A Wheelbarrow Full of Kindness


“Your one random act of kindness may not change the world but it might make a difference in the life of someone today”
Maria Koszler

Our winter resembles this tangle of wisteria vines in the front of our house. It has been a surreal experience in cancerlandia. The best way for us to survive the maze of doctors, treatments, and medical opinions without getting sucked into the vortex of cancerlandia has been to find enjoyable distractions, such as landscaping.

 

We took our old chainsaw to the repair shop, and Cory and I began to tackle the jungle of dead trees, the overgrowth of vines, and piles of composting leaves that had taken our property hostage.

I needed a wheelbarrow to haul the cut branches and logs to the woodpile located near the basement and our wood stove. A trip to Lowe’s was in order.

 

I found the perfect wheelbarrow, a cute cobalt blue one. We eyeballed our hatchback Honda Civic and hoped the wheelbarrow would fit inside the trunk.

Uh oh! No way! This really made me miss Nicaragua and my creative Nicaraguan friends because if we bought something too large to take home on our motorcycle, there was always a way to get it home cheaply and safely. Where were my Nica friends? They would offer to put it on the roof of a Tuk Tuk or wheel it to our house a kilometer away along the shoreline’s sandy path.

Instead, we asked how much it would cost to deliver it. $59? Outrageous. Maybe we could strap it to the roof? But, we had no rope and blanket to protect the roof. Maybe we could take it apart. So, Cory went into Lowe’s to get a wrench, while I stood in the parking lot beside my cute cobalt blue wheelbarrow, scratching my head in befuddlement.

Surprises await under the composting leaves…wild irises.

 

People stopped, we chatted, and we laughed together at my predicament. They offered crazy suggestions like attaching it to the bumper and dragging it home. I told them about the time a Nicaraguan friend spotted a person in a wheelchair dragged on the interstate at night by a motorcyclist and two flashlights illuminating the way. Nothing was impossible in Nicaragua. I missed that!

Lester’s photo of the wild irises blooming on his property. Spring is on the way.

 

A couple pulled into the parking spot beside me and asked where we lived. “Hey! That is on our way home. Today is Sunday and you have been blessed. Let’s put your wheelbarrow in the back of our Subaru and we will follow you to your house,” they said.

We were incredibly grateful. Cory and I laughed on the way home. What if they don’t follow us and speed away with my wheelbarrow? “Remember Mom,”Cory said, “ It is Sunday and we have been blessed.”

My daffodils are blooming! A delightful rememberance that spring is coming.

 

They refused gas money. They told us to pay forward their kindness by doing a random act for another stranger. So, Cory ran into the house and returned with his 1890 sour dough starter because he learned, while chatting with them, that they enjoyed making bread.

Their one random act of a wheelbarrow full of kindness, didn’t change the world, but it made a difference in our lives. Spring is on its way…Ron is getting stronger and healthier everyday…and most importantly, we are grateful for a tiny random act of kindness to help us untangle the wisteria vines and realize what really matters in this mad, mad world!

 

Part Two: Collective Mentality


“From one dog all the dogs bark.”
Marty Rubin

 

Please read Part One: Opposition or Enemy first. I believe it will help you to understand my train of thoughts as I venture into the twilight zone in Part Two.

After six long hours in the brutal heat, the line was moving again. This time, I noticed people depositing their lawn chairs on the side of the road, or carrying them back to their cars. Earlier in the day, Ron went dumpster diving and returned to the line with his treasure…a lawn chair! It now dawned on me why people were leaving their lawn chairs behind. The doors had opened into Freedom Hall and lawn chairs were not permitted inside.

The crowd was subdued and we were all anxious to get a reprieve from the heat. The air-conditioned building was only a few steps away! As we stood in line to have our belongings inspected and pass through the metal detectors, a large screen flashed images of the 2016 election results, along with the faces of Hillary, Pelosi, and President Obama.

Then, the collective chanting began…”Lock her up! Lock her up!”

I laughed to myself. The election was over. Trump is the POTUS. “Lock her up for what?” I asked myself.

