How To Listen & How To Be Heard

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Katerina Omelchuk “Beginning”

“Do you really want a dead cat on your desk?”

When a teacher took a parent’s phone call at the end of another busy school day, she was taken aback by the question. She couldn’t figure out why a first grader in her class came home telling his mother that their recently deceased family pet had to be on the teacher’s desk the next morning.

Then she realized what must have happened. At the beginning of each school day, children clustered around her desk in the few minutes available before the bell rang. They were all eager to talk.

“Fish sticks are yucky so I want to change my lunch ticket.”

“Want to see me do jumping jacks?”

“This picture of me and my bike is for you.”

“Here’s a note from my mom.”

Any of us would suffer from limited focus if we tried to listen to kids clamoring for attention while also monitoring a classroom. To compensate, this teacher tended to look only briefly at the child doing the talking. She often told them to put whatever they had to offer on her desk. Thinking back, she realized she never even heard the little boy say that that his cat had died. She just gave him an automatic response. “Put it on my desk.”

It doesn’t feel good to be disregarded. It shuts us down, diminishes our sense of worth, even leads to misunderstandings that can be epic in scale.

And you know when you aren’t being really heard.

It goes both ways. We may not be heard often or heard well. We also may not be very good listeners.

Like that teacher, we’re often wedged into circumstances that aren’t conducive to listening. The potential distractions are greater than ever. Ear buds in, smart phones on, screens blaring in all but a few restaurants and waiting rooms, we multitask our way to fractured attention. And limited listening. As a result we don’t hear, really hear. And we don’t feel heard.

We can consciously enhance listening skills. It’s about paying attention, tuning in to others, and limiting distractions. That helps us to hear and to be heard.

Psychiatrist Daniel N. Stern is an expert on attunement, particularly as it develops in infancy. And Dr. Stern’s research has led to this resounding conclusion. When a child or adult doesn’t give as well as receive sufficiently empathic responses they tend to resort to less healthy methods of filling their needs.

A woman who took one of my non-violence workshops turned in a paper containing an excerpt from the book Soul Work: A Field Guide for Spiritual Seekers, which explored Stern’s work. I take the liberty of including a passage here. Check yourself against Stern’s scale of attuned responses in your interactions with your partner, co-workers, children, extended family, and friends.

Scale of Attuned Responses

Beyond Unresponsive: The person you are talking with interrupts you in the middle of your sentence and shifts to a different topic.

Unresponsive: The person obviously isn’t listening, only waiting for you to stop talking. When you finish, the person shifts to an entirely different topic.

Indirectly Unresponsive: The other person says or implies, “Well, you shouldn’t feel that way.”

Self-Referential Free Association: The person says something like, “Oh yeah, that reminds me of the time when I…” or “Well you think you had it bad—listen to what happened to me,” and makes no other reference to anything you have said.

Free Association: The person responds to your statement by going off on a tangent and making only an indirect reference to what you said.

Impersonal/Nonnurturing: The person indicates she has heard you but offers no sympathetic or empathic response. Basically her stance is, “That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”

Superficial: Although the person responds by saying, “Yeah I know what you mean,” she does not sound sincere or empathic.

Adequate: The person shows evidence that he heard what you said but does not show interest or follow up your statement by encouraging you to expand upon it.

Responsive: The person not only hears what you said but also inquires further so that you can elaborate. He asks questions that demonstrate interest.

Resonant: The person indicates that she emotionally resonates with what you have said by responding with statements that show she is trying to imagine what you are experiencing (e.g., “I can imagine that you feel terrible…”).

Really listening and really being heard. It spares us from more than a dead cat on the desk. It’s an eyes open, hearts open path to wholeness.

Half Life

We walk through half our life
as if it were a fever dream

barely touching the ground

our eyes half open
our heart half closed.

Not half knowing who we are
we watch the ghost of us drift
from room to room
through friends and lovers
never quite as real as advertised.

Not saying half we mean
or meaning half we say
we dream ourselves
from birth to birth
seeking some true self.

Until the fever breaks
and the heart can not abide
a moment longer
as the rest of us awakens,
summoned from the dream,
not half caring for anything but love.

Stephen Levine, from Breaking the Drought: Visions of Grace


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Alfons Anders “Begegnung”




How The Secret Garden Saved Me

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My mother gave me an old clothbound book when I was nine years old.  It was her childhood copy of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  I felt a sudden tug of connection to the little girl my mother once was, especially when I found her name carefully penciled on the inside cover.  Right away, I signed my name under hers.

