Good People Exist

Person 1: “Did you hear about that shooting? A cop got shot.”

Person 2: “Which one? The one in Texas?”

It’s sad that tragedy has become so common. So when I encounter really nice people, it not only restores my faith in humanity, it reminds me to keep from becoming a cynic. It does matter what we do. The positive things we do – no matter how small – do make an impact on other people’s lives.  I also believe in karma. We do get back the good that we put out, like a boomerang. This weekend in my home city of Scranton, I met people who took a bit of my hardening edge off.

Saturday morning I ran. Naturally I encountered cheery people at the local running group, the Barrier Breakers.  When people  come together with a shared interest, especially running, you’re bound to have smiles, nice conversations and supportive comments. After I put in 8.5 total miles (2.3 by myself and the rest with a group), I decided that was enough. Even though I set out thinking I would do 9 miles, the heat had not been so kind to me and I felt that I could live with myself if I walked home the initial 2.3 that I ran to the trail head in Scranton.

On my walk home I encountered a man weed wacking and cutting grass. My first thought wasn’t a thought. It was a sensation. I love the smell of freshly cut grass. It makes me smile and think of 6-year-old Jeannine playing in the back yard for the summer wearing some 70s plaid Healthtex matching outfit.  I was already feeling positive when the man greeted me with, “How was your jog?”   I told him it was good but that I was kind of spent so I was going to walk home. He smiled and went back to his work but I was pleasantly surprised.  A complete stranger actually inquiring about my morning. That was nice.

I walked up the hill that I’ve run and cursed at many times – twice during the Scranton Half Marathons – and kept on walking through the “Bull’s Head” section of North Scranton when I encountered an elderly gentleman who wore a big smile and twinkle in his eyes. He asked, “How many miles did you walk?”  Mind you, I think he was asking so that he could tell me how many miles he walks but that was fine by me. I explained about my run and then my cool-down walk home. He proudly told me that he walks 5 miles every day. Then he turned to point toward downtown Scranton to tell me one of his routes. He grinned and said, “Not bad for a 72-year-old huh?”  I told him that must be why he looks so great.  Then he came closer and told me, almost as if he was revealing a secret, “At my age, there’s only two things I worry about: the man upstairs and my health.” After a few seconds, he turned again toward me to say, “Oh and avoiding stressful people.” He then talked about a woman who used to live in his building who was very negative. He said he was glad she moved because she was stressful but he added, “God love her.”  I told him to keep up the good work and that I hoped I would be as active at his age. Then I walked on.

My third encounter came when I was within blocks from my home. It was at that bridge that has been closed since Truman was in office. Okay I’m cracking wise. The Leggett Street bridge has been closed for about three years and I would not be surprised if it was never fixed. We folks in North Scranton have learned to adapt. We had to.  Anyway, this gentleman in his 40s or so, who was wearing a baseball cap and holding a big cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee, was staring into Leggetts Creek. As I came closer he said, “There’ s a lot of fish down there.” I told him how I believe it’s spawning season or at least it’s coming soon because I know that no work is allowed on the bridge during that season. He seemed genuinely interested in that information and even more interested in appreciating nature. He looked content, smiled and turned back to see all the fish.

There’s nothing remarkable about these conversations but I was struck by the humanness of them. I was glad that people were being so neighborly. It felt nice because that’s not always the case.  Sometimes when I go or a walk or run through the city, my impressions are less than positive. Cigarette butts are a permanent fixture on our streets, along with litter and some people drive like they would earn points for hitting you. Many speed up when they see a runner coming…or it feels that way some times, even in cross walks.  Or there are the lovely foul-mouthed kids on bikes or cat calls from men in trucks and cars who feel brave as they drive by.  To be spoken to with courtesy, respect, and genuine friendliness was such a nice reinforcement of what we need to do more often.

