life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond


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(Un)conditional love

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I love Arizona at 2:34am and 5:17am. The rest of the time, I can bear Arizona. Our relationship reminds me of a time when I worked very hard to convince myself I was not in love. Before bed, I could convince myself I wasn’t interested, but by morning I had forgotten.

Does this mean I am falling in love with Arizona?

Am I already in love but still trying to convince myself otherwise?

Perhaps, if I left for a time I could find clarity. Absence has a tendency of creating the space needed for lucidity.

My partner asked me yesterday where my ideal place would be to live. It is something we have discussed over the years we were living apart.

Lately, I have been wondering if there is any ideal place for me. I am comfortable in about a ten-degree temperature range. Anything below, and I am freezing. Anything above, and I begin to melt.

What I do know is that I love being near water and mountains. I love being near tall, old trees.

Most of all, I love being able to walk out the door and go for a quiet walk in nature.

It was not until I spent a winter in Arizona that I realized I could be happy during the darker months. The darker months are not so dark here in the Southwest. There is sunshine nearly every day. Intermittent grey skies remind me of much darker times in Massachusetts, Maine, Washington, France, and Alaska.

What would become of my winter psyche should I return to a more “traditional” winter?

I wonder.

It is difficult to imagine winter when there is a blanket of heavy heat that covers the world from morning to night each day, but I know it is out there waiting. I suppose I can let it go for now. I am trying not to worry about things that have not yet come to pass.

So for now, I will relish in the early morning coolness. I will lean back, close my eyes, and feel the cold air on my face. Like so much of life and life itself, it is fleeting and meant to be enjoyed while it lasts.

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Wounded soul, I am sad for you

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I started my day with songwriting. For me, this is one of the most uplifting ways to begin a new day.

 

I woke up on the earlier side and met with a few folks downtown to begin discussing a new songwriting project. I left the meeting elated and filled with hope.

 

I floated my way down Merrimack Street on my home.

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As I walked by the Subway shop on the corner of Merrimack and Shattuck, I noticed several large pieces of metal and iron resting in a row on the edge of the sidewalk.

 

Intrigued, I slowed my step and gently touched a few of the minutes as I walked by.

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I set my bag and ukulele down, took out my camera, and took a picture.

 

A person sitting at the table spoke to be in a gruff voice. I would not specifically call him a man, for he was masculine in gender but neither noble or mature in action. A small black and tan chihuaha, who sat on the black, iron grated table beside him, behaved with more calm and poise than he.

 

Ma’am, what are you doing?

 

I am taking a picture.

 

I’m gonna ask you to stop taking pictures.

 

Why?

 

Because I asked you to.

 

I’m sorry. I am not sure why it is a problem for me to take photographs of these pipes.

 

Ma’am, just move on and get out of here.

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I am fairly certain this is a free country and as such, I am free to take photographs of whatever I want.

 

At this point, a young staff member came outside, smiled at me, and explained that they were redoing their A/C unit. This explained all of the strange metal piping.

 

Cool! I responded.

 

I proceeded to take a couple of photographs.

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The wounded soul at the table grew more defensive and aggressive.

 

He reminded me that I was to cease my activity and get the (*&^ out of there.

 

I refused to respond with anger or fear. Though I felt a slight, involuntary tremor running through my hands, I did not return his aggression. I felt an acute awareness of his energy and my own.

 

I told him that I recommended therapy for anger management. I really believe that therapy with a skilled therapist who fits your personality and needs is an incredible gift.

 

He told me to go do something constructive with my life.

 

I suggested the same to him, and I told him that I wished him well in as a pleasant a voice as I could muster.

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I really felt no anger toward him.

 

The entire interaction was quite strange and surprising.

 

From where did his defensive, aggressive behavior derive? What kind of hurt had he suffered from someone he trusted?

 

How could someone as diminutive and unassuming in stature cause him to feel threatened? Where did he learn that anger and verbal abuse was a reasonable response to an action that made him uncomfortable?

