Tag Archives: kindness

Celebrating the freedom to be kind

Fort McHenry, Baltimore MD

Fort McHenry.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Long ago, someone once tried to trick me with a skewed question. “Do the English celebrate the Fourth of July?” was the query.

My answer went something like this: “Well, the English have a July 4th like the rest of the world, but I doubt that they celebrate it.”

The Fourth of July is Independence Day in the United States. It’s a day of traditions: family gatherings, picnics with hot dogs and hamburgers, baseball games, and fireworks, although the latter is often spread out over a period of days depending on planned community events.

American flags are flown, and many decorate their houses with red, white, and blue buntings. Some communities hold parades with high school bands, fire trucks, decorated floats, and troupes of children riding patriotic adorned bicycles.

In typical American fashion, fireworks on the Fourth of July began in 1777 during the Revolutionary War with England. They weren’t the only flashes and booms in the sky then. Muskets and canons were also fired as ways to increase the commotion and hopefully boost the morale of the rebelling colonists.

A few years later during the War of 1812, Baltimore, Maryland had a life or death situation louder and fiercer than any fireworks. On September 13, 1814, the British Navy opened fire on Fort McHenry, the primary protective garrison of the city’s harbor. Much like today, Baltimore was an essential Atlantic coast port. Its defense was vital against the British, who had just burned the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.

The fort withstood a horrific 27-hour bombardment by the British fleet. Francis Scott Key, a noted attorney, witnessed the attack from a ship in the harbor. When the smoke and mist cleared in the morning, Key saw the stars and stripes still flying from the fort, and was moved to write a poem about the battle. That poem became the lyrics for the “Star Spangled Banner,” our national anthem.

My wife and I recently visited the fort with a friend. As I watched a replica of the original flag flap in the morning breeze, I thought about the importance of celebrating the Fourth of July. It’s much more vital than food, fun, and colorful pyrotechnic displays.

In these current, trying times, when everyone seems to be talking and fewer people listening, I recoiled at the unnecessary squabbles going on in families, private and public meetings, in the media and on social media. Much of it is not pretty, and too much of it is hurtful, divisive, and driven by fear, not fact.

A person I recently met gave this suggestion: Treat people kindly in the moment. It might be the only time you have with them. She was right.

This Fourth of July, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we began listening to one another without bias, without interruption, without labeling, without being dismissive or rude or worse? After all, we are one nation, made up of many peoples from many different origins, languages, races, religions, beliefs, and backgrounds. That is as the Founding Fathers envisioned in the words of the U.S. Constitution.

So let’s carry on with the usual Independence Day activities. As we join together with family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers, let’s begin again to converse with one another with civility, kindness, respect, and appreciation, whether we agree or disagree with what is said.

That’s how a community as small as a family and as large as a nation should behave in order to thrive. In accomplishing that, we really will have something to celebrate on the Fourth of July besides Independence Day.

grocery store sign

A sign for many cultures.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Gifts come in all kinds of packages

raysofbeautybybrucestambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s the gift-giving season again. I think the TV commercials started just after Labor Day.

If you follow their lead, it’s spend, spend, spend to please your loved one with just the right gift. That certainly might help the economy, but not your budget. It doesn’t have to be that way. Gifts don’t need to be expensive to be appreciated. In fact, they don’t even need to be purchased. Please note I am not endorsing shoplifting as an option.

Gifts come in all kinds of packages. The most precious don’t need to be unwrapped. We just need to be alert enough to recognize them when they surreptitiously present themselves.

smilesallaroundbybrucestambaugh

Pick your smile.

A friend recently shared that she smiled at a stranger in a store. The man, who could have qualified in age as her grandfather, walked away, stopped and returned to her. He told my friend that her smile had made his day, and he wanted to thank her for her thoughtfulness. He said he seldom sees people smile any more. I thought that a perfect example of the kind of gift giving that really counts. The young woman was so impressed with the man’s comments that she eagerly shared the encounter with others. I hope the man passed his gratitude on with a smile of his own.