People were chatting about fake news, and laughing about a protester in a wheel chair who was allegedly arrested by the police because she dissented outside of the assigned protest area. “She can walk,” one Trump supporter said. “Yeah,” responded the chanters. “She can walk. She can walk.”

There was an announcement over a loud-speaker. If a protester was spotted in the protected area, people were to point at them and yell Trump, Trump, Trump and the police would come and remove them.

I looked around suspiciously. Did anyone suspect that we were the opposition? Did we stand out among a sea of red MAGA hats, Trump 2020 t-shirts, and Finish the Wall signs? Would people yell Trump, Trump, Trump and point their fingers in our direction?

I began to feel tinges of uneasiness, but I brushed them off as silly. How did our friendly line neighbors feel about us? They offered us pizza! They offered to drive me to a bathroom so we wouldn’t lose our parking space! They lent me an umbrella to protect me from the harsh sun!

“Silliness!” I reassured myself!

Yet, the large screen kept flashing propaganda, inciting the crowd, encouraging them to mob together in a collective mentality of anger, revenge, and an ‘us against them’ mindset.

We passed through the check point and metal detector. The security officer inspected everything in my backpack… my camera was taken apart and all my credit cards were removed from my wallet and inspected individually. When he pulled out the large plastic bag at the bottom of my pack he asked, “Why do you have a plastic garbage bag?”

Wisely, I knew not to make any wise cracks, but oh! there were so many answers I had on the tip of my tongue. Instead, I politely responded that the grass was wet, and I used the plastic bag to sit on.

The capacity of Freedom Hall is 8,500 people. We ordered our tickets a week in advance and I had my phone ready for them to scan our tickets. Surprisingly, no one asked us to show our tickets or IDs. Nothing! We were told to go to the sections behind the podium and find seats. The problem with that was that we had been in the hot sun for six hours waiting to see POTUS and the seats were behind Trump. I wanted to see him from the front of the podium.

We found another section closer to the front and convinced the aisle attendant that we were told to sit in this section. Later, we realized that they wanted the seats packed behind POTUS, if there were empty seats in the auditorium.

It was fascinating to watch the crowds file to their seats, the technicians line up the cameras, journalists perfect their commentary, and the Secret Service and local police inspect every detail to insure the safety of everyone.

A wave began! Ron joined in the fun, while I prepared my camera. The crowd was enthusiastic and Freedom Hall was at capacity. I expected the venue to be packed. We live in a very red state.

Yet, when Trump arrived, the dynamics of the rally changed. At first, we were excited to see POTUS. We respectfully clapped and stood when he entered the arena. Up to this point we were feeling comfortable. We had nothing to hide. We never felt like we were enemies. We were here to be a part of history. No agenda, no fear!

Trump was feeding off the energy of the crowd. Maggie Koerth-Baker pointed this out in a fascinating piece at FiveThirtyEight. “The technical term is “emotional contagion,” the same kind of effect that occurs at big football games, comedy clubs, and political rallies.”

I never considered the difference between individual and collective mentalities. But, she makes some interesting points in describing what we perceived at the rally. People tend to mimic the behavior of the group. Ron described it as a mob psychology. In the late 19th century, an anthropologist named Gustave LeBon came up with the idea that “being part of a crowd turned civilized people into barbarians.”

Trump used the Johnson City rally to attack three potential Democratic rivals in the 2020 presidential election. “They got some real beauties going,” Trump said of the potential Democratic field. He criticized Cory Booker, called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas”, then went after the former vice president, describing him as “1 percent Biden” until former President Barack Obama “took him off the trash heap.”

He defended Kavanaugh and asked us to pray for his family. I questioned his lack of empathy and understanding for all the victims of sexual abuse and Dr. Ford’s heart wrenching testimony.  Why not pray for them, too? Is praying polarized now, too?

The crowd roared. They booed at the mention of the word Democrats. They chanted “Lock her up!” “Build that Wall!” For me, it was a horrifying display of a crowd gone mad.