My final example of proof that good people exist, is the story of Charlotte. Charlotte was a solid young woman in her 20s wearing a hoodie, glasses and a big big smile of warmth that you could tell was a regular accessory on her face. After watching two movies at the Circle Drive In Sunday night with my boyfriend, we were left with a dead battery in my dad’s Equinox that I borrowed (because I thought it would be fun to sit in the back with the hatch up).  After some grumbling expletives from my boyfriend and a sense of dread starting to creep into my belly, this young woman came to our rescue. She explained how this had happened to her once at the Drive In – just once – but ever since she has remembered to bring jumper cables.  We were all hooked up and we didn’t have immediate results – which wasn’t helping the demeanor of my boyfriend or I – but that didn’t affect Charlotte. She said she didn’t mind waiting if it took a while to charge. Oh, and she also offered to give us a ride if we needed it. Thankfully, the SUV battery charged and we were positive again – at least the vehicle was. Thanks to Charlotte. I thanked her heavily, asked her name, and thanked her some more. I hope that Charlotte receives a dose of help 10 times over when she needs it most. She and others like her are helping to make up for every piece of bad news we read.

Please don’t ever give up smiling at strangers, holding doors, offering change to someone at a meter looking frustrated. Our world needs you to remind all of us that we are connected and we do have the power to make humankind kind!

 

Glad They Didn’t Serve Tomatoes

A Missed Call I Wanted to Return

Last week I received a phone call out of the blue. I saw this person’s name pop up on my phone after coming out of the shower. I knew him for years but not very well and I couldn’t imagine why I was getting a call at 8AM. After listening to his message I was pleasantly surprised to hear that he wanted to hire me to perform/speak to a group of seniors who were ending a week-long scholar program at a local university. The even better part was I had already presented programs at this university on about eight other occasions so I knew the concept of paying speakers for their time and talents was familiar to them. I also always enjoyed their vivacious audiences that had included hundreds of nuns, students, alumni and seniors. But for some reason, I was extra nervous on Friday. I will chalk that up to all of the anxiety that I am feeling lately in my personal and professional life for various reasons – all things that I am working to better manage.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

When I arrived Friday night the campus looked beautiful in the bright sun of late afternoon and smelled of freshly cut grass. I walked into the building where the dinner was being held and I saw just a few servers for the evening’s event, a few students and one or two seniors milling around. I did not see my contact so I sat down and wrote some notes about what jokes I would do and what laughter yoga exercises would follow. I am always a bit more cautious and concerned about jokes for seniors but I probably shouldn’t be because I tend to do very well with mature audiences who always give me smiles and rave reviews. When my contact did not appear and no other representative from the college approached me, I chose a table where I would sit for the dinner being served before my presentation. I introduced myself to the couple seated there as being the presenter for the evening. In a loud voice, the woman who we will call ‘Sue’ to protect her identity, asked “Oh, are you the comedian?” At that question my shoulders dropped a little as well as my head. I don’t do straight up comedy performances much anymore and I prefer not to be billed as a comedian. I do tell jokes or humorous stories, as I prefer to call them, before I talk about the value that humor and laughter add to our lives and before asking the audience to stand for interactive laughter yoga exercises but I’m not doing a full stand-up act.  I am a writer and an observant person who pays attention to details. I love words and I think they need to be used and interpreted correctly (keep in mind that I say correctly through the eyes of Jeannine, as in: correct grammar, accurate facts, descriptions and information being shared, proper details, etc). I am in the minority perhaps. While it is true that people will interpret as they want to and they will latch on to what they want to, it does make a difference how a message is communicated to determine how it is understood. When people hear that there is going to be a “comedian” after dinner, they prepare mentally to sit back, relax and be entertained. Because I want to engage them intellectually with information about research and anecdotes and I want them to participate physically, it is important to prepare them for what is expected. So I worried that they may not be into my program.