If we listen to the seasonal marketing hype, Advent is more corporate than celestial. Of course, if we take my friend’s approach, it doesn’t have to be that way.

The gifts enjoyed most happen freely everyday.

A recent sunrise was a thing to behold. Thick clouds covered the rising sun, yet bands of rays somehow squeezed through and fanning out to create an incredible heavenly display.

redbreastednuthatchbybrucestambaughLater that morning a Red-breasted Nuthatch snatched seeds precision like from pinecones my wife had gathered and placed in a bowl to decorate an old wash bench on the back porch. The little bird was too quick for my camera.

Later that evening, we sat around the dining room table exchanging touching stories with trusted and trusting friends. We lamented and laughed at our common situations. Unwavering, lifetime friendship is a priceless gift.

The perfect gift also could be something as simple as discovering your driver’s license is about to expire. The startling realization turned out to be a rich blessing. I rushed to the license bureau where the employees had just dealt with a pretty crusty customer. Not to be distracted from their normal good humor, they treated me like a king, and I walked away with a new license and an uplifted spirit.

At the doctor’s office, I meet an acquaintance I only see on occasion. We talked until I was called in for my appointment. Good thing, too, or we’d still be talking. You know how men are.

sunsetflyoverbybrucestambaughI received a card with a hand written note of appreciation from a friend. It was given for the sole purpose of expressing gratitude for our friendship. I placed the note where I can see it every morning.

A day ended with the sun showing its artistic ability. As a flock of Canada Geese flew overhead, a palette of pastels filled the evening sky. It was another fleeting and inspiring gift that cost only the time to notice.

At this special time of year, what are some of the gifts that you have received that you didn’t have to unwrap? Better still, what are some that you will give?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

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Keeping goals practical for 2012

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s New Year’s resolution time, a media driven folly I deplore. Consequently, I don’t participate in the declaratory hyperbole of over-hype that usually dissolves faster than an ice cube in a frying pan.

Last year, I offered up a friendly alternative to the impractical practice of setting New Year’s resolutions. I posted a personal, grandiose bucket list that I wanted to accomplish in my life. A good friend thought the text too self-centered and exclusive.

I quickly realized my friend was right on. Knowing that resolutions again would be on the mainstream media’s New Year’s menu, I desired something more productive with which to counter publicly and apply personally.

Up side down by Bruce StambaughDuring my seemingly yearlong recovery last year, I had lots of opportunity for meditation and gratitude. At some point, I began including in my morning devotions a simple three part prompt that seemed all too obvious.

Whether I began or ended with the trilogy, I came away with a refreshing daily approach. The self-imposed, practical advice was both a reminder and a method of living that turned my bucket list on its head.

My little daily pep talk is about as simple and modest as I am. I desire to be nice, to be kind and to behave each day.

Given the fact that I will qualify for Medicare later this year, one would think I had that palpable trio already mastered. My friend, along with other contributions from my beloved wife, told me otherwise. I am human after all, and a man to boot.

Think of it as an offshoot of Kermit the Frog. Instead of “it’s not easy being green,” I submit that it’s not easy being Green frog by Bruce Stambaughnice, at least not all of the time. Nor is it always attainable to be kind, a close cousin to “nice.”

I don’t mean to be kind of nice either. I mean be nice. Be kind, and the end result will be that one will behave. Seems pretty logical to me.

I’ll give you that there isn’t much difference between being nice and being kind. I guess I see being nice as easy as holding a door open for someone. Being kind, on the other hand, is a compassionate extension of that precept.

Being kind equates with being generous. The way I see it, anyone can be nice. It takes extra effort to be kind. Kindness involves time, perseverance, patience, observation and action. I can be nice and hold a door for the next person through. I can be kind and anticipate that the person pushing their mother in a wheelchair will need to have the door held for them.
Face painting by Bruce Stambaugh
Putting nice and kind into play in my life forces me to look beyond my own immediate needs, and to watch for spontaneous opportunities to assist others, even in small ways. Other times, being nice and being kind come through planned events where I can make a difference in a positive manner.