Although written in 1911 and clotted with Yorkshire dialect, that book became an essential nutrient to me.  It told the story of orphaned Mary Lennox who was sent to live with her silent brooding uncle on the English moor. Little Mary had no lessons imposed on her and was given the opportunity to explore.  I envied her freedom.  A character named Dickon befriended animals so easily that they gathered at his feet and ate from his hand. I, too, liked to go in the forest behind our house in hopes that woodland creatures there would come to accept me.  And I understood Mary’s response when her uncle inquired if she wanted anything. He suggested toys or dolls.  Instead she asked, “Might I have a bit of earth?”

More than my favorite book, The Secret Garden provided comfort at a time when I could find no other solace.  The year I received my mother’s copy was also the year that one after another of my grandparents succumbed to long, painful illnesses. By the time I turned ten, all my grandparents had died.

I’d watched them struggle for each breath but it hadn’t occurred to me that they wouldn’t get better. That’s what doctors and medicine were for. That’s what prayer was for. Now we would never have Sunday dinner together again. The seasons would come and go without canning applesauce or planting bulbs or going to the lake with my grandparents as we always did. I couldn’t stop thinking about death.

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Other children probably weather grief with more resilience but that year was a dividing line for me. The blithe happiness of my childhood came to a halt. I couldn’t bear the idea that everyone I loved would die some day—my pet rabbits, my friends, and worst of all, my parents. My mother assured me that God simply called people home to heaven when it was their time. I kept asking why, if God were all-powerful, would He allow people like my grandparents to suffer so horribly before they died. She said His wisdom was beyond our understanding. Her answers left me with more and more questions. I could see asking them only intensified the sorrow she felt. So I tried to keep my worries to myself.

Now added to my fear of this unknown thing called death a new bleakness was added. Where I once prayed and worshipped without doubts, I was set adrift somewhere beyond my parents’ beliefs. Religion seemed piteously small when confronted with bigger dilemmas. And more of them occurred to me each day. What was the purpose of existence in a universe of unimaginably vast time and space? How did everything start when it had to come from somewhere? How did our tiny lives matter? I didn’t like the thought that adults believed in something that made no sense. I felt I was standing in a blizzard outside the warmth of answers that faith provided. It was lonely.

I tried to reconstruct my comfortably safe worldview with the tools I’d been taught were the most powerful: good behavior and prayer. I knew I wasn’t really the good girl I seemed to be. I was a picky eater, I argued with my sister, and I was lazy about chores. So I tried hard to be better, to be so worthy that no one else I loved would be taken away. The effort was a useful distraction from my preoccupation with big questions about death, meaninglessness, and infinity.

And I prayed, fiercely and in my own way, using pictures in my head and silent words. It was a gamble because I was no longer sure that God existed or if He did how on the job He was, but I had to do my best to keep my family alive. Here’s how my keep-them-alive game worked. If I thought of people I loved I had to pray for them. This was somewhat less burdensome at school because I was busy. It was overwhelming when my parents went out for the evening. I thought of my mother and father constantly, each time silently praying that they would come home safely. I summoned up images of my parents driving, chatting with their friends, driving home, then walking in the door. My whole body could feel the relief of their imaginary return. But as the evening wore on my prayers got more fervent and I took up a position watching cars go down the street. Their return was always later than I expected, probably because I was constantly willing them home. As soon as their car pulled in the driveway I ran to bed, feeling a sense of blessed completeness I couldn’t explain. They were back. Everything was okay.

It was exhausting.

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I couldn’t imagine how but my parents weren’t fooled by the cheery act I put on. My mother told me that sometimes people need more help getting over their grief. She made an appointment for me to see a psychotherapist. I knew full well what this meant. I’d read my share of children’s books where unfortunate characters are locked up in institutions or sent away for their own good. It rarely went well for them. I was determined to act as un-crazy as possible. The day of my first appointment my mother made me wear a summer dress, sweater, and saddle shoes—the clunkiest fashion statement imaginable even to my ten-year-old sensibilities.

