Thursday, December 20, 2012

Getting Into The Act - #26acts

Alright, so by now you've probably heard that in response to the Sandy Hook violence some folks in social media have started this "thing" called 26 Acts of Kindness.  In a nutshell, to mourn/pay tribute/honor the victims in Newtown, you're to dedicate a more or less random act of kindness or generosity to each.  I'm horrible with this kind stuff.  I've been meaning to "Pay it Forward" for decades now.  

Social media people do all kinds of "list" type stuff.  30 days of pictures on Instagram.  I know I'll never do that.  30 days of blogs.  I just write when the spirit moves me.  And so I typically don't participate in that kind of stuff because I know I'm too scattered or apathetic.  Most of the time I simply forget about it.  

Newtown is hard to forget.  Really hard.  Especially for someone with two kids, one of whom is about the same age as the children who were murdered.  Especially for someone who is doing his best to communicate to anyone who will listen that NO, autistic people do not plan violence.  Because my daughter, who is the same age as those children IS autistic.  And seeing the ignorance displayed in writing in public directed at people like my daughter makes it hard for me to turn away.

And so lately when I've been out and about, I've been "scouting" for someone to whom I might show a "random" act of kindness.  I get that by "scouting" it's possible I'm in some way losing the concept of "random", but I've made my peace with that.  

And every time there's some reason why I don't do a little something, and the reason is never better than "I forget at the last second" or "it's more money than I have" or I lack the imagination to turn something mundane into an act of generosity at that given moment or whatever.  

Today I went to get my haircut.  I'm off for the rest of the week until the holidays, so I'm doing "random acts of Christmas preparation", but this blog post is testament to the fact that I can't even stay on task for that.  In Supercuts (because I only get top notch Salon hair styling for myself) a woman waited her turn with her son.  I gave the woman at the register my name and she told me it would be about 10 minutes.  I remembered I had a Supercuts haircut punch card.  I retrieved it from my car and returned to the store, hanging my coat from a hook and getting out my cellphone.  I sat down and checked Facebook.  Yes, Leslie, I probably am addicted.

As I sat I read blog posts and remembered.  I glanced surreptitiously at the woman and her child.  He was Indian, or appeared to be Indian.  He had a thick head of straight black hair and looked to be about 4 or 5.  I rounded up and assigned him the age of one of the victims and immediately knew I wanted to do something "kind" for the little boy and/or his mother.  

They called the little boy back for his hair cut.  A few minutes later they called me back.  As the woman cutting my hair made small talk, I tried to think of how to make this happen logistically.  I really am uncomfortable being thanked for stuff.  I don't know why.  It just makes me feel weird.  So I had resolved that the only way I was going to go through with it, was if I finished my haircut first.  This would allow me to quietly arrange to pay for the boy's haircut and tip without getting into one of those weird, "I insist"/"No I couldn't possibly accept" sorts of situations.  I just wanted to pay the bill and slink away unnoticed.

And although it was a kid's haircut.  And although it started before my haircut started, I did finish first.  I got nervous.  I was actually feeling a little jittery now that the moment had presented itself.  I hurried to the counter to pay.  

My stylist began punching numbers.  I attempted to get her attention sotto voce, but apparently I was so sotto, that she didn't hear my voce, and she continued to ring me up without glancing up from the register.  More loudly I said, "Oh, I have a haircut card, let me get it out, so you can punch the card."  

I placed the card on the counter and then said in a slightly more audible whisper, "I'd like to get the boy's haircut too."  The stylist looked up at me confused before her brow furrowed slightly and she responded too loudly (though apparently unnoticed) "I can't do that, they may have a card too."

I was immediately disappointed I couldn't pay for his haircut before realizing that the woman thought I was trying to get extra punches on my card for the kid's haircut too.  I shook my head and tried again.  I'm aware that whispers seem sometimes to carry louder than spoken words, but I did my best to stay quiet as I told her, "No, I'd like to pay for his haircut on my bill."  

She softened immediately and said (again too loudly, and again, hopefully unnoticed), "That's very nice of you."  I ignored that, hoping she'd hurry.  "That'll be $29.90."

I wanted to make sure she didn't have to pay anything.  I added $6.00 for the tip and signed the receipt.

Here's where I'm hopeless/useless at choreographed do-gooding.  I could not think of a name to dedicate the act TO.  In my defense I've watched VERY little media coverage of this.  It makes me too sad.  Also, we don't watch the news when the kids are around, and so the names typically on the tip of MY tongue are Teddy, Bob, PJ, Charlie, Tori, Jade, Beck, Robby, Andre, Cat etc. 

Also, despite the "26 Acts of Kindness" name or the hashtag #26actsofkindness, I couldn't think how to "dedicate" this.  I really didn't want to dramatically announce, "I dedicate this act to one of the victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy!"  And I didn't have a piece of paper or anything prepared (as I've seen a few folks do on Facebook or blogs).  And so I was sort of stuck.  I couldn't "dedicate" it in a way that would let the recipient know what had inspired the idea that this woman might be inspired to do something nice for someone else (had she the means) is left to the Fates.  So I said loudly, conscious that if the boy was Indian, he might not celebrate Christmas, "Happy Holidays".  

"Happy Holidays," replied the woman behind the counter (who went ahead and punched my card a couple extra times), and I hurried from the store to my car.  

Inside the car I felt a little jittery but buoyed in spirit.  I know it's such a tiny gesture.  And I know it won't make any lasting difference in this woman or this boy's life.  But I also know that I wouldn't ordinarily have done it.  I wouldn't ordinarily have looked past myself or my own in buying/gesturing/supporting.  And I know too that having done it once, it will be easier to do it again.  Practice makes perfect after all.  And so maybe in the future I'll printout some little slips of paper to leave behind like receipts.  Their recipients will perhaps be reminded by the slip that someone once did for them, and so perhaps they can do for someone too.  

I don't know.  I know that it made me feel good in my heart even as I reflect on the hugeness of Sandy Hook and how bad that makes my heart feel.  

I started the car and backed out of my parking spot.  As I drove by the front of the Supercuts, the woman came out the door and I thought momentarily that she was going to chase me down and force me to take back the money I'd paid for her son's haircut.  But I'm so glad she didn't.  She simply stood there with a big smile on her face and waved to me, mouthing the words, "Thank you."  And I waved back to her with a smile that mirrored her own and said, "You're welcome."

Get into the act.  Whether for the children who died:

Charlotte Bacon, Daniel Barden, Olivia Engel, Josephine Gay, Ana M. Marquez-Greene, Dylan Hockley, Madeleine F. Hsu, Catherine V. Hubbard, Chase Kowalski, Jesse Lewis, James Mattioli , Grace McDonnell, Emilie Parker, Jack Pinto, Noah Pozner, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Avielle Richman, Benjamin Wheeler, or Allison N. Wyatt,

Or for the adult staff who were killed: Rachel Davino, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Dawn Hochsprung, Mary Sherlach, or Victoria Soto.

Or just for your own heart and peace.  

And then encourage others to do the same.


  1. Dammit Jim! fluids are leaking from my eye holes! *shakes fist* I will NOT be moved by your humble spirit and generosity! No! this grinchy heart will remain small!!


  2. Awesome Jim...even if you almost bungled it! ;-) Sharing with my peeps. I'm inspired to do the same. Thanks!

  3. Of all the inspiring things you could have done, only you would give haircut. I am surprised you didn't push the stylist out of the way and take control of the clippers yourself..

    James you have a unique way of giving me the uncontrolled giggles...along a warm feeling but specifically no moistened eyeballs!

    1. It was that or hair gel...some people can't afford quality hair products...

  4. You're one of my favorite people until you start making me cry. ;-)

    Good on you, Jim.

  5. You are hell-bent on making me cry this season, Jim, I swear.

    This was wonderful. And I totally held it together until the woman ran out and said thank you. Dammit.

    1. I love making people laugh and cry. Hell-bent!

  6. Wow, nicely done!

    And I, also, am madly correcting ANYONE who is trying to blame autism or Asberger's for this tragedy!!

  7. Lovely stuff, Jim! :)

  8. Thanks for this. My son who is 16 years of age is autistic and has Asberger's and he is the sweetest person. He has NEVER been violent. People need to get their facts straight before they go putting wrong information out. And this was a very nice gesture. So sweet