It’s Not the Piano That’s Out of Tune

As more seniors arrived and sat near me, I began to feel comfortable…that was until they ganged up on the poor piano man.  Sue had already commented once to her husband that the piano sounded like it needed to be tuned and they both shared their bad reviews of his playing with one another. Then as dinner went on, another woman, let’s call her Candi, responded to her friend’s question of “What song is he playing?” with “I don’t know but whatever it is, he stinks.” This was the confirmation that Sue needed. She now had her  ammunition to go ask another woman who had been helping with details of the conference all week to make the piano player stop playing. This other woman explained that it would be offensive to ask the piano man to stop playing but she would ask him to play softer to make Sue happy.  All the while an older woman seated to my right, had been commenting about how lovely the songs sounded, but she had a much more subtle presence at the dinner than Sue. As I sat there listening to them trash the piano player who was fine for my layman’s ears, fear rose up from my toes. I thought to myself “I’m glad there are no tomatoes around or they just might throw them.” I worried that they might look for a hook or get up and leave if they didn’t think I was funny.  I was roused from my daydream in which Sue was literally tossing me to the curb by Sue’s soothing statement of “I hope the others don’t mind that you’re not doing all comedy.”  I had thought the same thing but didn’t need Sue commenting on it as well. I told her that hopefully they would use humor to manage their disappointment since that was the point of my program.  Then, more reassurance came from Candi, “YOU are the comedian?” asked with such a degree of surprise that I wondered if I should be the one taking the microphone or if perhaps, Sue might be better suited for the gig. I foolishly began to explain that while I was going to tell some humorous stories, there was more to the program that would require audience participation. Then Candi persisted with “You mean we’re not gonna laugh?”  To that I wanted to answer, “Dear God, I hope you do,” but instead I said, “Yes, you will laugh, not to worry.”

And Now for Something Completely Different

A young, meek college student who had just explained the details of the survey that had been passed out and that the movie being shown after my program was going to be “Wild,” – a movie that Sue told us at dinner she had no interest in seeing – gave me an introduction like none I’ve received before. In her defense, she is inexperienced and was not given proper information or notice. She basically said, “You’re going to have a comedy and laughter program by Jeannine and she’s here with us tonight.” Then she walked away from the mic and all eyes – and bright cafeteria lights – were on me. I started off a little slowly and felt particularly nervous wondering what my table mates from dinner were going to think of me but then I kicked it into high gear and started getting laughs. I even saw Sue and her husband smile and laugh (controlled laughs) a few times. Candi looked like she might have preferred the piano player but that was okay with me because her friend to her right was beaming. Her eyes were laughing.

When it came time to do laughter yoga exercises, all but about four people stood to join me. And among those participating, all but a handful looked like they were into the practice and really enjoying it.  After my program I felt relieved, happy and less stressed. There is something to that feeling of satisfaction, knowing that you succeeded with an audience but there is also the fact that laughter really does work. It makes us feel good. That’s my message. And I am proof that I feel better after laughing and helping others to laugh.

I felt elated to hear comments like “That was just amazing how you got all those people up on their feet laughing because they… well some of them… are kind of glum.” And another woman added that she could not believe I got her husband to participate. More positive comments followed that made me feel very proud and pleased with my ability to be a conduit for laughter and a positive message. I didn’t see Candi after my presentation and Sue and her husband talked to one another while I gathered my belongings, but I know the truth. I saw them smiling. I saw them participating. And I saw them having such a good time that I don’t think they would have thrown tomatoes even if they had them. I’m not so sure about the poor piano man but he’ll have other gigs to play again. Friday night I was happy they were letting me sing my tune and happily singing along with me: Ho ho ho. Ha ha ha. Hee hee hee.

Yes Sophia, There Is A Santa Clause!

One December afternoon I was writing an article about my life as a woman over 40 without child. To summarize: society is geared toward families and children, especially in smaller cities that still hold traditional and some antiquated ideas about gender in high regard. I do flourish in my life as a single woman, without so much as a baby cactus in my home, yet some people might not fully believe that. I have a wonderful family, boyfriend, circle of friends and extended reach through my business, Laugh to Live! I connect in a special way with people when I lead laughter yoga that is quite fulfilling.  But I digress.  As I was writing that article, I received a call from my friend Jean who was upset about something that transpired recently with her granddaughter, Sophia.  Sophia’s heart was broken when her CCD teacher told the class that Santa Claus does not exist.