My mother usually stayed with me in the pediatrician’s office so I expected the same. Instead I was ushered in to see the doctor by myself. An older lady sat behind a large desk. She asked me to sit facing her in a chair much too large for me. I sat, my throat clenched with so much tension that it was hard to swallow. She asked me how I felt about coming in. I knew it wasn’t polite to admit my true feelings. Kids constantly have to filter what they do and say to please adults. So even though I feared and despised everything about the appointment I told her I was fine and didn’t need to be there and I was perfectly happy except for the embarrassing outfit I was wearing. I said it nicely. In fact I thought my comment about the outfit was a light-hearted joke. The doctor turned it into the topic of a lengthy question and answer session. She seemed to think I hated my mother for making me wear clothes I didn’t like. I couldn’t imagine that she’d had a mother recently or she would know that mothers make you do all sorts of things you don’t want to do. Eat all your dinner, clean your room, write thank you notes, well the list was endless. Frankly a dorky outfit was the least of it. Clearly I would have to filter what I said even more carefully.

Next she got out a series of large black and white photographs. She said it was a fun kind of test. I always got good grades on tests at school but the rules were pretty flimsy for this one. All I had to do was look at the pictures and tell her a story about what was happening. That included what happened right before the picture was taken and what would happen immediately afterwards. The first picture showed a dark-haired woman walking by herself on a beach. She didn’t look all that happy.Right behind her was a man with his arms reaching up in such a way that he seemed ready to choke her. The look on his face was creepy as well as dangerous. But I put the lightest tone possible in my voice and told the doctor that it was the woman’s birthday and she didn’t know her friend had come to surprise her. He was going to put his hands over her eyes and ask her to guess who and she’d be delighted. Nearly every picture was equally disturbing. I churned through them with Pollyanna-ish stories in my attempt to demonstrate just how mentally healthy I could be.

Next she brought up my grandparents’ deaths. The questions she asked were so upsetting and intrusive that I couldn’t answer. I shouldn’t have been shocked but I was. Having a stranger try to get me to tell her things about those who were dead alarmed my whole body. I could feel every inch of the chair touching me. The smell of the office, dusty and airless, made me want to choke. Although I willed them away, tears kept springing up in my eyes, and I set my mouth as tightly closed as I could.

The doctor changed her tactics back to the earlier conversation about my mother. I tried to unlock my mouth into a polite smile but I desperately wanted to run out the door. I knew my mother would be waiting and ready with a comforting hug. All I needed to do was just hold on until the appointment was over. Then the doctor made a statement so insane that it seemed whole adult world might be slipping away on a raft built without logic. She said I was upset because I wanted my mother dead.

That was it. I was willing to sacrifice the time I’d invested in good girl behavior but I would never go back there. I would do whatever it took. I would throw fits if necessary but I would not speak to that doctor again. On the drive home and all through supper I tried to figure out how to best make my stand. I decided to be logical and calm, although I wanted more than anything else to climb into my mother’s lap. That evening I sat with my mother, the person I prayed for most often, and lost my struggle to keeping from crying. I told her the unspeakable thing the doctor had said. My mother was gratifyingly appalled. She hugged me for a long time and then we talked as if we were on one side and the doctor on the other. It was delicious.

My mother called the doctor the next day and afterwards confirmed that I was a good judge of character. I would not have to go back. I overheard her telling my father that the doctor “didn’t have her head screwed on tight.” But my mother did think the doctor was right about one thing. I wasn’t getting over my grandparents’ deaths.

That wasn’t it. The loss of my grandparents had tossed me into a realm of questions I couldn’t ask and worries that faith couldn’t explain. I knew my parents were concerned about me so I ramped up the cheerful act. Masking my fears actually helped, at least during the day. But at night I couldn’t sleep. If I didn’t work hard to steer my mind relentlessly toward peaceful thoughts I’d feel as if I were falling into dark nothingness. The galaxies we learned about in fourth grade, black and endless, seemed like a void that would swallow up everything I knew. On the worst nights I could feel the fabric of the ordinary world stretched thin over a much larger unknown. Then I couldn’t even cry myself to sleep.

So I resorted to the distraction of reading. As soon as the rest of my family went to bed I turned my light back on. Most often I chose The Secret Garden. I turned to the same passages over and over. I read about the garden that seemed dead in the early spring chill until Mary cleared away branches and leaves to find tender green sprouts in the soil. I read about the crippled boy whose limitations Mary refused to accept and of his triumphant recovery in that garden. I read about her sorrowful uncle who awakened to joy after years of despair. Then I could sleep.


I don’t regret the fears and doubts of my childhood. They set me on a richly rewarding lifelong path of seeking answers to big questions. But I didn’t realize why I turned to The Secret Garden until I found the book years later. I opened it to see two childish signatures, my mother’s and my own. Rereading it, I recognized the passages that sustained me when I felt most lost. Each one was about about redemption, nature’s wisdom, and offered what I needed most of all, simple hope.

