Sunday, August 5, 2018

WHAT EVER HAPPENED...? "Things People Get Right"

          I know that my personality now notices negatives way more often than I notice the positives. This was always true about me but my brain injury has heightened it enormously.

          I HAD to take time to mention here the “acts of kindness” I’ve noticed that truly help me cope better with my life as it is now. I know the following list is not in chronological order and not all I’ve seen – it’s the ones I remember the most….

I love going to craft fairs. I schedule them frequently. I enjoy the unique, artistic gifts that many people have. I also enjoy the delicious bake sales that are at most of the craft fairs I attend. One particular bake sale that fits right into this chapter is the Miller School Craft Fair held each October near where I live. As I was writing this book, I went to the craft fair early one Saturday morning. The day before, I had lost my pocketbook and luckily had it returned with nothing missing. My memory loss causes me to forget things too often. At the fair was a school fundraising activity selling pies. I bought a delicious-looking one from this eighth-grader named Grace Arcadipane.  I told her I might drop the pie as I walk around because I have “the dropsies,” so she offered to hold it at their table. Then I told her I have memory problems, and I might forget it when I leave. Very sweetly, she said, “Give me your name and cell number. If you don’t pick it up in a couple of hours, I’ll call you to remind you.” [Just writing this now, I’m getting goosebumps!] I teared up, went to see the crafts, and decided her kindness had to be recognized.

And, a year later, her cousin, Emma Arcadipane, and her friend, Lauren MacIsaac, offered to do the same thing for me, unbeknownst to them that Grace was in my book already, for being so sweet. These kids sure were raised right!

More adults should take care of one another as Grace and others took care of a stranger those fall mornings. A small gesture like this could make someone’s day. I told this story to my editor, who called Grace “a sweet pea,” and here it is – the first entry in this chapter about getting it right. Thank you, girls! Amazing!

          Another person who did what could seem to be a small gesture, but it deserves mentioning, is a woman named Jane Sileo. (I hope I spelled her name correctly.) We ended up chatting for a while about our similarities in the field of special education, after I told her that her “cart kindness” was going to be noted in my book:

I had just had another “mini-meltdown” in a grocery store because the couple in front of me put 21 [as counted by my injured brain’s hyper-vigilance] items on the conveyor belt under the sign that read “14 items or less.” Instead of just biting my tongue and letting them off the hook, I mouthed off to everyone within earshot. As I left the store, embarrassed one more time about my inability to THINK IT but NOT SAY IT, a sweet woman, Jane, in the parking lot just offered to take both of our carts to the return area. I knew this was God’s way of showing me a random act of kindness, seconds after I had done just the opposite.

          She and I talked about SUNY New Paltz, special education, and brain injury. It’s amazing to me how God puts certain people in your path just at the exact moment you need them there. Because a stranger was kind to me, I bit my tongue the rest of that day when other annoying experiences took place. Time and time again, I’m learning how to behave better just by watching certain other people….

          Another example, from a bake sale I attended for the Christmas season of 2015, happened at a church near where I live that lets you select a pound of your favorite home-baked cookies, have them weighed in, and then leave with them to enjoy later on.

          As I stood in the long line of other anxious-to-get-started patrons, my very heavy purse, filled with meds and things I carry everywhere so I don’t forget them, kept falling off my shoulder and hitting the table where the scrumptious desserts were displayed. As I tried to balance it all and not drop anything, a sweet woman who volunteered there offered to hide my purse under a table so I could select cookies without the purse bothering me. I gave the purse to her, knowing it was in good hands. (I have pretty good radar for good people.)

          Again, this small gesture of kindness by this stranger, Shamien Jansen, may seem trivial, but I have to point out when people go out of their way to be nice, because so many times kindness is not extended and, instead, people treat others badly. It has to get noticed when someone gets it right.    

          I know I've complained about people who think only of themselves in lines. Let me make a quick mention of a nice person. Her name is Michelle, and I met her in a line at a grocery store. She let me cut in front of her when she saw that I had only a couple of items. She said she likes to pay it forward. This July 2016 brief encounter needs to be listed here because some other people do not do this ever. Thanks, Michelle!       

          Another example of a kindness towards me by a stranger happened as I was compiling this chapter. Though I was too emotional to get her name, a woman in a local QuickChek convenience store hugged me when I began to cry as I got my coffee. It was Christmastime.

