Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
I often sat in a corner booth at a local coffee shop to write. One morning, I turned the corner and was happy to find my typical booth available. As I put down my bag, a professional man stood near the next booth holding an umbrella. He was startled to find me standing next to him when he turned to leave. He smiled at his reaction and asked if the umbrella belonged to me. When I told him it did not, he gathered his things, told me to ‘have a good day’ and walked away.
I ordered my tea, pulled out my planner and laptop to begin working. A woman approached me and asked if I found an umbrella at my booth. She was there just a few minutes ago and left it behind. Happy to help, I told her about the man and directed her to see the staff. She smiled and thanked me.
She came back a moment later disappointed that no one turned it in. I quickly scanned the room, hoping he was still there but he was gone.
That man took the umbrella.
He knew it didn’t belong to him. Instead of doing the right thing, he took it.
It was just an umbrella but it wasn’t his and the woman was sad it was gone.
It was a rainy morning, and the day now seemed more gloomy.
I couldn’t focus on writing that morning. I packed up early to head over to my son’s school.
Sitting in the bleachers in the back of the gym, I had a good view of the stage and of all the students seated in the audience. A buzz filled the room as the excited students, happy to be released from the confines of their desks that afternoon, watched their peers perform in the talent show. Along the side of the gym, boys and girls waited nervously for their turn. Equally nervous and excited were the parents sitting around me in the bleachers, waiting for their children to take the stage.
I watched children sing, dance, play instruments, and even perform card and magic tricks. I was impressed with their talents and with their courage to stand before their peers and share a intimate piece of themselves. When I was young, I never had the courage to get up on that stage. I took dance lessons, and even performed a solo once at my dance company’s recital once. I played the flute in many band concerts. I twirled my baton on the football field. But to stand in front of my peers at school, alone on a stage? No way.
I couldn’t carry a tune, but I could have danced or twirled or played the flute. I could have read a poem I wrote. I could have done something, but I never entertained the thought. I didn’t have the confidence to put myself out there, to open myself up to the judgment of my peers. I was so proud of every one of those kids who walked out on that stage, and just as proud of the kids who sat in the audience.
I watched the children in their seats clap and move their heads to the music. They even quietly snapped along with a child who sang very softly so as not to drown out his voice. At the end of each act, they cheered loudly for every student.
Among the performers were several children with special needs. They sang, they danced, and even performed some magic tricks. When those amazing students took the stage, the children sat quietly and with full attention. The children’s encouragement filled the room. It was palpable. When their performances were over, the crowd cheered extra loud.
Tears welled up in my eyes with each performance.
In today’s world of cyber-bullying and increasing anxiety and depression in our youngest of children, I felt honored to be seated in that room. My heart hurt from news stories about children treating each other so terribly and young children considering or committing suicide. I worried about my own children daily, concerned that all the confidence building I did at home would be stripped away while they were at school.
That morning, I witnessed an unkind act; but that afternoon, I witnessed the good still in this world.
Children clapped, snapped, sang, and danced along. Children cheered on their classmates, enthusiastically and sincerely with love and acceptance. Children celebrated each other’s uniqueness, their talents, and applauded their vulnerability.
That so many children felt comfortable performing before their peers was a testament to the student body. That children so naturally treated all the performers with such respect and admiration was a reflection of their hearts.
In awe, I took in those moments and smiled through tears.
Hope for the future.
After the umbrella incident, restored faith in humanity.
Overwhelmed by their pure, sweet souls.
There was so much sadness in the world. So much hate. So much evil.
But there in that gymnasium in a small town school in Southwestern Pennsylvania, there was love and hope and acceptance.
Any given day, I interacted with impolite, hurried people.
I was a witness to unkindness and disregard for others.
I was on the receiving end of snarky comments and hurtful remarks.
Any given day, these children were too.
Surrounded by negativity.
Assaulted by harsh words and actions.
Still, nothing but love poured out of them that afternoon.
Every day, we saw things we couldn’t erase from our memory.
We carried hurts in the deepest parts of our hearts.
We witnessed injustice and intolerance and colossal offenses.
We saw pain in the eyes of our loved ones and of perfect strangers.
We could easily become buried in the weight of it all and allow our hearts to wither and harden. We could become so blinded by the bad that we could no longer see the good.
But there was still good.
So. Much. Good.
How did we keep our hearts soft and open in a world that tried to turn them cold?
How did we train our eyes to see the good when it was overshadowed by the bad?
How did we extend kindness to others when others were less than kind to us?
We had to seek good.
It was there, but we often had to look hard for it. It was easy to point out the bad in a situation, what was wrong in the world, and the faults of others; but what if we looked for the blessing in the circumstance, the opportunity in the situation, the beautiful qualities in every soul? Even when those things were difficult to find, they were most definitely there. God created each of us for a purpose and orchestrated what happened for good, even the most difficult of struggles. Even when we couldn’t see it, we had to believe it was there and look until we found it. When we couldn’t find it, we had to have faith that it was there.
We had to celebrate the good.
When we saw a sunset or the first bloom in spring, we had to take notice. Whether we received a simple kind word or the biggest of blessings, we had to be grateful. When we saw our children do for others, we had to commend them. We had to celebrate every single drop of good that fell into our lives. So much, that the good overshadowed the bad.
We had to be the good.
When the world turned dark, we had to be the light. When cruel words were spoken, we had to speak words of comfort. When situations grew tense, we had to bring calm. When lines were drawn, we had to bridge the gap. When others turned away, we had to speak up, and do so boldly. When someone was hurting, we had to help. We had to offer an ear, a hand, a hug, and most of all, grace. Navigating this world was hard, and everyone was dealing with something.
A drop of good in their bucket of muck could make all the difference in their world.
When this world was going crazy, we found the calm.
When the hardened hearts shot their arrows, we shielded our hearts in faith.
When life came fast, we prayed for God to steady our footing.
God told us to guard our hearts.
What was in us flowed from us.
We had to fill ourselves with the good.
Seek it. Store it. Share it.
And for goodness sake, if you find someone’s umbrella, return it.