If I could meet a person from history I’d choose Frances Hodgson Burnett. I now know about the losses she suffered, the despair she fought, and the writing that was her life’s work. I’d tell her, a bit shyly, that I make a living as a writer too. I don’t think I could express how profoundly her book calmed a little girl too upset to sleep but I’d want her to know that her words were a soothing balm during those dark nights.

And I’d tell her that The Secret Garden didn’t just save me, it also shaped my future. Today I live on a small farm where my children have no lessons imposed, just like Mary. The animals here eat from my hand, as those in the book did from Dickon’s hand. Maybe I’d simply say, “Frances, our land is named after lines you wrote. We call it Bit of Earth Farm.”

Laura Grace Weldon

The Power of Story: Augusta Speaks

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“All sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them.” Isak Dinesen

The woman wrapped blankets around her children, a small boy and a smaller girl. The little ones clamored for their nightly story. It didn’t seem to matter to them that they huddled in what was left of their home. They didn’t seem disheartened after spending another day searching for food. Their mother began the story as she always did, “Not far from here and not long ago.”

The children stepped into the story.

Some of her stories ended the same night they began. Most went on night after night. Each story started with some kind of yearning that turned into a quest. Many times the characters in the story had to step aside to wait or go another way before continuing on. They were confronted by danger, hunger, and riddles. The characters learned to be patient and clever.

Sometimes decisions they made earlier came back to help them or hinder them. In one story they were grateful to find humble roots growing along their path. Weak from starvation the characters dug them up, rinsed them in a nearby stream, and boiled them over a tiny fire. Just as they were finally about to eat some fellow travelers came by asking if they had food to share.

“Careful,” the boy and girl’s mother interrupted the story. “Notice the travelers’ eyes and their hands. Are they thieves? You must show them your strength as well as your kindness. What would you do?”

The boy and girl said they would share. As the story went on these same thieves protected the characters from an enemy but later stole the only stone that warded off a trickster’s wicked prank. When the boy and girl exclaimed that it wasn’t fair their mother explained that the characters saved four lives by sharing the food, which was good, but they’d forgotten thieves could never be trusted. The children nodded as their mother went on with the story.

The characters in the story were always a mother with her boy child and girl child. They weren’t always people. Sometimes they were animals searching for their rightful place in the world. Or elf-like creatures seeking to restore lost magical powers. Or a queen traveling with the prince and princess, gathering clues to unlock a mystery. Often they were joined in their quest by other characters. Some of these characters had wisdom to offer. Others tricked and cheated them. Others ignored them entirely.

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The children protested each night when their mother’s voice grew increasingly hoarse and she finally told them it was time for sleep. They felt as if they’d fallen from the story world. But she always promised there would be more to tell the next evening.

The family spent years waiting. For what, exactly, the children weren’t sure. A better home awaits us, their mother assured them, but it’s a long way away and not all will be easy once we arrive. During the daytime she taught them to speak a language no one else knew. It sounded like birds chirping and scratching on the roofline. Sometimes she taught them songs while they ground grain or chopped vegetables for stew. Mostly she taught them to be wary and watchful. The little ones barely noticed as they got taller except that it was a struggle to keep them in clothes that fit. They rarely had jackets or shoes. Sometimes they had no food either.

The nightly stories grew longer. Sometimes it took weeks to finish one tale. The story’s characters found many obstacles in their way and often, just when the troubles were unendurable and the characters ready to give up, the story would change in ways they couldn’t have imagined. The only thing that seemed to matter was that the characters didn’t lose heart.

Then everything changed. The mother showed the boy and girl a packet she had carefully hidden in the folds of her sweater. “Passports and documents,” she whispered. That very day the family left on their own journey away from the place they’d lived their whole lives. The children had never before encountered such hurry and so many crowded places. They stayed close to their mother as they waited in lines, were scrutinized by men behind tall counters, and had papers stamped. Before long they were strapped into seats on a huge craft. As it began to move the mother told a story. They didn’t know it would be her last.