          You see – this woman, whom I didn’t know, was excitedly using the ATM there to get money, as her young daughter was asking her over and over what time their train left. Though I didn’t know, I suspected where they were headed. I just boldly and bluntly stated, “You are going to Radio City’s Christmas Spectacular, aren’t you?”

          The mother gushed, “Yes, we are!”

          And that’s when I started to cry – because it reminded me of long ago when my family and I would go to that show when I myself was a little girl.

          That mommy’s excitement reminded me of my own mother’s joy in our family’s doing that same trip. So, I cried, and this woman just instinctively hugged me. It only lasted seconds, as they had to hurry to the train station, but it lasted in my mind all day. One hug can make a difference.

Another act of kindness that I noticed after my editor asked me to try to point out positives (instead of all the negatives I’m too focused on), was from a woman named Elizabeth O’Rourke. She and I coincidentally were at the same nail salon in July 2015. I’m not really a “nail girl,” but I do like my toenails polished for the summer sandal season. So, anyway – as we both sat in the big, comfy chairs having our pedicures, my “big ears” overheard her discussing the annual tradition she has, which is baking Scottish shortbread for her family and friends.

That brought me back to my childhood when Grandma McColl did just that. As I got older, my mother took on that tradition. They both did a delicious job of preparing that dessert each year to remember the country, Scotland, where they were born and raised. As Elizabeth talked, I listened, and then I had the nerve to tell her that my mom and I weren’t communicating at the moment and that I would love to pre-order from Elizabeth some of her shortbread because I probably wouldn’t get any shortbread from my mom. In a heartbeat, she scribbled down her name and number. Months later, as I was writing this chapter, I contacted her and she baked me a tin of her lovely recipe. Eating it made me think of Christmases long ago.

This stranger could have just told me no when I asked her to please bake me some. Instead – she was thoughtful, and that’s why it deserves mentioning here. Thank you, Elizabeth. [As a side note – I actually did receive a package of shortbread from my mom, which made the holidays taste even sweeter.]

As I’ve narrated in this chapter plenty of times, I will seek, and thus find, a church’s bake sale. One church near where I live that has an excellent “Cookie Caper” each Christmas season is the St. James United Methodist Church in Kingston, NY.

I have sometimes been the “line-leader” (i.e., the first one in to pick my pound of delicious treats). Some years I have held that honorable position and other years I’m a bit late and have to wait for others to select their favorite cookies before me.

As I was working on this chapter of trying to notice what others do that helps me, I had to include an invitation I was given as I paid for my soon-to-be-gobbled-up treats. The woman who is at the register each year taking the money for my selections, Linda Primiano, showed me a printed invitation to a Christmas pageant their church was having the following night.

So, Aiden and I went to see this group of performers, both young and old, teach the lessons of Christmas with an interesting flair. For part of the show, they wore Santa hats and glowing light necklaces, but still got the true meaning of Christmas across to their audience.

As I sat there and cried somewhat, Aiden leaned over and told me, “This is where you need to be,” because he knew how much I struggled with certain places I go where I don’t fit in and I’m not “fed.” This beautiful, old church with gorgeous stained-glass windows and an old-fashioned organ right next to performers who dress like I do helped me immensely that night. I believe we all need to feel like we’re accepted even when we dress differently from others for special occasions (like singing Christmas music, for example).

This church’s inviting me in was exactly what I needed at the end of that weekend when I had felt left out from some other function. So – here’s my suggestion – invite a stranger to the next thing you’re helping plan and hopefully that person will feel included just when they need to feel warmth. That’s how it felt for me…. Thank you, Linda.

As Meredith Vieira stated on her former talk show, as I wrote this part of the chapter (December 2015), “It doesn’t take a lot to make a huge difference.” She’s so right – small gestures can have a big impact on someone you barely know. That sweet invitation to a pageant made all the difference that holiday. Those performers made me happy each time I remembered their message. The play was The Best Present Ever, and it lived up to its title.

Another example of someone doing something right is about the cheeriest drive-thru worker I've ever encountered. Tyler Kuhn takes my order at MY Dunkin' Donuts. When I jokingly asked if he could sell me some of his “happy pills” (since he’s glowing each time I’m there), he pointed to the cross around his neck and said, “No drugs, no alcohol, just God.” What a testimony! I look forward to waiting in line in my car each time I'm thirsty and need an unsweetened iced tea with lemon. I get so much more than that thirst quenched by this young man!

