My brother is a strong presence – in my life, in other people’s lives, in his work life, with his friends, with his kids, with my kids – he’s a big dude with a big heart and a loud voice. As I’ve grown older, and he’s gotten older, and major changes have rolled ashore and back out into the great big ocean again, our relationship has evolved. At some point my memories of him as the broad behemoth who wrapped blankets over my head and farted on me as I struggled and screamed under the smothering conditions, eroded a bit and I actually started seeing him as more of a friend. Being grownups isn’t necessarily the most comfortable hat for either of us to wear, and I think there’s a comfort in keeping someone so close who reminds you of your more-distant-than-you’d-like past as a dumb kid, but also supports you as an adult.
Anyway, after our stint on the Appalachian Trail back in April, and the series of blog posts that followed, I think a passion for this platform began sprouting deep inside my big brother. He was more interested in the topics (this post in particular) and we started chatting a lot about adulting topics like happiness and contentment and satisfying the urge to explore and stretch yourself.
From these conversations, an idea was born. We would choose one challenge every month and try something we’d never tried before. We would dwell in the enticing space outside of our comfort zones at least once every 30 days. Some of our ideas are physically demanding, others are mentally demanding, but all are new to us in some capacity.
August was the inaugural month for the “Try that with Matt” series, and we agreed to kick things off with something that had been on both of our minds: positivity. We challenged each other to pull off 10 random acts of kindness (RAOK) in 10 days. There were no hard and fast rules. Just two handfuls of happiness distributed as we saw fit.
If you didn’t see this video, you should. She inspired us. My friend Kelly has done my hair for years. She never tells me what I owe her and I always give her what I think is fair, and she thinks is too much. One day she told me she took the money from my last hair appointment and donated it, anonymously, to a mother in need from “two mothers who wanted to help”. THAT inspired me. That same friend took her two children a few times every week throughout the summer to a local facility to be peers for a severely autistic classmate of her son. Now THAT is what you teach your kids. THAT is the example you set. THAT inspires me. So many people are sheepishly, quietly trying to change this world, or at least make it a little happier, one day and one deed at a time. It isn’t all bad. It isn’t all violence and loss. We wanted to be a part of that movement.
Here’s how it shaped up …
*Written by Matt.
Act No. 1. Special delivery.
The kids and I took flowers out to my mom. They were super pumped. My daughter picked them out, in Gram’s favorite color, of course. Mom was so surprised and happy we stopped out. I swear, the kids were just as excited as she was. It made me feel good, like I was doing something right, seeing them so hype about making someone else’s day. They helped with most of my acts of kindness.
Act No. 2. Bought fundraiser tickets.
Young guy, little older than my son, was out selling fundraiser tickets for his traveling soccer team. I had watched him and noticed the little guy hadn’t been very successful. He was a shy kid, so we made conversation and purchased some tickets and wished him luck on the season.
Act No. 3. Stopped to help.
A guy ran out of gas right by our neighborhood. Amazing how many people went around him and didn’t think twice. I jumped out of my truck, offered to push his car to the closest parking lot or run down and get gas for him. He assured me he was fine, his wife was in route to save the day. (Perhaps some other superwoman …) I think a lot of times we assume help is coming for people, but we should all be inclined to at least check and make sure.
Act No. 4. Moved mattresses.
I helped a friend pick up some mattresses. They didn’t have access to a truck and needed a hand so I tossed my hat in the ring and said I would take care of it. Life is busy for everyone, especially if you have young active kids. If you have the resources and someone else doesn’t, it never hurts to give a bit of your time. In this case, someone needed a box truck and I just so happen to have one, albeit one that tried to kill me years ago on a trip back from Iowa, but we’ve worked out the kinks and it was nice to help a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile.
Act No. 5. Treated a stranger.
Kids and I went for a frozen treat one Friday night and we decided to pay for the person behind us. As the gentlemen drove past with I will assume his wife and kid, he gave us a thumbs up out the window as we patiently waited to destroy a few milkshakes ourselves. We gave a wave and a thumbs up in return and I said hopefully that made his day and he does something nice for someone else. Kids thought he probably would because he was happy.
Act No. 6. Cashed in a good deed.
Back to school shopping was in full swing and I had already taken a day and tackled Kohl’s with the kids and cashed in some Kohl’s cash (free money, what!?) Well, a few days after we crushed it a coworker was heading out with her two princesses and Kohls was one of their stops. I had a 30 percent coupon and, like a boss, active Kohl’s cash burning a hole in my wallet. I passed them on so she could tear it up with her girls. We all know kids are costly and every little bit counts. This person kills it as a coworker and always does stuff for others. It felt good to put a smile on her face.
Act No. 7. Went for a wash.
Took the car through the carwash and paid for the person behind us (or to the side, or God knows where because the place was stupid packed). The kid that took my card was all about it though and you like to think that when you do a RAOK like this the people caught in the middle get some enjoyment as well and makes them think of doing something nice.
Act No. 8. Turned over the keys.
Kid was selling a car and couldn’t get rid of it and I like to buy and sell some things, so I gave him some green for his beater and the plan was to get it flipped. Later that day I was talking to another buddy and told him about my latest purchase and he was telling me about a guy that he knew that was having a run of bad luck and trying to get on his feet. The guy had a couple of kids, he was a hard worker, made mistakes as a kid that had cost him a good stretch of his freedom … I agreed to sell my buddy the car for what I paid and he was going to surprise this guy and give it to him so he had wheels for he and his kids. That was a no brainier and shows you there is so much good in the world; good, loving people. But all we focus on as humans is negative bullshit. The news is crap. Why not report 28 minutes on all of the positive stuff that happens daily and save the last 2 minutes for the sad, selfish bullshit instead of vice versa.