There were three characters, a mother wolf traveling with a female pup and a male pup nearly as large as his mother. Although they lived in a land filled with sunsets that inspired beautiful wolf songs to rise from every hilltop, they were driven away by something worse than hunger. Their journey took them to a bridge so long they couldn’t see the other side. Behind them were wolves like themselves, thin and desperate. They weren’t sure what kind of creatures lived on the other side of the bridge but still, they were determined to get there. Suddenly in front of them loomed a fearsome beast with no eyes but many claws. He made the bridge shake so hard that they tumbled off, all except for the young male wolf who clung to the underside. He tried to pull himself up as he challenged the beast to fight. The beast loomed over him, roaring loudly with breath that crackled and smoked. Still the young wolf struggled to get back on the bridge. Then he felt something grab his feet from below. He kicked with all his strength but couldn’t loosen the hold. It wasn’t until he looked down that he saw his mother and sister wolves pulling his feet. They hadn’t fallen far. Just below the bridge was a forest of fruit and nut trees with branches reaching nearly to him. But he wouldn’t let go. He hauled himself up for battle. Just then the huge creature stomped down on his paw. His leg curled up at the monster’s touch as if scorched by fire and the wolf fell down, down, down to land on his mother wolf and sister wolf where they crouched in a tree. When he opened his eyes his mother was unable to speak and his sister unable to hear and his leg was twisted.

The story went on through the night. The boy and girl sat enraptured as their mother unfolded a tale rich as legend. The wolf characters trekked through strange forests finding nourishment that slowly began to heal them. Brightly colored birds taught them to fly. When the rocks under their feet started to crumble the wolf family lifted in the air, soaring toward mirrored mountains that appeared in the distance. The mother wolf could now speak in a whisper, the female pup could hear loud sounds, and the nearly grown male pup’s leg was nearly straight. Their fur prickled in fear but their journey had made them powerful in ways they were only now beginning to recognize. By the time they landed they knew that together they were invincible.

The story ended as the craft came to a halt. The girl held back, looking out the window at the unfamiliar surroundings. The mother stood, taking the boy and girl’s hands. “We have arrived,” she said. “No more of my stories. It is time for you to tell stories to me.”

Passengers streamed past them, people whose clothes and skin looked as foreign as mythical creatures. Most of them looked straight ahead but some of them smiled at the family. Their mother said to her children in a voice fierce with pride, “Always remember the word “immigrant.” It means you are one of the strong.”

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We Are One Being

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Wikimedia Commons: Dan Groover

We are one being, linked in profound and essential ways even though we rarely pause to consider them.

The surface of Earth is seventy percent water just as we are made up of seventy percent water. This is the same water that has been on Earth for four and a half billion years. It flows in and out of each one of us. In cycles too infinite to imagine this water has been drawn up in plant cells, swirled in oceans, circulated in bloodstreams, sweated, excreted, wept out tearfully and drunk up thirstily, formed into new life, risen into vapor, and locked into ice. The saliva in your mouth is made of water molecules intimately shared with beings that lived long ago and will be shared with all who come after us.

We breathe about 600 million breaths in a lifetime. The air we rely on is a balance of nitrogen, oxygen, argon, carbon dioxide, and a dozen or so other gases perfect suited to our existence. It circulates through endless forms and uses, moved by the wind of our planet and by each exhale of living beings—-trees, crows, humpback whales, and newborn babies. It recycles just as the calcium in your jawbone may well have been quicklime poured on a criminal’s grave, a garnet on a nobleman’s finger, cheese carried by a nomadic herder, and a coral reef in a tropical ocean.

Nothing about our bodies is separate from what’s around us. We are nourished by what has grown from the sun’s energy and we remake ourselves constantly, replacing millions of cells every second using only the materials that have been on this planet for millennia.

Quantum physics tells us that a principle called entanglement explains how particles, once linked, can remain connected even when physically separated by vast distances, possibly even by time. Entanglement occurs between living beings as well, both human and animal, indicating a greater connection same call a morphic field and others call a holographic universe.

On this planet we are linked to every particle and every life form so intimately that science is beginning to echo what poets and sages have been saying for thousands of years. We are one.

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Wikimedia Commons: Dan Groover

Each person is truly your kin. Our human connection begins with common ancestors. Genealogist Gary Boyd Roberts estimates that everyone on the planet is at least a 40th cousin. That’s because the family tree expands as each generation traces back. You have eight great-grandparents. Their parents had 16 parents. Go back 40 generations and you’d find a trillion grandparents at a time when there were fewer than 15 million people on the planet. That means we share 40th great-grandparents. In that way you are connected to eighty percent of the people on this planet. That includes the guy driving the delivery truck right outside your window and the woman thousands of miles away struggling to find water to drink.

The smallest children seem to recognize that existence is an “alive poem.” They find kinship with rocks, animals, as well as people. Our human family, built on kindness and cooperation, seems to be getting closer. We are helping one another heroically. We are waking to the ways our Earth sustains us, working harder than ever to restore justice and ecological balance. We are reaching out to share, laugh, explain, argue, and find kinship with people whose nationality, religion, race, and political affiliation don’t matter as much as their friendship. Perhaps we are entangled in a universe so holographic that we are now beginning to feel, really feel the oneness that has been there all along.