 

And why would anyone be counter to such a harmless act?

 

I will never know, but I do hope that he is able to find peace for his poor, wounded soul.

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Life is limbo

Yesterday, I wrote a piece titled “Life in limbo.”

I am often reminded of wise words from a dear friend in the Pacific Northwest. He told me many years ago, “Marieke, it is fine to make plans; however, be prepared for things to work out differently than you anticipate.” He told me that more often than not, things end up working out for the better even if it was not what you were envisioning.

I know that some of you worry that I share too much of my self in my writing.

I write as a way to reflect and process, to better understand myself and my reactions to the universe and change, and to practice acceptance of the unknown.

I write to feel less alone and in the hope that expressing my own struggles may help create empathy and solidarity.

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In the past, I have with drawn into myself during times of transition and uncertainty. From experience, I know that while this may be my first inclination, it is far healthier for me to reach out to friends and family. They offer support and love, as well as words of wisdom.

I have been trying to listen to wisdom on this most recent bout of ambiguity.

I am breathing, sharing my intention with the universe, and practicing having faith and trust.

I have come up with several mantras that feel true to me. I have been repeating different phrases as I need them:

I am loved.

I will be ok.

I will trust the universe.

I will dance with the universe.

It is ok to feel uncomfortable with the unknown.

I cannot tell you how very grateful I am for each of you. Special thanks to those who have commented with words of encouragement and love.

This morning, a friend told me that whatever happens in my life to do the best I can, keep my heart open, keep my faith and love, and I will be ok.

In this moment, I feel truth in these words.

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Life is limbo.

All the world is in flux, a perpetual state of change.

Things happen. Things change. Change is not good or bad. It just is, and it is for each of us to choose how we respond.

I may think back on times in my life that seemed stable and static, but I imagine that they were more likely periods of time when change may have been happening so gradually that I either did not notice or was reticent to pay attention for fear of what that change might mean.

Another friend told me I had courage.

Still another friend told me I am loved and shared a beautiful poem that I would like to include here.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweet your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

Rumi

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Life in limbo

For days now, I have been struggling with a restless, unsettled feeling. I go to sleep worried that a future I have been imagining may no longer exist.

I feel emptiness from my lungs down into my stomach, a hollow space that I cannot fill. It is just empty. A void. Somewhere in the middle, my heart, right on the edge of communicating the emptiness through tears.

photo 1Since leaving the upper Skagit Valley of Washington state several years ago, I have been living in a perpetual state of limbo. Each time I think I am putting down roots, I tear them out of the ground just as they are attempting to cling onto the soil.

Within a state of limbo, I still manage to create some semblance of stability through actions that provide me with the feeling that I have control over some things.

I can clean my apartment, which I do with frequency.

I can shed burdensome layers of material possessions.

I can sing. I can write. I can create.

I can experience periods of days, weeks, even months where I fool myself into thinking I have control over the unknown when really all that I control is how I respond to people, place, and that which I cannot predict.

This morning, I woke up feeling like my roots were shallow, their will to cling all dried up. I wanted to hide in a dark corner, away from the world.

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I know from experience that hiding does not bring balance or happiness. I am an introvert who needs constant reminders from the social realm that I am loved and not alone.

I also know that hiding from what I am feeling will not help me find peace. I need to sit with it. What does it feel like? Where do I feel it? What does it look like? Does it have a name, shape, or texture?

I am presented with the challenge of determining if what feels real for me is a construct of my own inner demons and deepest fears.

Am I needlessly creating a reality that causes me pain? From where does this fear and distrust stem?

If I can trace the feeling back to its source, perhaps I can come to accept it for what it is and not allow it to rule my heart and mind.

I am learning about meditation, Buddhism, chakras, energy, and how to understand my higher self.

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I am lucky to have many dear friends who have become family. They live near and far but are always close to my heart.