In the summer of 2016, I needed another trip to decompress, so, of course, Aiden and I headed up north (like I wrote about in my Adirondacks chapter). As we were walking around the beautiful town of Bolton Landing up there, I was becoming upset because that's our last stop on our trip homeward. I never want to get back to the pressure of everyday life back home!

So, I was trying to do what one of my doctors and my editor counsel me to do, which is to find something positive in every negative. As I walked past Town Hall, I decided to go in and tell them that their town will be in my book. All I planned on doing was dropping off my business card, but as I was doing this, a friendly woman, who I found out later was named Shannon, scurried in to ask me if the keys she just found on the sidewalk were mine. They weren't, so she spoke with the two women working at the counter.

As soon as I observed all of this, I exclaimed, “This is going in my book because my editor wants me to focus on things that people get right.”

Shannon could have just left the keys lying out there, and get back to her job (Reflections Hair Salon). But, instead, she did the thoughtful thing and helped someone else out. I hope whoever lost those keys was really grateful when they and their keys were reunited.

So, I found the positive of leaving the Adirondacks – people like Shannon who take care of others. It's just one more reminder of how we all should pay it forward…. That kind of stuff really helps us all.

One day in the fall of 2016, as I was barely keeping it together emotionally due to: my facial skin cancer surgery’s infection; my dog Happy’s blood work testing to find out if she had thyroid problems; my mom’s crying on the phone the day before because she missed going to her church again (due to no driver available) and thus being put on her church’s shut-in list; and on top of all that, making schedule changes with my editor and others so I could be with Aiden when he went to an important doctor appointment up at Albany Med. to find out if he had pancreatic cancer, two beautiful things took place that I had to write about here.

The first one begins gory, but hang in there, it gets beautiful. It took place in the vet's office as I was paying my bill for Happy's visit moments before. This man hurriedly came in carrying a petrified and shaking little cat and said he had just witnessed someone run over the cat on a nearby road, but then that driver just drove away. Blood was on the man's hands, and he and the vet took the cat right in to the back room. I thought this was incredibly kind of the total stranger to bring a hurting animal to the closest vet. Whoever hit the cat and just left the scene, you're an example of what's wrong in our society. The man who rescued it, you're an example of what is good and right.

The second beautiful example is from two people I know well from my church. I mentioned the mother, Debbie Two, in my Friends chapter because of all the helpful texts of Bible passages that she sends me. She also is a great listener on the phone and puts entries on the computer for me for our church's prayer chain when I'm unable to do it myself.

The day before this example took place, I was in a very dark place psychologically. Three very upsetting sentences were said to me by someone at our church. I left the room there and cried. Also, I was worried about other stuff too. I tried to pull myself together in the afternoon by going to a movie to get my mind out of the “dark place.” But, I couldn't even keep it together there during a silly animated film, so I threw my popcorn and soda away and went to my car and sobbed. [And believe me, when I toss movie popcorn, I'm in BAD shape!]

Right then, I received a text from Debbie, and it said this:
“Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
Isaiah 41:10 [NKJV]

Could these exact words have been any better right that very minute? I was afraid about my dog and Aiden and my mom and me. Because of the words Debbie sent me, I was able to breathe, then drive safely on the bridge over the Hudson River I had to cross to get home. I know God had Debbie send that very helpful message when she did because I was truly hurting.

The very next day, she and her son Gordon brought me flowers and chocolate muffins. Man – did that cheer me up even more! Poked into the chocolate muffins that they brought over to me that day were these little decorations that had pictures of Mickey Mouse, saying some helpful words to me:

“You can do it!!”

“You are dearly loved!!”

“Don't worry, be happy!!!”

“Janet is awesome!”

I've saved these tiny decorations and re-read them to cheer me up when I'm worrying about Happy, my mother, me, this book….

Another story is when I met a fifth-grader named Rachel Kahn, who was featured in my local newspaper, the Daily Freeman.

This “Mad Hatter for St. Jude's” initiated a campaign to benefit St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. She collects hats to give to the children who have lost their hair due to cancer treatments.

She baked delicious cupcakes and sold them at a street fair. The day I met her, to donate a new, crocheted Mickey Mouse hat, I met her parents as well. I told them they did a wonderful job raising her. Good job, Rachel, Rosie, and Scott!

After that, I was writing more of my book again and able to concentrate on the positive, versus the ugly stuff of life. Isn't it truly amazing how seemingly small gestures of kindness can do a world of good when someone is in rough shape? I can't wait for the day that I'm the one who needs less help and is able to give more reassurance to someone who is struggling.