Act No. 9. Dogwatch.
Took care of Desperately Seeking Superwoman’s dog for the weekend. Yeah, I counted it. Made me feel good for a minute until I went to let the dog out and they had no chips in the pantry. Stay stocked up Biscuits!
Act No. 10. Meal on me.
Picked up a tab at dinner for a random patron and asked the waiter to have them pay it forward. He was all about it and the kids just sat and smiled. It just feels good to do something for someone that isn’t expecting it and you don’t get to see the reaction. You just hope they in turn do something good for someone else.
Act No. 1. Love letter.
I’m obsessed with the site,The World Needs More Love Letters. I logged on, picked the story that tugged the most violently at my heartstrings (a 13-year-old boy who was wondering why God chose for him to live through a tough illness in this case) and pulled out stationery. Stationery. When was the last time you used stationery to write words to pick up another soul? I did on that day. And I put an actual stamp on it and put it in the actual mailbox.
Act No. 2. Donuts for all.
Let’s be real. For men and women in the workforce, donuts on Friday are like a sitz bath after a 32-hour labor and delivery. Candy after a trip to the dentist. I like to sit them somewhere and see how long it takes for someone to find them. Who will open the brown box? Who will be most excited? Great social experiment all around.
Act No. 3. Sympathetic ear.
I stumbled upon a coworker in the midst of an emotional meltdown. I’d never met this particular coworker in person before, but it became very clear, very quickly, that this woman was in need of a good cry. Do you know why it was so easy for me to recognize this scenario? Because I have been in that seat, fighting those tiny burning needles behind my eyelids and sensing a trail of tear-induced snot marching it’s way out of my nasal canal. I have been there! Who hasn’t? Sometimes the shit hits the fan and you can’t get a win to save your life and you just need someone to give you permission to open up the dam and let it out. I don’t think it was an accident I ended up in her office.
Act No. 3. Garden goodie.
My niece loves zucchini bread. I baked up two loaves for her to enjoy. It took no more than an hour to do and I even threw in an extra loaf for my crew.
Act No. 4. Passed along some pages.
I have a girlfriend who I adore to no end. She’s been working through some major life stuff for a few months now. I logged on and had a copy of Miracles Now by Gabrielle Bernstein sent to her doorstep with a note, “A bit of inspiration for a girl who inspires me.” A great book is best shared with those who really need it.
Act No. 5. Blog crush kudos.
I understand, as a writer, how humbling a creative profession can be at times. You put things out into the world and sometimes get tough criticism back or, worse yet, hear nothing at all. It’s brutal and totally self-inflicted. So, I took some time to email a few of my favorite bloggers, who I don’t think have a huge following just yet, to let them know how much their words mean to me.
Act No. 6. Spread good luck.
Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck. You’ve heard it. I took two handfuls of pennies and flung them about in high-traffic areas.
Act No. 7. Pat on the back.
One of my favorite people on the planet is my college roommate Ashlie. She recently adopted two children and, I tell ya, watching her parent them brings more joy than watching myself masterfully manipulate my own little turkeys into doing something good. She’s good at it. Like really, crazy, stupid good at it. So I told her she was. I don’t praise my mommy friends enough from the trenches.
Act No. 8. Lunch for the lady.
Hank’s folks stopped by around dinner time so I packed up some leftovers for his mom to take for lunch the next day. She’s been a nurse for more than 30 years and gives so much of herself to strangers. Caregivers often focus so much on others they neglect themselves. It made me feel good knowing she had one less thing to worry about the next day.
Act No. 9. Make the hole.
This was likely the girls’ favorite good deed. On Thursday nights, the main road to our neighborhood is a traffic jam due due to food truck event that takes place at a popular intersection. As it started to break loose a bit and we were going to get moving, a firetruck, parked in the station, flipped it’s lights on. I slammed on my brakes to let them out right in front of us. The girls cheered in celebration of this one. I told them it was an honor to help heroes.
Act No. 10. Take a timeout.
I have a buddy at the gym. He’s likely in his late 70s and a bit difficult to understand some times. He knows my workout schedule. On Mondays I stay home and do yoga. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I run. On Wednesdays and Fridays, I do weights. He knows this. If I’m missing one day, he checks in with me the next. I always humor him with brief chatter. But during this challenge, I planted my feet, looked him in the eyes and spent a good 10 minutes working through children and grandchildren, recent vacations and his work life. We pass by hundreds of people every day. How many do we really see? That day I saw him.
We learned that it is possible to be competitive over good deeds; as we would occasionally compare our handy work. We also confirmed something that wasn’t exactly surprising. I like to plan things, while Matt is more of a freestyler. I had sat down and brainstormed a few things I really wanted to do over the 10 days. They were things I’d already had in mind and this was the perfect excuse to pull the trigger. Also, I would defer to emotional expressions of love and respect, while Matt’s go-to was lessening someone else’s burden in some way. There was no wrong, it was all right.
It crosses all of our minds more times than we realize to do good – to take something from someone’s full hands, or pick up the check or stop and listen … really listen. What woke me up was just how easy it was to actually do it. You don’t have to spend a lot of money or plan ahead. Just allow the time to comfort someone in need. Be human when someone needs it most. Be the hugger. Be the listener. Be the voice of compassion. Join the army of men, women and children spreading love in this world. Random or otherwise, let’s make kindness routine.