They remind me that I am loved, that I can learn from these experiences, that I am not alone in what I feel and worry about, and that many people who have walked this earth before me struggled with similar demons.

I often find myself living in limbo, waiting for a future event that I have pinned all of my energy and hope on. This future time will be my salvation, a time when I will be free and my life will become easier.

A dear friend of mine told me the other day that the challenge is living one’s own life and ceasing to live in waiting mode. The only certainty there is in life is that you have you and you have today. And you have a chance to do things that contribute to civilization and beauty.

He reminds me that the pain I experience will also help me to sing blues songs with greater authority and authenticity. I laugh in response and try to take comfort in this seemingly small benefit.

Another person tells me that they say a mantra of something know to be true during times of unknown. I imagine mantra but am not sure I believe it in my heart. Thinking about breathing and repeating the words makes me fear that I will lose the tenuous grasp of balance I maintain by taking shallow breaths. If I breathe deeply, I risk falling into the abyss. I will not let myself go.

I am learning about acceptance of what is and how to dance with the universe. If one path I have been envisioning is not materializing, it may be time to open my awareness to what is possible and pursue a different path.

I am continuing to breath, to sit with the darkness and the light I feel in my heart.

I honor my spirit by honoring what I am feeling. It is real as I am.

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Oh, brave new world

Last Wednesday, I went for a walk after a long drive. The air around me seemed restless. It fit with my own feeling of restlessness and uncertainty. The sky was full of billowing clouds, dark and light and billowy. Gusts of wind came from different directions.

When I walk around my neighborhood in Lowell, I can see and feel change and uncertainty. I cross Dutton Street and the Merrimack Canal and pass a single Willow tree, standing tall but with a tired look.

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I walk past a no trespassing sign, guardrails, and cement walls with messages from graffiti and street artists; by a vacant lot with grass and cement blocks, one of the few fields where people can take their dogs to play. I listen for killdeer overhead. They fly between lots. I wonder where they will go when building begins anew in these spaces.

It is just a matter of time.

Growing attached to flora and fauna in a city means imminent heartache. Gravel and cement blocks have taken the place of trees which once lined the Hamilton Canal. When I walk by their former home, I wonder if I am the sole person in this city to witness the Orioles hidden in their foliage, their “che che che che” the only evidence of a fleeting presence.

Northern rough-winged swallows flit in and out of small cracks in the pour cement canal wall by the Appleton Mill. I watch them preen from the wires run from one the Appleton to the Jackson across the way.

I walk to a small gym with a tiny pool in the basement. In the water, I let loose my restless soul. Eyes closed, I move through the water and try not to think but only feel my body touching the coolness of a world where I am only a visitor.

It is my weekly meditation, moving through this water, a time when I can move my arms and legs, feel my body, and glide. For a few minutes, I close my eyes and my mind as best I can, and I do not always succeed.

Outside again, I walk along a gravel path beside a canal. The wind is ripping, and my wet hair is flying around my head. I look down to see a tiny creature, impossibly fragile, hanging onto a pebble for dear life.

I cannot imagine how this creature can survive in a world that would seem to tear it apart without the slightest sense of remorse. I feel fragile in my small, human body but am humbled by the sight of another being moving through its own path in the only way it knows how.

Other souls are less lucky…or maybe more so, to fall victim to the the course of the universe and life in an urban setting.

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I seem to move along my path by making mistakes, pushing the limits of people I love, and reflecting on how I can respond in healthy ways to the rush of energy I feel coming at me every day from all directions.

The more I look within, the more self-aware I become with regard to my own sensitivities. The more aware of my own self I become, the more sensitive I am to the pain I sense in other creatures, to hurtful behavior aimed by those with power to those with fewer defenses, and the more difficult I find it to protect myself from all of this energy.

As the saying goes, my skin is not very thick. I do not wish to become less sensitive, but I am finding that I need to learn ways to be witness to all of this activity without being completely overwhelmed by it.

For now, I will remember the winged one and hope it is safe, wherever it may be.

