by Nelia Dingcong Bernabe
January 1, 2012
James and I are hanging out in Starbucks, waiting for our daughter’s oil change at a dealership across the street to be done. What better way to kill time than to be here where the bold aromatic deliciousness of coffee tickles your nostrils and sends you to a happy place?
Even better, the sun is out in its full glory and we both decided to take advantage of the warm California sunshine by wearing flip-flops (in December!) and trash our heavy coats. Now if this isn’t nirvana I don’t know what is! We might look like two idiots with our bare toes while the rest of the people here are rocking their boots and coats but nirvana for us is defined as baring those toes at all costs.
As the aroma of coffee brought me back to Marvin Gaye’s singing, I reflected on 2012. Briefly. Man, that Marvin Gaye, he’s good. His soothing voice brings some soul to my soul!
“Latte…macchiato…grande…latte…” the baristas behind the counter started yelling while the lady (with two older people) seated across us is chattering up a storm. I could hear her from a few feet away. She was telling them about what she’s been up to: friends, work, and life in general. Great stories from what I can gather. Sure I eavesdropped. I can’t help myself since her voice carried over to where we were seated. In short, she was loud.
In the meantime, the friendly, gray haired gentleman at our table is finishing up his crossword puzzle with the help of his iPhone. It looks like he’s enlisting his phone to look up some words. Interesting sight. It reminded me of high school when I had to take a test. Back then we did it “manually” if you know what I mean. A little neck-craning action as you try to peek at your classmate’s answers helped a great deal.
The chatter from a few feet away had stopped. The lady and her party are getting ready to leave. I glanced at them as they moseyed out. Before they disappeared, I saw the lady turn her head and heard her say to her elderly companions, “…I guess it’s a matter of perspective!”
I latched on to her last words: a matter of perspective. I could only guess what she meant but I can definitely finish it off for her.
As we say goodbye to 2012 and usher in 2013, let me first get over the shock of how time is not just meandering by, it’s sprinting forward and not waiting for anybody!
Another year, another birthday, a few more wrinkles, a stash of jars of moisturizers, laugh lines, crow’s-feet…is there a way to put time in slow motion? Really? Forget New Year’s resolution. I need to find me a good face doctor! Vanity has a price, folks, and you get to a certain age and everything seems to change and sprout faster than you can say wrinkles.
Speaking of New Year’s resolution, what’s yours? Don’t ask what mine is. I don’t have one, will not have one, and won’t have one. Um, maybe just one, a variation of some sort since it’s part of my yearly ritual of organizing my mental notes. I want to get rid of my expanding middle section without putting in the time and the work. Does that count? If not, let’s move on to the next one on my list. How do I get rid of facial creases that seem to mutate at a disgusting rate?
All kidding aside, I really could care less about my mid section or the morphing of my face. Those are superficial stuff compared to the ills of this world especially one in particular, the Newtown massacre. Nothing has affected me more than the heinous crime against all those innocent souls. I cried with the world for days.
The senseless act of one mentally disturbed young man forced me to reflect on the issues of mental health and the Second Amendment. There are no easy answers and being that I am a mere speck in this universe, there’s nothing I could do that will fundamentally change anything. But change can definitely start with me and that’s how I intend my 2013 to be.
I’m sure you’ve heard or seen the Acts of Kindness list to honor the 26 victims of Newtown. A friend emailed me her version. It’s a simple list with three columns and 26 rows. The columns are for the act, the date that you did your act of kindness, and the last column is for any special notes.
The list is a good starting point for we tend to do something reactive in the aftermath of something horrendous like what happened at Newtown. The feeling of helplessness needs to be addressed and therefore the need to be able to do something becomes paramount.
But I’ve always wondered. When the media coverage dies down and normalcy has somewhat returned, does the act of kindness stop for most of us? In this particular case, what happens to that list? Will it be tucked away somewhere or checked off as a “job well done” kind of thing?
That’s why a New Year’s resolution for me does not work. It’s a great trigger but we need more than just the turn of the New Year to start thinking about what changes we need to do in our lives. Compassion, kindness, tolerance, and much more should be practiced year-round — these should become part of our lifestyle, these should become innate and second nature.
With all the negativity and toxicity around us, why add to the pile? Why pass on a venomous diatribe when you know the object of your ire can read between the lines? Why such animosity?
But the chance for a do-over is here, that’s what the New Year for me is all about. It gives me a chance to make amends, to right what I did wrong, and to gain more and newer perspectives by opening my mind and my heart.
Two nights ago, our two girls brought James and me to their favorite Cuban restaurant in Los Angeles. We had a hearty dinner but left the restaurant with a doggie bag burgeoning with leftovers (this restaurant served huge portions). As we pulled out of the parking lot, we saw a homeless man pushing his cart that was teeming with his prized possessions while holding on to his dog’s leash with his other hand.
In unison, we uttered the gut wrenching “aww” instantaneously. If you know Los Angeles, aside from traffic, homelessness is a fact of life here. And you do your part whether you live here or not.
What happened next pretty much put everything in perspective for James and me. From our perch in the back seat, I let out a huge smile and watched with a grateful heart as our two girls did what we wanted them to do without any prodding.
“Sir, sir,” my one daughter calls out to the homeless man after she and her sister had a short conversation on how to call the man. “Here,” she says respectfully as she hands him the doggie bag. “Please take it.”
I watched as the man approached her and accepted the food. “Thank you, thank you,” he tells my daughter. He then turned to his dog as he gently puts the Styrofoam box near his dog’s snout, telling him in a hushed tone that they have food.
As we drove away, I looked back to give the homeless man and his dog one more look but they disappeared into the night. At least for one night, they will not be hungry, I thought.
In just a few days, the New Year will be upon us and James and I will be back in cold Chicago. As we leave Los Angeles, the words of that Starbucks lady, it’s “a matter of perspective” will resonate with me. What unfolded at the Cuban restaurant parking lot is a perspective that validates James and my role as parents and the job we did in raising our children. And with that heartwarming scene, I welcome the New Year with a huge smile and encouraging anticipation.
Happy New Year, everybody! Spread love, kindness and compassion when and where you can!