I took this picture at noon today near the reservoir in Central Park. I love working in a place where I can step outside and be surrounded by beauty in an instant.
I sat on a bench for 15 minutes. I set aside my smartphone and looked around.
Beside me, there was a young woman, an older woman in a wheelchair, and a middle aged woman. The middle aged woman had a Caribbean accent and she kept telling the woman in the wheelchair, “Your granddaughter is here. She came to see you.”
And the two, the caregiver and the granddaughter, both stroked the older woman’s hair. The woman in the wheelchair was unresponsive. But the two were undaunted. They were loving. They kept talking to the grandmother, caressing her.
Noticing their affection feeds my soul, makes me realize that people are basically good. And ultimately, love wins.
The reservoir in Central Park is a popular tourist spot. It is so vast. And seems, almost an anomaly. Maybe even obsolete. But the reservoir in the middle of a city park is necessary — a place to rest or glance across.
A place for ordinary kindness. So needed. So natural. So true.
Like 20 years ago, I was temping at a bank in New Rochelle. I was working for a banker — I forget his name — but he was younger than me by a few years. But he seemed older. He was getting over some kind of cancer. He used to buy me lunch almost every day. He seemed confused by me.
Then, he told me why. “You’re the nicest person I’ve ever met.”
“Really?” That seemed weird. I’m no Mother Theresa. I get impatient and insecure on a daily basis. I felt sorry for this banker — I mean, if I was the nicest person he’d ever met! Well, that just seemed sad.
Still. Nice gets a bad wrap. I remember in the book The Happiness Project when Gretchen Rubin is super-nice to everyone in her life for a week as a path to happiness. No one really notices her niceness and she’s glad when the week’s over ’cause it feels like kinda a waste of time. And niceness requires a lot of effort.
I have felt that my niceness is, at times, perceived as stupidity. (Especially at work — when the cynical males were perceived as smart and the young female optimists were seen as fools. Well ha! Fools have more laughs than cynics!)
I can’t help it. I am compulsively nice. And this kind of “nice girl” syndrome has cost me. Maybe in being nice I have swallowed some honest emotion.
Still. In the long run, I’d rather be overly nice than overly critical or mean.
My daughter and I had a screaming match yesterday and she accused me of being so mean. And ugh, that hurt. In a quieter moment, I asked my husband, “Was I mean?”
“When you two lock horns, no one wins,” he said. Which, I think, meant, ‘Yes, you were unfair or unkind.’ Hey, I thought, I’m sorry. And you only hurt the ones you love.
I don’t want to get into the deets of the argument, but my daughter and I talked it out later and we both promised to do better next time — to give each other a little more patience and more room to breath. Tough stuff. At least for me. Me? The nicest person you’ve ever met.
I have blogged about this before. And interestingly enough, I also wrote about my daughter four years ago in the blog post the power of niceness. I, then, too, referenced the Happiness Project and my resentment about workplace sarcasm winning over niceness. Weird. Four years later. I’m writing about the same stuff.
It was about 1992 and I’d recently come back from a retreat offered by Marble Collegiate Church about relationships. I realized three qualities I wanted in a partner were brilliance, creativity and financial independence. And after a few times hanging out with Chris, (thanks to a Kirk Douglas film he was in with a mutual friend), I realized Chris had those three qualities. And more. He was a good listener. I was attracted to these qualities.
He had been an English major and so had I. He was the only person ever to express an interest on the topic of my Master’s thesis – deconstructionism and psychoanalysis. English majors just generally tend to get (and love) one another. When I met Chris, he was reading Updike’s Memories of the Ford Administration. Here was a guy who loved Updike and was a good listener? Nice.
So life ensued. We married in ’95. The kids came along in ’97 and ’99. And after a bout with prostate cancer about 10 years ago, Chris was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease about 9 years ago.
While I know many of you love Chris as an actor and an artistic colleague, and I, too, love the brilliance and the creativity, but there is another quality Chris has brought to my life which may not sound so sexy: his steadiness.
He is not literally steady, because Parkinson’s does cause his hand and arm to shake, but figuratively, he is a rock. When the kids were little, one preschool director, Holly, commented that she’d never seen a dad so involved with the kids as Chris was.
He’s a real family man. And even as the disease progress, Chris is aces as a parent. He still cooks and shops and walks the kids home from late-night parties.
And he listens well. He’s steady. And I like that.
He no longer reads Updike the way he used to, but then again, who does?
Chris is making a documentary with a buddy who also has Parkinson’s about putting on Becket’s Endgame. To see a clip of the documentary, link to: The Endgame Project.
In the face of worry, I stay perky and productive. Chris does too. We continue to make a contribution — at work and at home. I want, need, and hope that we all stay as positive and productive for as long as possible.
