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!

 

Part Deux of 81 Things to Do

While stuck in traffic on Interstate 81 … or any highway or road for that matter.

Last week I shared the second half of my list of 81 things to do when you’re trapped in a traffic jam. Here’s the first and final part of that list of things to do!  Have fun. And remember, while you’re sweating the small stuff, you could be saving your energy for celebrating what matters!!  Make Life A Laughing Matter!!

 

1.Feel the wind in your hair.
2.Test how loud your speakers can be.
3. Do your happy dance.
4. Check out the guy in the car next to you.
5. Check out the girl in the car next to you. This is equal opportunity folks.
6. Sing…at the top of your lungs.
7. Read billboards.
8. See who is a good adoptive parent to their part of the highway. Scan the roadside for cups, bottles and food wrappers.
9. Laugh… Because you can.
10. Practice your speech, excuse why you’re late for work… again…, your marriage proposal, etc.
11. Pray. Say a few words to your higher power like, “Thank you,” “Help me,” or “Watch over my loved ones.”
12. Breathe.
13. Listen hard to hear the sounds of nature. Try to tune out the engine sounds.
14. Remember your first family vacation and why it was so much fun. (I have fond memories of Wild Wood Crest in NJ. Two words: sunburns and ice cream.)
15. Smile. Then think about who is the reason for your smile.
16. Dance in your seat.
17. Repeat.
18. Daydream about where you want to go if you could go anywhere and money was no object and there were no other barriers to stop you.
19. Be still.

20. Make a note of how you feel.
21. Inhale.
22. Exhale.

23. Giggle like a little girl … that’s right fellas, give it a whirl.

24. Sing the alphabet to feel young again. It’s said that all we really need to know we learned in Kindergarten, right?

25. Think about someone you’ve hurt and plan to call them to say “I’m sorry.” (If traffic is completely stopped, call right then and there. Don’t put it off because you’ll find something else to do. That’s how life tends to be.)

26. Try to twerk while seated.

27. Look at the clouds to see what shapes they make. Do you see the face of a president? A headless horseman? A flower?

28. Think of someone who inspires you. How can you do something that would make them proud?

29. Breathe in.

30. Breathe out.

31. Breathe in.

32.  Breathe out but this time, make a “haaaaaa” sound when you exhale.

33. Smile at yourself in the mirror and say one thing you like about yourself. And it does not have to have anything to do with your appearance.

34. Tap your foot.

35. Channel your inner Bobby McFerrin. Start slapping yourself to make music. (Just don’t hurt yourself.)

36. Hum.

37. Imagine what your superhero power would be if you had one.

38. Imagine your costume. (I’m all about the power cuffs.)

39. Think of the first thing you would do with your superhero powers. (Remember, these powers were granted only for good so you can’t do anything evil … well, nothing illegal anyway.)

40. Practice the second language that you kind of know. (For me it’s French. I like to count in French sometimes; say the days of the week, the months, etc.)

41. Work on your elevator speech. What makes you/your business a hero, rather than a zero (shout out to Lori Greiner on ABC’s “Shark Tank”).

 

 

 

81 Things to Do While Stuck on I-81 (or any highway)

This is part I of a II-part blog of 81 things to do while stuck on Interstate 81 or on any highway across America. We begin with # 42.  Watch next week as I present numbers 1 through 41.   Before you take a road trip this summer or get in the car for a long ride to a business meeting or conference, print off this list. If there’s roadwork ahead, you may need it!  Off you go with a smile!

42. Breathe deeply.

43. Hop in your time machine (aka mental file cabinet of childhood memories) and think about what your favorite game was as a kid. Hopscotch? Freeze tag? Kick the can? Smell the thick air of those summer nights. Smile knowing you don’t have school in the morning.

44. Look at your hands. What stories do they tell?

45. Organize your CDs into the side pockets of your car or in your center console (assuming you still use CDs; I do thanks to my dear friend in upstate NY who sends me CDs every few months of great dance tunes to keep me smiling when I’m driving and stopped in traffic).

46. Drink water, it’s good for you and wonderful for your skin (unless the traffic is really backed up because if you have a small bladder then you’ll be looking to relieve yourself later…I really don’t want to add that to this list).

47. Sing the Star-Spangled Banner. While most of us recall how badly Roseanne Barr mangled it, it still takes courage to sing such a well-known and beloved song in front of millions. The least you can do is try it in your car. Come on.

48. Give yourself a hug. While you’re there, rub your neck to work out a knot or two that’s forming.

49. Entertain yourself with some different voices. Try an Italian accent. Maybe Russian. Nyet? Okay, how about a Southern accent. Hey y’all.

50. Think about the first time you fell in love…with anything. A person. A breathtaking sunset. A piece of chocolate cake.

51. Sing old TV theme songs like “Gilligan’s Island,” “The Brady Bunch,” “American Hero,” and remember the days when homework was your biggest concern.

52. See how many state capitals you can name. I’ll help you get started: Harrisburg is the capital of PA.

53. Consider taking an improv class. It will at the very least remind you of the importance of saying “Yes, and..” How can I support someone’s idea instead of block it or tear it down.

54. Plan your next physical challenge. Are you a runner? Think about what your next race will be. If you bike, plan your next bike route in your head. Visualize the road or trail. If you’re not active but want to become active, tell yourself that you WILL walk after dinner tonight. It will feel great after sitting so long in traffic.

55. Practice your auto tunes voice. You could be the next singing sensation. Why not? If the ladies of the Real Housewives franchise can do it, can’t anyone?!!

56. If you had the chance to meet any historical figure, who would it be? Susan B. Anthony? Benjamin Franklin? Ghandi? What would you ask them?

57. Clench your butt cheeks. It’s amazing what you can do for the appearance of your dupa while seated. Squeeze those buns!

58. Say your best traits aloud. For example, “I am kind. I am thoughtful. I am strong. I am a good dancer. I make great potato salad. I open doors for people.” Don’t feel conceited. You’re asked in job interviews what your best qualities are. So be prepared!

59. Okay now that you feel good and your chest is out, think about what you could improve about yourself. Don’t say “I hate my hips. Or, my thighs are too big.” Are you argumentative? Do you take things too personally? Do you give up too easily? Do you get angry really quickly? How can you work on these things.

60. If you have a Sharpie or even a pen, draw a mustache on something in your car … a CD cover, your coffee cup or even your finger. Show to other trapped drivers for comic relief.

61. Breathe. Inhale. Exhale with a haaaaaaaaa sound.

62. Don’t think of anything specific. Let your mind wander without a chaperone. See where it goes.

63. Sing the song, “Everything is awesome” from the Legos movie. And BELIEVE it!

64. Snap your fingers. If you can’t, try anyway. See what kind of sound you can make.

65. Work your neck muscles (helps to defy aging ladies) by sticking your tongue out and bugging your eyes out, like you’re trying to make a lion face … if you’ve ever done laughter yoga, you know the lion laugh face. It’s not pretty but it’s fun and can help preserve your neck from aging prematurely.

66. Think of positive gestures that you can make with your hand to fellow drivers, instead of the usual bird; it’s so foul!

67. Add up the change you find in your car. If you’re at a complete stop, see what’s in the bottom of your purse. You might have enough for another cup of coffee or the parking meter. Maybe you can even pay for someone whose meter has expired. What a nice gesture. Good Karma!

68. If you’re completely stopped, close your eyes and take a really deep, cleansing breath. It will not only calm you but it’s good for you too.

69. Think of ways to spice up your sex life. A little Sriracha sauce anyone? Okay that might burn the bits a bit. Keep that in the kitchen for your eggs or sandwiches after sex.

70. Wiggle your nose like Tabitha from the TV show “Bewitched” to see if you can change something that’s bugging you … like traffic jams, the clothes your husband wears or the negative gossip that spews from your co-worker’s mouth every day. If that doesn’t work, laugh for now until you have a real solution!

71. Belt out the words to the song “Let it go” from “Frozen.” Then slap yourself for doing so. Please everyone, let this song go!

72. Keep calm and breathe on before you can drive on.

73. Think of five things that make you smile. Go. (I would say ice cream, junk TV, my parents, my boyfriend, my friends – not necessarily in that order.)