Do people lose their will, control, and ability to reason when they become part of a crowd? Have my new friends in our six-hour line lost their minds, too? What about my friend who is an avid Trump supporter? She arrived at 6 am to be sure she and her husband got front row seats in the rally. Was she chanting and booing? Does she think I am the enemy?

“People don’t lose control, but they begin to act with collective values,” says Stephen David Reicher, a sociologist and psychologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who has studied violence among modern-day soccer hooligans, race rioters, and, this year, Trump supporters. “It’s not your individual fate that becomes important, but the fate of the group.”

That sense of collective identity describes why the crowds were subdued while standing in line. Until Trump incited the collective mentality of hatred, intolerance, and division, the people we met were polite, respectful, and friendly. He is a master of manipulation and deceit.

When Trump said, “The Democrats are the party of crime” that was the last straw. I shook with anger and an overwhelmingly profound sadness for our country. We left the rally with a sense of hopelessness and fear for the direction our country is headed.

The Trump rally taught me a lot about relationships. Individually, we can be kind and helpful  to each other as long as we don’t broach the topic of politics. I don’t know if we will ever to be able to talk politics with our friends. Trump has polarized us. The United States has become a place with a sense of fear and anger…fear that what we value will be taken away. Trump incites this fear at his rallies. He shouts that what we value is under threat and will be taken away, that in order to make America great we need to exclude those who threaten our values. Anyone who opposes him becomes the enemy.

His rhetoric amplifies the collective mentality. In their eyes, I am now the enemy, one to be shunned and feared because my beliefs and values do not sync with the crowd. For me, it is a dangerous path to go down. I see no light at the end.

Finally, I have never been to a Democrat Rally. We wonder if we will see the same division and hatred. Probably so! The world is mad! Character assassinations exist on both sides. It truly saddens and repels me. We should all be insulted by politics and lousy corrupt politicians with vested interests. I ache for my country!

Part three is my interview with my friend who is an avid Trump supporter. She has graciously allowed me to ask questions about her perception of the Trump Rally. I trust her and she trusts me. I told her I would not use her name, but I want her honest opinions and I know she will help me understand how we can begin to heal our divisions.

 

 

What People Miss and Don’t Miss when Leaving Nicaragua


“Anyway, it doesn’t matter how much, how often, or how closely you keep an eye on things because you can’t control it. Sometimes things and people just go. Just like that.”
― Cecelia Ahern

My good friend, Sharon, is leaving Nicaragua. I am torn with feelings of sadness for me and joy for her. We met in 2004 in Granada, when Granada only had a few expats…all characters! There was stinky Steve, the transgender airplane pilot, and pedophile perch. Bobby had a guest house and Bill had the only hostel in town, Hospedaje Central. There were only a handful of restaurants and tourists trickled through town.

Those were the days! Yet, I understand that most things are out of my control and sometimes people just go. I am going to miss her tremendously. I’ll miss her wit and humor. We laughed a lot when we were together. I’ll miss her adventurous spirit and her insightful thoughts, kindness, and helpfulness. Yet, I know that we will see each other again. I am already planning our summer trip to Canada.

If you wonder, like me, what people miss and don’t miss when they leave Nicaragua, Sharon explains it all with humor and understanding. Enjoy her read!

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The Expat Art of Friendships


“We can count on so few people to go that hard way with us,” ~Adrienne Rich

If you are living abroad, how many true friends do you have?  Finding true human relationships is an art that I have yet to master, especially as an expat. I have oodles of acquaintances, expat and local, yet very few that I consider true friends, those that we can count on to go that hard way with us. I guess that is normal, right?

Truth be told, it has been a learning process for me. I have had a difficult time cutting ties with negative, dishonorable people, whether they be expats or locals. Why is that? Because we all want to belong, to be a part of something…kind of like our tribe?

Perspective is necessary for me to understand the depth and breath of true friendship. The illusion of friendship is a frame, a shallow arrangement of shapes on a flat surface..two dimensional. True friendship is the lava deep beneath the crust of daily life…and it takes a lot of digging and peeling the layers back to find it.

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