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Stroke Smart Magazine

November/December 2008

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Spread Kindness This Season
Little Things Can Mean a Lot
(Plus, 31 Ideas for You to Join the Movement and Be Kind)

By Rowena Alegrķa

As a result of a stroke in 2001, Mary Burke lost the use of her legs and now looks up at the world from a wheelchair. The vantage point is better than she ever could have dreamed.

“You should go around in a wheelchair to see how great people can be,” Burke says. “They open doors for you, and they hold them. They watch out for you. Strangers are good to you. They act like you’re something special.”

It costs them so little and yet means so much to someone like 64-year-old Burke, who lives in Laurel, Maryland, with her husband.

“People have been so kind,” she says, referring to everyone from family and friends to volunteers and strangers. One night Burke went to see “Mamma Mia” at the Kennedy Center. At intermission, someone came to escort her to the bathroom without ever being asked to do so.

Rachel Pember, with the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation in Denver, Colorado, says, “The benefits of kindness are twofold.” Acts of kindness benefit both the recipient and the giver.

“The action benefits someone else, but the joy you get in return is just great. It becomes contagious,” she says.

The proof lies in the whole kindness movement, which was born from a phrase by American writer Anne Herbert: “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.”

That one simple sentence, supposedly written on a bar napkin in the early 1980s, inspired books (“Random Acts of Kindness” and various others), movies (“Pay It Forward” with Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt), and the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.

The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation’s website (www.actsofkindness.org) is full of testimonies from people who have received or provided an unexpected act of kindness from a round of treats from the ice cream truck for unsuspecting children to an umbrella cover for a pregnant stranger during a rainstorm.

The possibilities are as endless as they are appreciated. Just ask Linda Belair, a 50-year-old stroke survivor in Hodgenville, Kentucky. “The people in my community are wonderful,” says Belair. “The mail lady often will get out of her vehicle and bring my mail to my door just to say hello and check on me. A neighbor checks in with me to see if I need anything when he heads to the store. A girl [who] works at the nearby pharmacy offers to deliver my meds if I need her to.

“It’s wonderful to know that people care and are so willing to help,” she adds.

Mary Burke has had similar experiences. In big cities and small towns, in grocery stores, on airplanes and even at the movies, people continue to show kindness.

“When I could walk with a walker,” Burke says, “going around a corner at the movies I fell. Three women ran over to pick me up.”

Burke still has a cupboard full of bowls from people who dropped by meals when she was laid up after her stroke. She’d return them if she knew who they belonged to. A co-worker came by to check the air conditioner. A friend built a ramp for her wheelchair. Every one of her 11 siblings has visited her since the stroke. And her husband “is so good to me I can’t believe it,” she says.

“People are just wonderful…,” says Burke.

31 Ideas for You to Join the Movement and Be Kind

1. Pay a visit.

2. Lend a hand.

3. Wave back to children who wave at you.

4. Say hello.

5. Forgive mistakes.

6. Share a smile.

7. Let another go first.

8. Open a door.

9. Be tolerant.

10. Offer a hug.

11. Lend an ear.

12. Compliment a stranger.

13. Praise someone’s cooking.

14. Check on a neighbor who lives alone.

15. Give up your seat to someone who needs it more.

16. Reach an item off a high shelf.

17. Help someone carry or lift a suitcase.

18. Offer to push someone’s shopping cart to the store or cart corral.

19. Send an anonymous gift.

20. Leave a bouquet of flowers on someone’s doorstep.

21. Bring someone flowers or a plant for no reason.

22. Shovel a neighbor’s driveway.

23. Bring a neighbor’s mail or newspaper to the front door on a snowy day.

24. Write a note to the boss of someone who has helped you, praising the employee.

25. Leave an extra large tip for your food server.

26. Remove debris or other obstacles from a road or path.

27. If you are near someone who drops something, bend over and pick it up.

28. If somebody in line with you doesn’t have enough money, make up the difference.

29. Leave your change in the vending machine for the next person.

30. Pay the toll for the car behind you.

31. Leave coins in unexpected places — pockets, the garden, sidewalks. 31

Sources: National Stroke Association and the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation

My Turn

Use National Stroke Association’s discussion guide to discuss the kindness that has been shown to you and determine how you can spread kindness to others. The guide includes a list of questions to discuss at your next stroke support group meeting, with your family, or independently. Go to www.stroke.org/myturn to download the guide or call (800) STROKES.


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