As Jean relayed the story and spoke of the tears that followed from Sophia and a few other children in the class who still believed in Santa, a light bulb, or should I say a string of Christmas lights, turned on in my head.  This had to be the subject for my next blog.

I don’t recall when I stopped believing in Santa. Fortunately no traumatic memory of someone tearing down my belief in the jolly old Saint Nick comes to mind. I’m not a parent (as I stated above) so I don’t know what the norm is or what the handbooks or Dr. Phil says you’re “supposed to do” when it comes to talking to your child about Santa Claus but I do know a thing or two about the spirit of Santa that still enlivens me at 43 years old. Let’s call it the Santa Clause – an agreement we have with one another that we’ll embody every magical trait of kindness, generosity and warmth that has been talked about in storybooks for centuries.

Every year my eyes and heart are filled with joy when I sit silently at night staring at my lit up Christmas tree.  And while it should be more than one time of year, I also know the warm feeling I get when I witness people being nicer, kinder and more generous to one another at this time of year. And let’s not forget the presents. I look forward to the feeling I get when I give a present to someone that I carefully picked based on their likes and interests. My reward is the smile that covers their face. And when I unwrap a present I receive, I have a similar feeling to what I had as a child turning the handle on my Winnie The Pooh Jack in the Box. I’m a bit anxious. I’m definitely filled with anticipation and an excited curiosity. Just today I was fortunate enough to experience that when I received a package from my friend Marie in France. (I was sure the large white envelope was a present for Christmas and sure enough … it was. I was thrilled to see a fuchsia leather-bound journal to hold my creative writing in 2015.)

As someone who was raised Catholic, attended Catholic school from Kindergarten through 12th grade and who attended church every Sunday until a few years ago, I know that Christmas is about the birth of Christ and not just a character named Santa.  We celebrate baby Jesus’ birthday. There’s no cake or pin the tail on the jackass because it’s a much more reverent celebration, but it is a party nonetheless.  It’s a festive time to share love and fellowship.  And guess what? That’s what Santa represents too.

I’m not sure if that CCD teacher got confused and changed the letters around in his head, but Santa does not mean Satan.  He should not be viewed as a threat or distraction to the true meaning of the holiday. Quite frankly, I think the church could use the help reinforcing their message of Christianity. (Although I believe that Pope Francis has been making a difference, moving the Church in the right direction. He is a man of the people.)  Santa can help spread cheer and the concept of goodwill toward our fellow man. I don’t think we can hear or see examples of that enough. And, we can pretend all we want but let’s face it, many Catholics only attend Mass at holidays so children are probably much better acquainted with Santa than their parish’s priest.

I don’t want to get too heavy. I’d like to keep this light, like the season. My point is this. Why destroy a child’s (or adult’s for that matter) belief in Santa?  Isn’t religion, like Catholicism, based on faith after all? We don’t see Jesus or God physically sitting at our dinner tables reaching for a second helping of mashed potatoes and gravy but we feel their presence in the sunshine on our faces, the trees that blow in the wind and in choices we make – how we live our lives.

Santa is here too. We feel his presence when we see the glimmer of lights reflect with a shimmer off new fallen snow. We are filled with a desire to warm up our cold night by holding someone’s hand or giving a hug.  When a child squeals with delight opening a present, we feel his presence. And when a family is decked out in new pajamas and slippers sitting around their living room being a family, expressing their love for one another and drinking hot cocoa, Santa is there too.

And when I look at my many postcards received throughout the year from my friend Marie in France and then her thoughtful Christmas gift each year, I think back to the October day more than 10 years ago when I met her on a train outside of Paris. That may not have been the Polar Express but I believe that the same spirit that embodies Santa was in the air and on the tracks that day. Because I have been blessed with a global friendship that has been one of the best gifts of my life.

Yes Sophia, there is a Santa Clause.