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Ashes to Ashes

Do you ever feel as though you have experienced several days in one? Today has been one of those days for me.

After a night of strange dreams, I awoke not knowing where I was.

I went to work on my day off for a training, followed by a trip to the autobody shop to bring my car in for service. What I envisioned as a half an hour, $30 expense turned into three hours and $442. By the time I arrived home, the day was nearly over, and I already felt like I had experienced several days in one.

Turning back the clock for a moment, I want to write about a brief encounter I had as I was leaving work.

First, allow me to provide you with some context. I live and work in an old factory town, one of the first in New England.

Where old factory buildings stand silent and cobblestone streets have been covered with pavement was once a thriving mill town. Wealthy, white men who were very well politically connected decided to build a city here because they could use the power of gravity and a wild river to power dozens of factories.

IMG_4043It didn’t matter that there was a farming community here. They simply purchased the land on the cheap. No big deal.

Of course, this was a continuation of a tradition started when farmers took the land from the Penacook Indians in a time when this area was a wilderness.

What one experiences in modern Lowell is but a snapshot in time of a place that has changed drastically in a very short time. The only wilderness is of the urban persuasion.

Despite the taming of the land and waterscapes, there remains an abundance of wildness in this city—human and beyond.

As I left work this morning, I was reminded of this wildness when a volunteer who works with us asked if I could help him.

I looked over and saw him standing with a tall woman. They were both hovering over something small on the bricks.

I walked over and looked down to see a small birds crouching with its mouth open, panting in the sun.

The woman asked if animal control would come and rescue it. I did not have the heart to tell her that it was a juvenile house sparrow, so there was no hope of rescue.

Instead, I suggested that mom and dad were likely nearby, and we just needed to get baby out of the sun. I scooped up the tiny being in my hands and placed it under a shrub nearby.

And that was that.

I left thinking about the difficulty of survival for animals of all kinds in a city. Later in the day, I wondered about the baby bird. I feared the worst and felt an aching inside. Should I go and check on it? If it had died, I knew that I would take a photograph to remember it and bury it by the canal near my home.

With a heavy heart, I walked across the street and back to the site. As I approached the spot, I spoke out loud. “I think it will be alive,” I said.

I knelt down and peered under the shrub. No baby bird!

I felt buoyant and surprised.

I sent thanks to the universe for its kindness and immediately wondered if kindness was an appropriate word to use.

Had the baby bird died, it would have escaped what was sure to be a difficult urban existence. It would have also provided nourishment to other urban creatures in search of their next meal.

Plus, house sparrows are an introduced, aggressive species that inhibit the growth of populations of native birds. I was doubtful of the existence of many nesting native bird species in the city proper, but I had heard of many impassioned migratory bird enthusiasts shooting starling and the like that the native species might have a fighting chance.

I walked past an abandoned lot, thinking about life and death and the human impact on the earth. True, we have set many rippling effects in motion with our choices, many for the worst for the earth, yet the idea of resolving issues through unethical, unkind gestures did not sit well.

The baby sparrow was not at fault for having been introduced by another species into environs where it has unfair advantages over others of its kind. Are humans not an introduced species in most parts of the world with similar characteristics?

Killing introduced species feels akin to fighting violence with aggression?

I wrote in an earlier post that the only tool needed is kindness, and I am finding the wisdom of this message to endure.

Be kind. Be patient. Be thankful. Life may not always feel like a gift, but I would not trade a single day.

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The only tool you need

IMG_3505A ceramic oak leaf sits on the wall of my kitchen. Sometime ago, I began placing on the individual oak leaves the tiny, folded paper tags, the kind that are stapled to the string attached to tea bags, with words of wisdom that made the “wise saying cut” from my tea bags.

 

A couple of weeks ago, my tea bag told, “the only tool you need is kindness.” I read it aloud and brushed it off quite casually. I might have used an expletive in my sarcastic “yeah right” response.

