Thursday, July 24, 2008

Based On True Stories ...

Earlier this month, I wrote about how we don't see ourselves the way others see us.

Amusing as it may sound coming from a woman who blogs – and who has, therefore, been having a very long, rather one-sided conversation for three years – I rarely talk about myself. Most of the time, I don't like to draw attention to myself, which is funny, because at 6'3", I'm pretty damn hard to miss.

A few months ago, I was perusing Mother's Day cards with my friend Brian and was telling him about my trip to New York in March to see Ciarán's play. (With certain friends, I open up.) Brian asked, "What is it about you? You meet these people ... and then you stay friends with them."

And I truly had no answer for him. I don't know why it happens. It doesn't happen with everyone, but it happens enough.

So I wrote to my friend Jeff, who I've known since I was 17, to ask get his take on Brian's query.

This is part of what I wrote:

It happens all the time. I've known you since I was 17. Whenever I see Bill Kurtis – on the street, in a restaurant, in his office, wherever I – get a hug or a kiss and a sonorous, "Hi, Beth!" I met Ciaran at TCA press tour in 1997 and we've been in touch, albeit not as often as I'd like, ever since (I zipped off to New York in March for an overnight to catch him in the play he was in on Broadway and then we had dinner, and then we had breakfast before I headed back to the airport). Stuart Garner, the then-CEO of Thomson Newspapers, sought me out every time he came to Chicago and referred to me at a conference as "a star." I interviewed a woman for a story last year and when her new book came out this year, we met up in Chicago and spent hours together. In the inscription in her book, she invited me to visit her and her family out east someday.

People, apparently, like me.

And yet, most of the time, I feel ridiculously inadequate in so many ways.

And I'm totally not living up to my potential.

I wrote a post the other day about how we rarely see ourselves the way others see us, and I wouldn't ask this of many people, but you're special.

So, in your opinion, what is it about me that attracts then seems to hook people (except available single men – badump bump!)?

Jeff's reply really struck a chord. I knew he'd have something interesting to say – he was an advice columnist for many years – but I truly had never considered the point of view he presented. This is what he wrote:

I think the thing about you Beth, is that you’re funny and bright and so intuitive about other people. And you’re interested in them, really interested. And you have a good heart. And so that’s what draws me and others to you. It’s a great package!

Maybe you’re doing exactly what you should be doing. Living up to potential is relative. Some people live up to their career potential but they’re jerks at home … so what’s that??

Cue the chorus of angels and the light bulb above my head! "Living up to potential is relative." I'd never considered that before.

Of course, I replied to him that while I appreciated his fresh perspective, I also had to own up to the fact that I've let fear hold me back for far too long.

This morning, I IMed my friend Charlie to congratulate him on his pending induction into the Illini Media Hall of Fame this fall. We hadn't chatted in ages and works for the the Chicago Tribune so I asked how things were going, and he, being polite, asked how things were going with me. I told him I was boring, that I had nothing much to report, other than trying to muster up the courage to pursue my singing. "Scary!" I wrote. To which he replied, "If we do not face our fears, we remain scared always."

No kidding.

So what's my point? As these thoughts have been marinating in my brain, I've watched two movies based on true stories that have left me totally inspired.

Last night, I watched "Freedom Writers," the story of first-year teacher Erin Gruwell who drew a classroom full of troubled teens, who landed smack dab in the middle of a world she couldn't begin to comprehend, but found a way to turn their differences and indifference into so many senses of self. Her secret? She gave a damn. She refused to be one more authority figure who turned their back, who silently said, "There's probably no hope for you so I won't even try."

Instead, she held the bar high and expected them to sail over it. She learned how to connect with them. And she stood up to the school district that wanted her to fall in line.

Just one teacher.

And tonight, I watched "Music Within," the story of Richard Pimentel who overcame a tumultuous childhood and a disability sustained in Vietnam to become an advocate for the disabled and one of the driving forces behind the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Just one man.

Of course, not everyone will change the world in such dramatic, high-profile ways. But little things really do mean a lot.

As we were leaving the United Center Tuesday night, Angela and I were approached by a woman with a clipboard who asked us if we were members of Oxfam. "I am," I told her. She thanked me. As we continued on our way, Angela mentioned, "that organization that gives the loans."

"Kiva!" I said. "I contribute to Kiva." I love the idea that just a few dollars from a few folks can literally change someone's life.

So maybe we'd do well to focus on the small things we can do every day and let them build, one small thing at a time, into something bigger.

Over the past few years, I've raised well over $10,000 for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. And while I could always do more to raise more, it was gratifying to realize that $25 here and $50 there adds up to something substantial.

Before the advent of tollway transponders, I used to pay the toll for the car behind me every now and then. Just one of those tiny random acts of kindness that I always hoped would leave an impression on the other person so much so that they might pay it forward and do something kind for someone else.

What's your favorite random act of kindness?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was an act of kindness give to me.
One December morning, I was at the bus stop with my 3 year old nephew. I was busy making sure he was warm enough, etc. At the time, there was a homeless shelter across the street, so there were often homeless men in the area.
As we waited for the bus, a homeless man came and was waiting too. He saw that I didn't have gloves on. As many homeless are known to do, he was carrying a large duffle bag. He dug in his bag and pulled out a brand new pair of gloves and offered them to me. A homeless man offered me gloves!! I can't even put that moment into words.


9:47 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Wow, that's an amazing story, Nat. Thanks.

10:12 AM  

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