One story moved me so much, my editor allowed me to squeeze in one more add-in at the very end of my work on this book. It, of course, was about a child.

One of the shows I love to watch to help cheer me up is America’s Funniest Home Videos on ABC Sunday nights. Other than the videos of heads getting hit, I laugh and laugh at the silly things caught on tape.

This child’s name is Luke Finlan, and he was filmed crying as he sang with a chorus of other fourth graders who were graduating from a school he obviously loved. It was so endearing to see him show his emotion at the end of this school year.

I wasn’t the only one moved by it, because his video won first place and the $10,000 on that episode. But, the story gets even better!

AFV did something they don’t normally do. A few weeks later, they showed a follow-up to how Luke spent his winnings.

This young man donated much of the money (many thousands of dollars) he won to various charities and people in need in the area where he lives (Latham–near Albany, NY). Luke was raised right! Great job, Kathy and Jon!

I’ve written about Adams Fairacre Farms’ employees here already. One more employee needs mention, even though, when I turn these words in to the editor, he’s going to say, “No more additions!”

This food-preparer, Paul, (a manager maybe?) was filling the food selections one day in the Kingston, NY, store. I was standing near him. I was shaking like a leaf because my dog Happy was very sick with diarrhea, and the vet had just told me she had to eat white rice and boiled chicken.

I can’t cook safely anymore, due to my memory problems, so my friend Marian, who used to help me in her kitchen before she stopped cooking, too, due to her aging, told me to go to Adams.

I explained to Paul that a bag of someone’s garbage had been placed inside my car by someone one day when I was in a super rush to pack my car. My dog Happy found the garbage, full of little opened bottles of vanilla shakes, and since she’s lactose-intolerant, she got very sick. [Ironically – I HATE vanilla – those bottles weren’t MY garbage.]

Paul had already prepared white rice, so he directed me to fill a container up with that while he ran into the back of the store and boiled chicken just for me (us).

I cried the whole way home thinking about how sweet this man was to me even though we’d never met before this frightening day. He didn’t have to go out of his way for this upset customer. But, he did. In a couple of days, Happy was feeling better, thanks to Paul.

Another amazing story that gave me goosebumps as I wrote it, just as it did when it actually took place, is about a couple named Dale and Deena Carnell from Salisbury, NC. I'll get to them in a minute….

You see, Aiden and I left my condo very early on the morning of Sunday, July 31, 2016. We were driving to Florida to make a surprise visit to my mom. The reason I needed to see her was because she was having a lot of health issues one more time.

Before we decided to go, the doctor wanted to give her another MRI to make sure her brain tumor wasn't causing the new symptoms. Her tumor was discovered in 2010, after mine was, and it was not removed for various reasons.

When she was headed to her MRI appointment, the taxi driver took her walker away to put it in the trunk. My mother's Parkinson's means she needs help with movement. As a result of nothing to hold on to, she fell.

When I heard this horrible story, I drove over to Aiden's house and asked him if he could drive me to Florida, because I had to see my mommy. I was crying uncontrollably.

This all happened the same week that I was volunteering at my church for Vacation Bible School. I finished that up, and then I took the next few days to rearrange my seven upcoming appointments because we were going to Florida. The one reason we didn't leave right away was because Aiden's 50th high school reunion was approaching, and I couldn't ask him to miss that to help me.

I decided not to tell my mom, so she could have a happy surprise on her doorstep (me, my dog Happy, and Aiden). With the help from Grace at the Hampton Inn in Kingston, NY, we found a H.I. in North Carolina that accepts dogs – Salisbury's Hampton Inn.

Aiden and I have done this trip many times (since at that time I was not medically able to fly) so we knew the route. Usually, we went straight there with only stops for food and restrooms. But, we both knew we had to rest some this time. I knew I had to take my doggie, because she is so wonderful with my over-the-top peculiarities.

So, when Aiden drove the 12 hours that first day, we arrived safely at our stopping point. He was extremely pooped, so I walked Happy and then went to Longhorn's Steakhouse to get us our take-out dinner.

It was after 8 p.m. and I was exhausted, grouchy, and worried about my mom, as well as about the second day of travel the next day. They took my order, and that's when I met the couple who are going to be the last story in this chapter of positive stories.

Dale and Deena were super-friendly and listened to me. I told them that we left NYS at 7 a.m. and were trying to cheer up my mom the next day in Florida. We swapped stories about family stuff and more. I was so worn-out, but I knew these two people were good people, because they talked to a total, grumpy stranger as they sat at the counter eating their dinners.