 

But the phrase stayed with me.  It echoed in my mind in response to an increasing number of events. What had at first glance appeared absurdly oversimplified was became relevant to situations and interactions I experienced on a near daily basis.

 

I will never doubt you again, oh wise and mighty tea bag.

 

Those words came to mind in situations where kindness could have helped to avoid misunderstanding, hurt, aggressive, and defensive behavior. And each time, I began composing sentences to share.

 

The most recent occurrence was too hilarious not to share; and so, as the land of a hundred shades of green slips away while an airplane speeds its way toward American soil, I sit and write.

 

The washroom is typically the first place I seek upon arrival at a destination. Arriving at my gate at the Vancouver airport proved no exception. I found the women’s room, left a small deposit, and paused on my way out to fill my water bottle at the water fountain.

 

As I was leaving, a somewhat rotund woman walked past me. on her top half, she wore a dark t-shirt with large words written in all caps in font that looked like small pieces of masking tape all connected to let the world know, “JESUS SAVES.”

 

I slowed my step en route to the water fountain to ponder these words.

 

What exactly did Jesus save?

 

Did he get exceptionally good deals at the store?

 

Or was he ecologically and earth-minded, saving natural resources?

 

I walked back to the gate and found an empty seat. As I set down my belongings, an older gentleman told me, “Ma’am, my wife is sitting there.”

 

Me: Oh, I am sorry. I did not see her. Maybe, she is invisible?

 

Man: She is not here. She is in the restroom. I should have put my bags over the chair.

 

Sarcastic side note: This made sense because clearly he needed to take over three chairs for two people. Their bags must have had sensitivities making it necessary for them to occupy an entire third chair of a busy waiting area all on their own.

 

Me: Ah, and thus that explains why she is invisible to me.

 

Of course, I was entirely joking, but my words seemed lost on this fellow.

 

The people on the other side looked at me and smiled.

 

“You can sit here,” a large woman with short, white hair told me and gestured to the chair.

 

Me: That’s ok. Thank you. I can sit over here, and I proceeded to move my belongings over by the wall and sit down.

 

I settled down, took out my phone, and began recounting the hilarity of the event via email to my sibling. About ten minutes went by, and I began wondering if the wife really was indeed invisible. Perhaps, I should not have made a joke at the man’s expense, particularly as he was suffering from delusions. I should have been more understanding.

 

Then, I began wondering if the wife was the woman who was destined to be saved by Jesus.

 

My premonition was correct. A few moments later, she returned and sat down. The man immediately pointed to me (I smiled) and began telling her the story in loud tones.

 

I smiled to myself. It was a pretty funny situation, and I was glad that I was on the comedic, experiential side. The older I get, the less seriously I take myself.

 

The woman stood up and walked toward the window.

 

W (short for woman): I don’t see nothin’ out there. The plane ain’t here yet.

 

I cringed.

 

There have been occasions when I have been endeared by a southern drawl, but this was not one of them. My slight horror stemmed from a combination of twang, poor language, grammar, and sentence structure, clothing advertising religious beliefs, and exclusionary behavior.

 

I freely admit that I place judgment on people (you cannot seriously tell me that you do not). My judgment is inspired by action. I tend toward a benefit of the doubt practice until actions prove otherwise. I am more than happy to allow people to redeem themselves through kindness. I have had my own fair share on less than stellar moments in situations where I am tired, hungry, and cranky.

 

No sooner had the woman walked to the window but another woman came and sat down in her seat. I watched. The man said nothing.

 

Nonplussed, I gave my head a figurative scratch.

 

Perhaps, the man had not taken kindly to my appearance? It is easy to place judgment on appearance. Maybe, he was ageist? I do look very young.

 

Soon, my thoughts moved on to other musings, and I forgot about the saved couple.

 

The plane arrived, passengers filed off, and my flight began boarding.

 

As I handed my boarding pass and passport to the attendant, I noticed the couple going through the same motions in tandem to my right. What are the odds that they might be seated near me, I speculated?