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Guerrilla Encouragement Efforts

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Chances are at some point in your life you’ve received encouragement from someone you didn’t know well or even know at all. It may have been a tiny gesture but it came at the right time.

~Maybe a note left in a library book serendipitously answered a question you’d been mulling over.

~Maybe a store clerk commented on how wonderfully inquisitive your child was just when you were despairing of her constant questions.

~Maybe something as simple as a stranger’s thoughtful compliment boosted your flagging spirits.

Such instances feel as if they’re meant to happen, stretching our perspective beyond the ordinary and helping us pause, contemplate, and renew the way we see our lives. Often they inspire us to spread the same feeling of encouragement to others.

I’ve had plenty of those moments. That’s why when my kids were very small we had a secret indulgence—-guerrilla encouragement efforts. Let’s call these GEE for short. They’re similar to the widely known Random Acts of Kindness but for us GEE were specifically focused on encouragement.  Here’s how we proceeded.

The easiest GEE are letting people know the job they do is appreciated. Since my kids were too little to write at that time, occasionally they dictated gratitude notes, like the one my oldest insisted on writing to a particular nurse’s aide he saw each week during nursing home visits. My kids gave homemade cookies to firefighters and freshly picked strawberries to librarians. A few times we were driving through a slow intersection at just the right pace for us to roll down the car window and give a cold bottle of water to a traffic cop. Handing over GEE offerings requires little more than simply saying, “thanks for what you do.” The look on our recipients’ faces filled us with expansiveness, as if the air suddenly became lighter. My kids liked to talk about these moments again and again.

Their favorite GEE giveaway involved grocery store popsicles, a treat normally illicit in our annoyingly make-it-from-scratch household. I let my little ones stand out front with a box of these popsicles. They could barely stand the excitement as the garbage truck rumbled closer and closer. Patiently they waited until the workers had finished upending our garbage cans, then they held out the popsicles shouting “thank you” over the roar of the truck’s grinder.  The guys were more thrilled than any of us anticipated, waving all the way down the street as they hung on the truck with purple, orange and red popsicles in their mouths.

What kept us talking and thinking much longer were GEE for people we would never meet. One time we decorated little film canisters with tiny sticker letters spelling out “treasure” or “for you.” We rolled up fortunes we’d made inside, then filled the canisters with nickels, dimes and quarters. We put them in the diaper bag planning to tuck them out-of-the-way spots for strangers to find. I thought it would take us weeks to locate perfect drop off places but the kids made a quest out of hiding every one the first time we went out. Our canisters ended up at the library, health food store, and park. For weeks afterward my kids speculated about who might have found these little treasures and they told each other stories about the outcomes they envisioned. My daughter announced one could have been found by a lady who needed exactly that amount to buy a kitten (my daughter named the kitten and recounted its adventures as she imagined the scenario). My son decided it one could have been found by a boy who needed to buy a compass to draw maps (and then my son promptly drew a whole series of maps). Although they asked to do this project over and over again, we only did it that once. Secretly I was concerned that the canisters would be tossed as junk before anyone ever opened them. I also had come to rely on household change for necessities, so that moment of largesse was a one time sacrifice.

Another GEE that really captured our imaginations? Talking stones. We were walking along Lake Erie and spied quite a few flat water-washed stones. Perfect surface for an encouraging note. The kids ran around the beach collecting the largest stones. They carefully washed the sand off at the water’s edge and set them out on our beach towel to dry in the sun. I used a permanent marker (although a finer point marker would have let me squeeze more words on each stone). Our plan was to write something encouraging on one side, then leave the stones scattered well above the high tide line. We came up with messages like “you rock” and “everything is just fine” and “be tender.” Schmucky, but it’s hard to think with preschoolers clamoring to redistribute stones in a gleeful reverse scavenger hunt. The kids liked the idea of leaving them for strangers to find and chortled over the idea of stones “talking.” We left that day happily speculating about who might find a stone and what it might mean to them. Quite possibly nothing. Or who knows, one of our stones might have spoken to just the right person.

With all that’s going on in the world, guerilla encouragement efforts seem strange, funny, and innocently optimistic. But each child is born to dance on this beautiful planet that’s turning, turning, turning toward greater hope. GEE, why not?

“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”    Carl G. Jung