74. Do brow exercises to release tension from your head. Wrinkle your forehead. Cock your eyebrow.

75. Use your lipstick to apply red, rosy cheeks like you’re an old-fashioned doll or Raggedy Ann.

76. Imagine yourself marching in to see your boss and telling him/her all the reasons you deserve/demand a raise!  Smile.

77. If traffic is completely stopped: call a funny friend who can make you feel good while you wait.

78. Picture odd celebrity couples in your mind, like Fabio and Kristin Chenowith or Paul Reuben and Cher or Snooki and Pierce Morgan.

79. Make animal noises. Belt out your best bark or softest meoooow! This skill will serve you in scaring neighborhood strays and burglars and landing a date.

80. Breathe in. Exhale some ha ha ha’s. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

81. The ultimate: take a “stuck in traffic selfie.” Try to get the driver behind you in the picture, especially if she/he is doing something embarrassing.

All the Emotions that Are Fit to Predict

I know that we’ve all seen the self-help gurus out there on the talk show circuit telling us that we can choose our emotions.  No one “makes us feel” one way or another.  I remind myself of this when I’m having a crappy day that I’m blaming on someone’s slow driving, the potholes, watching numerous people throughout the day commit what I consider a heinous act: tossing their cigarette butts on the ground and out the windows of their moving vehicles. I’m really quick to tell people like my mom or other friends that they are responsible for their own moods and that they shouldn’t let the actions or in-actions of others set the tone for their day. Naturally it’s much easier to preach than to practice. But with all of that said, I had my ah-ha ha moment last week when I read a tweet from a local newspaper. The tweet contained the title of a ‘news’ article. The title was, “PennDot Projects to Cause Commuting Headaches.” It caused me to pause. This news headline was in essence telling people how they were going to feel. I didn’t know that news reporters were in the psychology or sociology business.

This isn’t the first instance I’ve noticed nor the first infraction, I’ll call it, by the media to tell us the viewers and readers how something should make us feel. I often shout at the television in the morning when a reporter (and I use that word lightly) on Good Morning America will shake her head after a story is reported and say something like “unbelievable” or, “that’s outrageous.” I guess it’s not enough to give us the facts and let us draw our own conclusions and feel what we feel (what I learned while earning my BA in Journalism at Penn State) it’s now important that the reporters cut out the middle man (that being the viewer’s brain, set of core values, etc.) and get straight to what we should be feeling.

When I read the title of the news story “PennDot Projects to Cause Commuting Headaches” I had to say something. I posted it on my Laugh to Live facebook page because I wanted to share and remind people that just because it’s the norm or expected reaction, we shouldn’t be told that we will feel that or that it’s our only choice of response.  I mean even sugar packets don’t like to draw definite conclusions or at least they didn’t (I don’t use sugar so I haven’t read a packet recently). As far as I know, those packets stated something like “May cause cancer in lab rats.” But the reporter, or at least copywriter, of the news headline was quite sure that the roadwork would lead to headaches – as if it was akin to the salty lunch meats that lead to migraines.

I understand that roadwork causes delays and people don’t like delays because they wreak havoc with our schedules and plans, but what if the headline, instead of reading “Cause Commuting Headaches,” stated something like, “PennDot Projects to Create More Time for You in Your Cars to Listen to Your Favorite Music, to Chair Dance, to People Watch, to Wave and Smile to the People in the Cars Next to You”? What would happen if that were the headline? Would it be any less factual or accurate about the dreaded roadwork? I think the headline itself would have received a few smiles and chuckles. Instead, the reported the news as usual with a little something extra – a prediction about, or declaration of, how you will respond.

What happened to us being able to choose our own emotions, attitudes and responses to events and people? What if we choose to be patient while being “stuck” in traffic? What if we use that time while we creep along to do some soul searching, or meditation? Or we look out the window and connect with other people or nature? I won’t toot my horn and say that I always do this or that I often do this, but I will remind you the reader that we DO have the ability to choose our mood and response. We are in control of how we respond to events and to people. I challenge you and me this summer to respond to roadwork by spending that time doing something other than curse so loud that we risk an aneurysm. Let’s try breathing, smiling and even laughing. The people in cars next to us may think we’re weird but they also have the choice to smile and laugh back or at least laugh at us laughing. I like that idea better than seeing more red-faced people yelling expletives!