 

At my seat, I looked up to find a place to store my ukulele. No room in the overhead compartments to my left and right, so I turned around and saw a possible space just behind me. The couple was right behind me, and when I asked if I might just put the instrument up there quickly, the fellow responded that it might be easier if he walked by me first.

 

I can tell you that there was nothing easy about this interchange as he was actually quite a bit larger standing than he had first appeared when seated at the gate. I am fairly tiny, so people walking past basically means that I get pushed, poked, prodded, and generally shoved out of the aisle into the first available space, which is often another passenger’s lap. This kind of intimate behavior is something I generally avoid with strangers, but the man did not give me time to protest.

 

Operation safely store ukulele complete, I returned to my seat. And lo and behold, the Jesus couple was seated directly behind me! Ah universe, you are a funny one.

The man proceeded to joke with passengers walking by about how cold it had been on their cruise.

 

Who would have thought it would be cold in California?

 

They certainly made a killing in sweatshirts.

 

Ha ha ha ha ha.

 

Quite riveting dialogue, I have to say.

 

They quieted down when the flight attendants began their safety presentation. Oxygen masks, locating of exits, etc. etc.

 

I turned around and found the exit sign behind me, just as the attendant had suggested might be possible.

 

Back in my seat, facing forward, it occurred to me that sitting close to this couple could be to my benefit.

 

In an emergency situation, clear signage can be very helpful and important. In some cases, it might even make the difference between life and death.

 

I realized that should there be an emergency during the flight and Jesus happened to appear (because he has a propensity for miraculous acts and for “saving” people), he would perhaps take a quick glance over the crowd, hone in on the black JESUS SAVES t-shirt with white text, and be-line it for the devout couple.

 

On his way, he might notice with his peripheral vision, one of his own kind, a tiny Jew with a curly, thick fro. Sure, he could be thrown by my lack of ecumenically, zealous attire (unless he prefers people to be authentic rather than creating his identity for him and marketing that identity via material possessions). My own zeal tends toward the human relationship with the earth. I wear clothing with handmade screen prints of animals and plants, and around my neck I wore two necklaces—one a long, piece of leather with a metal pendant that had tiny feet imprinted on it; the other a silver chain with a dream catcher. I wear them when I fly for good luck and protection.

 

Clearly, the universe had placed me in front of this couple to ensure my safety in the event of a crisis. Universe, you never cease to amaze and surprise me.

 

So then, what is the lesson to be learned form this encounter?

 

I return to tea bag wisdom and the importance of kindness.

 

There were multiple scenarios in which kindness could have been employed and all parties may have experienced less stress and possible alienation.

The following represent a couple possibilities:

 

1) The man could have recognized that three seats in a crowded area was decadent and made room for me to use the third chair.

 

2) I could have followed my joke about invisible people with the words, “I was just joking” and a smile.

 

While waiting to deplane in Utah, I realized I should have clarified my intentions. I heard the woman thank Jesus for something, followed by the words, “I hope I am not invisible.”

 

I laughed inwardly.

 

Following the wisdom of my tea bag, I refrained from explaining the concept of comedy to them or trying to clarify that they did indeed realize that Jesus was a Jew and thus the foundation of their religious beliefs was quite shaky.

 

Instead, I simply turned around to let them know (in case they had thought they were communicating telepathically to one another) that people can hear them when they speak and gave them the most charming smile I could muster.

 

Silly people. Taking themselves (and Jesus) so seriously.

 

As I walked down the jetway, I heard the man explaining to his wife that the trip took so little time because airplanes are so fast. I was not disappointed to miss the remainder of the dialogue.

 

 

At least, this was a relatively harmless situation. Unfortunately, I have several experiences each day where I am left uncomfortable, hurt, shocked, or downright angry when a simple gesture of kindness could have healed all.

 

Thank you, tea bag, for teaching me a valuable lesson. In future, I will try my best to remember and practice kindness as much as possible.

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