By choosing positive, I am ensuring I am behaving. If I am behaving, I am being nice and hopefully kind, too. One begets the other with productive, positive consequences for all involved.

Be nice. Be kind. Behave. Those are constructive objectives I can live by everyday of the New Year. If I don’t, I’m sure my friend or my wife will remind me. I just hope they’ll be nice about it.

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Vivian Miller offers compassion through cards and visits

By Bruce Stambaugh

After the doctor informed Vivian Miller, 68, four years ago that she had Parkinson’s disease, he asked how she felt about the diagnosis.

Miller didn’t flinch. She mustered up her usual pluck and said, “It’s not going to put me in a corner someplace.” Indeed it hasn’t.

In the time since, Miller has spent her life quietly helping others.

“It’s not about me,” she said modestly. “God uses me as an encouragement and support for others.”

Miller, who lives in Berlin, Ohio, intentionally looks for those in need, though she clearly tries to be subtle and discreet. If she finds out about someone with health or personal problems, Miller doesn’t hesitate to help, even if it’s simply by sending a homemade card.

She uses a software program to create personally appropriate cards. Miller often incorporates a picture of the person or herself into the card’s design.

Vivian Miller by Bruce Stambaugh

Vivian Miller enjoys making personalized cards for people.

When she was unable to go on a cruise with her Sunday School class, Miller knew what to do. Instead of being envious, she made a welcome home card for each member. On the front of the card was the picture of the cruise ship on which the group had sailed.

“I wanted them to have a special memento from their trip,” Miller said.

That statement pretty well sums up Miller’s approach to life. Her doctor told her she would do well with that positive attitude, and Miller has. Miller said it really boils down to a pretty fundamental formula.

“It’s about listening to others,” she said. “Everybody has a story, and all you need to do is listen.”

Miller retired as a deputy director in the Holmes County Treasurer’s office in 2006. She had also worked in the office at Rodhe’s IGA in Millersburg for several years.

“From my vantage point in the office, I would see the same people come into the store over and over,” she said. “They usually just wanted someone to talk to.”

“I try to see the goodness in people,” Miller said, “no matter what their situation is.”

Miller credits her term as a deaconess at Walnut Creek Mennonite Church with giving her the courage and opportunities to be in a helping mode. She did hospital visits and checked in on the less mobile.

Miller looks for every possible way to help and to meet new people. She even works at the polls at times to help expand her circle of friends.

Miller especially has sought out others who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She explained that support, no matter what the issue, is critical for quality of life.

According to the National Institute of Health, Parkinson’s disease is a motor systems disorder, which is the result of the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. The four primary symptoms of the disease are tremor or trembling in the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face.

Often times the onset of Parkinson’s is due to surgery or a head injury. In Miller’s case, she noticed the symptoms after a series of unrelated surgeries following her retirement.

For Miller, the disease has affected her left side. She discretely calms her left arm with her right hand and continues her conversation. That in itself is a physical sign of the inner awareness that Miller has. She is determined to share her compassion no matter what.

“Sometimes people seek me out,” Miller said, “and sometimes I go to them.”

Each situation is different, and Miller tries her best to be mindful of that. Miller just takes her illness in stride.

“Now it’s my turn to help,” she said. “Some of my best friends have come as the result of just being with families in need.”

Strident comforter that she is to others, Miller recognizes that she, too, needs support to do what she does. Miller credits her husband, Duane, and adult children, Valerie Gerber of Sugarcreek, and Scott Miller of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with providing the emotional and physical uplifting that she needs to maintain her active and involved pace.

“Duane has been wonderful,” she said, “and Valerie calls me everyday.” Her son sent her a laptop computer while she had an extended stay in the hospital. In part, that gift is what led to Miller’s practice of designing, printing and sending the personalized cards.

“I have been blessed by everyone I have met,” Miller said. Most likely, the recipients of her kindness could say the same thing about her.

This article was initially published in the Holmes Bargain Hunter.

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