Chris’s work is very meaningful. On the heels of his success translating The Cherry Orchard Off-Broadway and directing Picasso at Lapin Agile in Florida, he is performing in a fabulous production of Taming of the Shrew. He is also making a documentary with his friend Dan about having Parkinson’s as they rehearse for one performance of Beckett’s Endgame. (Checkout The Endgame Project.) We’re going to see the trailer for the documentary on Monday night.
So when people ask me, How is Chris doing? I usually say, “He’s doing great. He’s productive and he’s positive.”
As a family, we are doing great. Or, at least, good enough. And good enough is good enough. Lots of times, we are perky and happy-go-lucky! As I’ve said before, “We get by with a little help from our friends.” And family!
And when we feel sad about having to just get by, that’s okay. We’re human after all.
This Lent, I gave up gossip. This has been tough. I miss the way gossip clarifies your values. It’s like when you watch Nanny 911 and you feel so good and smug about your own parenting skills. You think to yourself, “I would never do THAT!” (But let’s admit, we’ve all done much worse. We just, thankfully, did not have a camera crew following us and recording our parenting failures! Not too worry, those incidents will be remembered by our children who will blame us for years to come.)
In the fall, I met a church executive who told me she left church work for a while to sell Mary Kay cosmetics when her husband was in the military. She said in the Mary Kay biz, you were not allowed to gossip or criticize one another. (I don’t know how they enforce this). But she said it was a good and productive way to work and that she wished she could do this again now that she’s returned to church work.
I know there are positive sides to gossip — studies show it can bind community members together and other studies show that gossip lowers your heart rate. Whatever. From my own experience, gossip undermines creativity and productivity and inhibits trust in coworkers.
At work, I’ve felt stuck when a colleague wants to gossip about another colleague. I have no way to extricate myself.
1. Say nothing, which makes the gossiper think I agree so they keep on gossiping.
2. Say, “I hear you. But I gave up gossip for Lent, so, much as I’d like to join this gossip gravy train right now, I can’t.” No, this makes me feel all holier-than-thou.
3. Don’t talk to anyone. Umm, that’s not happening.
Without gossip, I’m losing an opportunity to bond.
On my Twitter feed the other day, another woman church executive wrote a tweet, something like, “We remember best the people who supported us most.” I want to be that person — the one remembered for being supportive, creative, and productive, not negative or gossipy.
I do want my heart rate lowered and I do want to bond with my colleagues. So after Easter, I may have to dive back in the gossip pool. Or I may not. There’s a lot to talk about besides each other. And there’s a lot to admire in one another. I’m a big fan of admiring my colleagues. And I want to keep admiring people more (not less).
But as one other coworker told me, “I never gossip. But you want to know who does???” (ba dum bum!)
“Mean people are an excuse to stand up for yourself and show compassion,” I agreed with this on my Twitter feed the other day.
It was a day that I was the recipient of a mean remark at work. It’s taken me a while to get over it. I wish I wasn’t so thin-skinned.
If you know me IRL (in real life), you know that I am an extremely nice person. Just the other night when I went to see the movie, Take Shelter —which, seriously, inspired a panic attack in me and I had to leave the movie early — I apologized to the person who sat behind me, because my head blocked her view. So that’s how nice I am. I apologize to strangers because I sit in front of them at the movies.
After the workplace conversation, which also inspired a panic attack, I thought, “Hmmm, wait a minute! You feel I dissed someone? That’s not me. You want me to feel bad about myself? Hmmm. I don’t want to. I’ve got too much to do today. And feeling bad about myself isn’t on the agenda.” I wanted to agree, because I simply love agreement — being such a fan of my “Yes, And!” training from improv and leadership classes.
If what we’re agreeing on is that I didn’t do a good enough job, I can’t agree. I did an awesome job. I’m sorry you don’t think so — or you overheard someone who said that I didn’t do my job well enough. So it’s really workplace gossip. Wait. This isn’t about me. It’s about you and that was just mean.
In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal Health & Wellness section, there’s an article, ‘It’s Mine’ The Selfish Gene: Tots as Young as 3 Can Be Generous While Others Are Inclined To Hog by Kevin Helliker. He writes, “About two-thirds of the children chose to give one or more sets of stickers to an unknown recipient, described to them only as a child who had no stickers.”
Other studies show 70 percent of adults are generous. I believe I am with the majority, looking out for others.
If anything, I fail because I want too much to be liked and approved of. I admit taking criticism is not my strength. I like the gold star and the praise — I like to give it and I like to get it. And I like that I am nice. And I really like nice people. I like my friends smart, funny and nice. And if I could only have one of those attributes in a friend, I’ll choose nice.
So why are some people mean? Maybe it’s just a mean gene; they’re part of the one-third that won’t share their stickers. That’s just how they roll.
As the Twitterverse reminded me, an interaction with a mean person is an opportunity to stand up for yourself, show a little compassion, look within, make any corrections, and ultimately, move on, sharing the stickers. It is not easy.
Here’s the Wall Street Journal article: It’s Mine!