close-by hallway space between his and his sister’s bedrooms) and very soon we were sopping up the mess on the floor together with the aforementioned towels.

We live in a 1940s house where storage space is at a premium. Our house didn’t come with amenities such as coat closets or linen closets—where we can, we have added storage places. Sometimes, however, we can’t really change a space so we add organizers. The only linen closet is still in the basement—even the bath towels for the upstairs bathroom remain there because there is no room for them anywhere else.

And while keeping bath towels so far away isn’t so inconvenient, I found it too hard to switch out the smaller hand towels and washcloths as often as needed without keeping them upstairs where they were used. For years I kept the built-in bathroom cabinet overflowing with all the towels and products that could not fit on the small counter. Almost every time I opened the cupboard, towels and all sorts of items would burst out since the organizing containers inside could only contain so much stuff.

When you’re as naturally disorganized as I am, you have to devise organizing systems that give you some chance of success. I’m definitely one of those “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” people so there were many good reasons for moving some of that stuff out into the open—which I finally got to do about six months ago when my daughter moved from one living space to another and no longer had such a tiny bathroom space herself.

That’s when I claimed her over-the-commode (doesn’t that sound fancy?) organizer and went searching for containers that could remain in the open, but still keep me organized. No more toilet paper, bath linens, bottles, and makeup either spilling out of the cabinet or remaining on the countertop—well, on many days, anyway.

Last night I removed one dirty hand towel and ran to put it in the washer before setting out the clean towels. In the meanwhile my husband grabbed some other towel (really, more a rag than anything I would use in the bathroom) to use instead. Now this part of the story is just a matter of two different people seeing matters in a different way, but what follows is similar to the story of my son and the linen closet.

Me: “Oh, the spare hand towel is in the basket in the bathroom.”

Husband: “What basket?”

So today I sent him a picture of the basket—now full since I’d put away the clean towels.

“Where is that?”

“In our bathroom.”

“I thought it was somewhere else. I’ve never seen that.”

“We got it in August after we moved the girls. It’s on the shelf next to the Kleenex container.”

“What Kleenex container?”

Then I sent him a picture of the whole arrangement and he still professed amazement and shock.

This goes on for quite awhile until he then says, “You do know I am pulling your leg, don’t you?”

What he does and does not know about this arrangement apparently will remain a mystery to me, but I’m pretty sure he really did not notice the original basket. And maybe it never occurred to him that things weren’t falling out of the cabinet at the same rate as they have since, well, forever in this house-of-little-storage.

You may be asking yourself, what’s the point of this post? There are few.

First of all, don’t assume someone else “sees”—or “hears” in the case of my son—what you do. Sometimes it doesn’t matter and sometimes it does, but awareness that you don’t always know how something appears from another’s shoes is big. Next, what I might be good at doing and what you might be good at doing are not always the same. Also, you may not even care about something that matters to me and vice versa. Finally, those of us who enjoy applying process improvements in order to make some aspects of life easier aren’t always going to receive the respect and appreciation we expect.

What I think of as having my ducks in a row might lead to no more than being asked, “What ducks?” Here I go—just me and my towel stories—trying to demonstrate that one man’s or woman’s simple is often another’s, “Huh?”

(c) 2013 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2013 Christiana Lambert

Yesterday while running around in circles on the track at my local recreation center (Baby, it’s cold outside!), I finished listening to the audio book mentioned in my most recent post. Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Most From Your People by Edward M. Hallowell, MD, continues to spark my thinking. And, yes, though I still don’t have my “own” people to manage, the truth is we all have our own people. Hallowell had a book to write about motivating people, but when he met the shoe-shiner he calls Dr. Shine, that’s when he figured out how he really wanted to direct the book.

Dr. Shine told Hallowell he worked for him—just as he works for anyone whose shoes he is shining. Here’s a man who believes in trying to find the spark in everyone he serves in that job. Not sure if he knows anything about yoga, but that sounds a whole lot like the phrase that ends most yoga classes: Namaste or I bow to the divine in you. In yoga classes, this is a reciprocal phrase spoken between teachers and students. But do most people whose shoes are being shined think to reach out to the people, such as Dr. Shine, who are serving them? Do they see the spark in him or tell him they do?

Come to think of it, do I do that? No, I don’t get my shoes shined, but there are many people in my world—personal and otherwise—who help me along my way.

Sure, I thank my servers and try to respond to their well wishes with a hearty “you too”, but do I actually express my gratitude to the people who “serve” me more frequently—my exercise instructors, my physical therapist, my minister, my choir director, and other people working with me from a specific role in my life. And beyond that, do I let my loved ones know what I especially appreciate about who they are and what they do for me?

No, I don’t. I am quietly grateful for all these people, but rarely show anything more than polite appreciation, if that.

My mother was a great encourager to those who gave to her. In her last years she kept busy baking dinner rolls for the pharmacy or the doctor’s office staffs to show her gratitude. She really did let people know she appreciated what they did, even if they were just performing their paid jobs. Plus, she would give compliments to the young people she knew at her church, pointing out their strengths and applauding their learning and growth.

Nonetheless, for me she kept her approval more silent. I always knew she appreciated me, but I mostly heard that when she sang out my praises to other people in my hearing. In those last years she would tell people, “She takes care of me.” Of course I did—she was my mother—but it was still really nice to hear that she valued what I did for her.

Thinking about Dr. Shine made me realize just how stingy I am with words of praise for those who are frequently in my life.

I tell my husband I love him, but forget to let him know how much I appreciate the meals he makes for me and the income he earns to provide for our family. I tell others how much he does for me, but remain silent more often than not to him. It would be easy for him to think I don’t notice that his efforts, as well as his belief in me, are a big part of why I have the time and strength to do what I do.

The same is true for my kids. They don’t expect false words of praise from me, but would it be so hard for me to share with them what really impresses me about them?

So yesterday, inspired by Dr. Shine, I told my son, “You know, I think it’s great that you look for what is good in each person and you often keep looking.” He’s no Pollyanna, which is what makes that even more impressive—he has this mission to bring hope into this world even while being pragmatic about the high odds that the world and people will still disappoint.

My daughter has had so many health challenges to face and she gets so weary. However, through all that, she works hard at school and in jobs. So many people in her shoes would not even try, but she is compelled to do her best, even when that comes with a big personal cost. And still, she feels kindness matters, even when she doesn’t experience it in great doses.

My yoga teacher? She changed my life and outlook and helps me through difficulties—physical and otherwise. My physical therapist moves me back to wellness. My minister reaches my soul and strengthens my faith, even when I want to turn away. My choir director challenges me to learn in new ways and in so doing reminds me of what I already know and that I might yet discover more. Those are just some of the people who improve my journey and who I never give more than a quiet “thank you”, if that.

You don’t have to be a manager to make a difference in people’s lives and that’s what Dr. Shine already knows. Treat people as people who were each created with a unique spark and thank them for how that spark helps you. That’s the real meaning of all those Namastes and Peace be with yous and Also with yous that we mouth back and forth to one another.

Namaste—I bow to the divine in you—and may I yet learn to tell all my people that.

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(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert