What you didn't think about Black Friday

Joanna Abernethy had a brief role in the film Inspired to Ride. Those few moments she bubbled with a zest for life. Her trip was in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. because of his dream for America. She had an almost child like innocence as I’m sure most of the riders do out there on the open road where, Ryan says, “the eagles and moose are calling me back.” 500 miles to her destination, Washington D.C., she was killed by a drunk driver. She had a nineteen year old son.

There are moments when emotion overwhelms me. Moments when I think of my own mother and a longing to understand her better. Knowing what I know now, nearly four years after her passing and countless hours of replaying and questioning my mental movies of her, I do my best to practice the Small Act of replaying the good memories.

Fumbling to remember the name, Juliana Buhring, I typed “Johnna female cyclist inspired to ride” into the google search box and immediately realized I’d recalled another female’s name first. It’s interesting that we’re more likely to remember things that have an emotional association to them first. As I read the story about the accident a painful cord struck. I remember tears welling up, but not falling down in the theater that day when we were informed of her tragic ending. 

Leaning into it

These moments are essential to our survival, development, and appreciation for life. The moments of pain and reflection help us grow, but only if we accept them and experience them. Brene Brown elaborates on this concept in her book, Daring Greatly. She taught me to lean into these feelings, embrace them, and then practice gratitude. Shame resilience and accepting our vulnerability begins with gratitude. That’s why I’ve started to replay the good memories because I’m so thankful for them.

Johnna, so synchronously, reminded me today that our time here is not guaranteed. This reminder encourages me to take time to be extra thankful and give love to the part of me that’s sad or processing a difficult memory or emotion. These are Small Acts I practice.

Two sides of the same coin

A good friend of mine once told me some of the things I write are “kind of dark.” I don’t think we should sugar coat life. I want to challenge your ideas and perceptions with the stories I write and the experiences I share. Light can only exist if there is dark. Growth comes out of pain. I want you to grow with me, and I am incredibly appreciative of everyone who has supported me in this adventure so far.

After a year and eleven days practicing Small Acts and recounting my journey here, I know these actions do count. It doesn’t mean I’m happy every day or that I’m not still mourning the loss of those close to me. It doesn’t mean I’m always nice to people. I’m human and it’s still easy to get overwhelmed. It does mean that I concentrate my efforts to be truly thankful for what I do have, value experiences over things, do my best to reduce my carbon footprint (save humanity), attempt to live off less everything (food, alcohol, technology, money, stuff) and spend more time connecting with others and learning to love and accept myself.

We are sum of our actions and our experiences.

If just 10 percent of cell phone users kept their next phone for three years before replacing it, an average of 5.2 million phones could be saved from disposal each year. (p. 91, The Green Book, 2009)

If just 10 percent of cell phone users kept their next phone for three years before replacing it, an average of 5.2 million phones could be saved from disposal each year. (p. 91, The Green Book, 2009)

Stumbling upon Johanna's story I'm also reminded, our things do not go with us when we die. Material objects will never truly create a sense of fulfillment, belonging, or connection with others, no matter what the commercials tell you. However, we do need some stuff to survive, and depending on where you live and your socio-economic “status,” what you “need” becomes relative. We seem to "need" a lot more as Americans. Collectively, as a country, we produce over 200 million tons of trash each year and that’s not including recyclables or compost. Coincidentally, e-waste is the fastest growing waste stream AND the majority of the top selling items on days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We have an overabundance of stuff, but we’re still not happy. The U.S. has one of the highest depression rates in the world.

I read several stories today about Black Friday and Buy Nothing Day, which fall on the same day. I really wanted this post to be about why you shouldn’t go shopping on Black Friday because it’s bad for the planet and things don’t create happiness. It’s a little bit about that, but it’s more about gratitude. Gratitude for having a safe and warm place to live, the privilege to eat well, and the opportunity to live relatively comfortably.

I think part of the reason we’re addicted to a consumer culture is that we don’t want to take Brene’s advice and lean into the difficult feelings. We don’t want to embrace them as part of us, so we cover them up with stuff we don’t need, calories we won’t use, and drunken nights we won’t remember. We think of Black Friday as a way to get good deals on well intentioned gifts, but we don't think about why we're programed to give those gifts. Stuff does not equal love.

Give gratitude for the choice

You might still go out on Black Friday and find some great deals on stuff with the best intentions of surprising someone you love or you might be riding the bandwagon of our consumer driven culture. Maybe you’ll sit at home and eat Thanksgiving leftovers and do nothing. You could find a "free store" and get gently used items as gifts and reduce your holiday carbon footprint. You can avoid the chains and shop small and local on Shop Small Saturday as another more earth friendly option, if you must buy.

Whatever you do, that’s up to you, but I encourage you, please, practice the Small Act of showing gratitude that you have the privilege to make that choice and treat all the people you encounter (including family because I know that can be challenging too) with kindness. In the end only love will set us free.