When my $55 bill was brought over, Dale immediately told the waiter to put it on their tab.

I said, “It's two dinners and an appetizer – it's not just for me alone.”

Dale responded with words that I will always remember. “You're taking care of your mama, and that deserves a free meal. My wife and I are blessed and so we're happy to do it.”

I began to choke up. When I have nothing to say, you know I'm moved. I finally got out a “Thank you very much.” They wished us a safe trip, picked up their doggie bag of leftovers, and hugged me goodbye. I sat alone just looking up at the ceiling while telling God this is a God-sighting. When a total stranger does a complete random act of kindness, it is incredibly moving.

I gave them my card, so hopefully one day they'll see their names here. I'll try to send them a copy of this book.

So, I know when I put the pen down for this chapter, more positive examples will take place, but I have to end it here to get to other incomplete portions. I think this last example is the perfect way to end this chapter because it shows how much one act of generosity and sweetness can help someone.

Dale and Deena blessed Aiden and me with a delicious dinner. Now it's my turn to pay it forward…. I wish there were more people in the world like these two. The world would be a better place if there were.

The people I've written about here have care and concern in their hearts in many different ways, but it's all good. Thank you for getting it right! I pray more of us get it right like these folks do!

For the coming year, I [Douglas Winslow Cooper] will be
excerpting, weekly, material from this almost-final version of the fine book by Janet Johnson Schliff, M.S. Ed., which she wrote over a three-year period with some coaching and editing help from me, through my business, Write Your Book with Me.

Her memoir is now available in paperback and ebook formats from Outskirts Press  and



Janet Johnson Schliff was on WKNY  Radio 1490 at 9:10 a.m. on Thursday, March 1, Kingston, NY.

Janet spoke at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 3 at Barnes & Noble in Kingston, NY. I [DWC] attended, along with about 40 other people. Congratulations to Janet on a fine talk!

Janet Johnson Schliff spoke at the Starr Library in Rhinebeck, NY, at 7 p.m. on March 6. 

She spoke at the Golden Notebook Bookstore in Woodstock, NY, at 2 p.m. on March 17. 

She spoke at the Morton Library in Rhinecliff, NY, at 6:30 p.m. on March 28. 

She spoke at RCAL in Kingston, NY, at 4 p.m. on April 3. I was able to attend. They gave her an impromptu book-launch party.

On 4/4/18 Janet spoke at the Parkinson's Support Group at the Starr Library at Rhinebeck at 2:30 p.m.

On 4/27/18 Janet spoke at the Stone Ridge Library at 5:30 p.m.

On 5/4/18 Janet spoke at the Hurley Library at 6 p.m.

On 5/9/18 Janet spoke at the Kingston Library at 6 p.m.

On 5/14/18 Janet spoke at the Staatsburg Library at 7 p.m.

On 5/31/18 Janet spoke at the Clinton Community Library at 6:30 p.m.

On 6/9/18 Janet spoke at the Tannersville Mountain Top Library at noon.

On 6/11/18 Janet spoke at the Gardiner Library at 7 p.m.

On 6/20/18 Janet spoke at the Marbletown Community Center at 6 p.m.

On 7/13/18 Janet spoke at the Esopus Library at 7 p.m.

On 7/20/18 Janet spoke at the Pine Plains Library at 6 p.m.

On 7/23/18 Janet spoke at the Ulster Library at 5:30 p.m.

On 8/11/18 Janet will be at the Northern Dutchess Bible Church in Red Hook at 1:00 p.m.

On 9/06/18 Janet will be at the Inquiring Minds Bookstore in New Paltz at 7 p.m.

On 9/15/18 Janet will be at the Adriance Library in Poughkeepsie (93 Market St.) at 2:30 p.m.

On 9/22/18 Janet will again be at the Tannersville Mountain Top Library, at noon.

More signings will be coming up. A fine feature about Janet by John DeSantos [845 LIFE] appeared in the Middletown Times Herald-Record on Monday, March 12, as part of Brain Injury Awareness Month. An article about her book was just published in the May 2018 Living Rhinebeck Magazine. An article about her book appeared in the May 14 Daily Freeman of Kingston, NY. and another in the Family Life section of the Poughkeepsie Journal on June 8th. The Millerton News published an article on Thursday, August 2, about her talk at the Pine Plains Library. 

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