I exit the Old Metropolitan Hall and step onto the wet red brick on the Downtown Mall. On the other side of the mall stands a man I’ve seen and helped at The Haven. I once sat with him and helped him fill out an application for a bus pass. I wave hello. He waves me over.
“Where’s your umbrella?” he asks.
“I’ve got my rain coat. I’m okay.” I reply.
“Here, you can share mine,” he extends his large blue and white striped umbrella over my head. I smile and say thank you.
“Hey, I’m trying to maybe get a cup of coffee and get some work done on this course I’m taking. Do you think you could help me out with that?” he asks humbly.
“Yea sure, I’m heading down to the coffee shop too, to work for a bit. Come on, let’s go.” I lead the way.
I buy him a cup of coffee and a bran muffin at Mud House. As we dress our coffee with cream and sugar he explains he’s taking a course on substance and alcohol abuse. He’s three months into it and has six months to go. He’s hoping to get a certificate that would allow him to work as a substance abuse counselor at one of the local centers, like Region Ten. We sit next to each other and get our laptops set up. He works his course, I respond to emails.
I’ve been thinking about feelings (emotions) a lot this week. Emotions are a basis of our humanity. There is something about the experience described above that fills me up with hope, love, joy, trust, and a whole slew of other feelings. I’ve had a few of these moments this week. I’ve been in the right place at the right time to help someone or make someone feel important or loved.
Those “coincidences” are how I know that my intention is at work. When I decided to start this journey and write this blog I set an intention to help others, show more compassion for myself and those around me, and find little ways to make a positive difference. Life has consistently provided me with the opportunity to take those actions.
She states, “As a social worker for 10 years, what you realize is that connection is why we're here. It's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. This is what it's all about. It doesn't matter whether you talk to people who work in social justice, mental health and abuse and neglect, what we know is that connection, the ability to feel connected, is --neurobiologically that's how we're wired -- it's why we're here.”
I’m seeking connection. I think I have been seeking it for quite some time now, but once again Doc Brown pinpoints it. She boils it down to this: shame and a fear of being disconnected prevent us from making true connections to others. This shame and fear arises from a belief that we are not good enough, that we are not worthy of “love and belonging.” The ability to overcome this fear and shame is simply, the belief that “I am good enough, and I am worthy of love and belonging.”
What makes me worthy?
Now here is the real kicker: the people who have this belief, that they are worth love and belonging, had “the courage to be imperfect.” Out of her research, all of these people were okay with being vulnerable. They were okay with the “unknown,” taking chances, making mistakes and then saying sorry. They practiced self-love first and then were able to extend that compassion to others and make connections.
I find this to be so inspiring. The encounters I’ve had this week were Small Acts by others to grasp the unknown, be vulnerable, and go out on a limb to make a connection with me, and I was able to accept my own vulnerability to reciprocate that connection and show compassion to those in need.
Roots in vulnerability
Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 44. While I am filled with sadness over the fact that she's not here, I am also filled with joy because I know she would have been proud of me for doing something special and practicing Small Acts. Her inability to be a responsible parent, and ultimately choosing to let me go, fueled my shame and fear of “not being good enough” for a long time. I did not embrace my imperfection and vulnerability. It was difficult for me to be genuine and make genuine connections with others, with a few exceptions of course.
In that time I did what we all do, and what Doc Brown, yet again, drives home. I tried to numb that pain. I tried to cover that fear and vulnerability. I covered it with destructive relationships, clinginess, lies, and manipulative behavior. I covered it with alcohol and parties. I numbed it with getting straight A’s and being the “know-it-all” and “teacher’s pet.” Whatever I could do to get approval, for the most part, I did. She points out that when we do this, we “numb everything,” we cannot “selectively numb” and we end up miserable, judgmental, and confused when things don’t go the way we expect or want.
I am enough
Now I know I have a choice. I practice this choice in Small Acts. I think it makes it easier to digest, and makes it more manageable for adopting as an automated habit. It starts with me, and it starts with believing I am enough and that I'm worthy of love and belonging despite my past traumas. This simple concept, that she so eloquently explains, is at the root of Small Acts. Learning to practice self-love has been key in my successfully making genuine connections, practicing gratitude, and behaving compassionately toward others. Most of all it gives me the strength to admit it when I’m wrong, say I’m sorry, and forgive myself and others. I am imperfect. I can always strive to be better, help more, and initiate positive change, but no matter what, I am always enough. This is a belief I am trying to ingrain into my habits, thoughts, and life.
Now I think I am finally starting to grasp this Taoist saying that a stranger looked me in the eye and told me while I was waiting for an event to start at a Barnes and Noble back as a junior in college: