“We all get to see
Who we grow up to be
And anchor when in doubt
An ocean when in drought
We aim for it all
We lift of these walls
To make this house our home.”
–Blue October, Home
While visiting New York City recently, my daughter lost her wallet. It contained babysitting and pet-sitting money she’d worked hard to earn over many months. While in the midst of her trying moment, a good Samaritan eating breakfast with his family stepped in. Although my daughter only knew his first name, city of residence, and occupation, we hoped it would be enough to let him know the impact of his loving action. I wrote the following public post:
Dear firefighter Gary from Phoenix who helped my 13-year-old daughter in NYC yesterday:
Last night my daughter got home from her special trip with her Grammy and Pops. She had so much to tell us about the memorials, the statues, the skyscrapers, the shows, and the people she saw. But once we were alone in her bedroom, her suitcase still untouched in the corner, it was you she talked about.
How you helped them look for her lost wallet when she was so distraught
How you expressed deep concern when you could have just gone about your day
How you somehow knew she’d lost an amount she’d worked hard earning for many months
How you looked into her tear-stained face, pressed money into her hand, and wished her a happy birthday
How you insisted she keep it when she said that wasn't necessary
Her exact words last night were: “Mom, I was just kind of speechless. I just couldn't believe a stranger would do that.”
This is the girl who prepared for this trip by watching 9/11 documentaries. This is the girl who was struck again and again by the way people helped each other. She said, “Look how people are running TOWARDS the pain and suffering instead of running away.”
Firefighter Gary, thank you for turning toward my daughter in her moment of despair. You did more than redeem a moment, a day, a trip … you redeemed humanity in the eyes of a 13-year-old girl. You confirmed that the helpers on the screen fifteen years ago still exist today. You confirmed that despite what she sees and hears on the news, good people of the world are still out there spreading hope like it’s their job.
My daughter was speechless yesterday, but last night she was not. And I wanted you to know what she said about you and what she will remember about that trip forever because of you. I hope this message reaches you.
With love and admiration,
Rachel Macy Stafford, an eternally grateful mother
That is the brief amount of time it took the post to reach Gary. I’d severely underestimated the power of good people to deliver good news, and that gave me hope.
As news outlets grabbed hold of this uplifting story, the kind Samaritan was no longer just Gary the firefighter, he was a someone’s neighbor, friend, childhood classmate, football coach, co-worker, and fire captain. I watched in awe as people from various stages of Gary’s life left comments to and about him on the post.
Apparently what Gary did for my daughter he has done for many others.
Apparently Gary has always lived like this.
Gary is kind and generous to everyone he comes in contact with, not because he will receive something in return or be recognized for his efforts, but because that is who he is.
For some reason, this did not surprise me. Nor did it surprise me that he would take time to shift credit to one person: his mother. On the Hands Free Revolution Facebook page, Gary posted this tribute and this photo:
“What I want The Hands Free Revolution community to know is the true inspiration to all this belongs to a strong determined woman, a single mother of three boys. My mother faced many challenges and overcame many obstacles to guide us with a compass of ethical courage to never shrink from responsibility in doing what is right, not what is easy. For this, my brothers and I are forever thankful … Love you, Mom … #onlylovetoday”
Gary was simply following his mother’s example. If the story could get any more beautiful, it did right then. It also got really personal.
I went straight to my bedroom and pulled out something I’d been holding on to since July. My daughter had gone to sleepaway camp for the first time. In a small group setting, a question had been posed: Who do you follow? She wrote:
“I realized I have been following my mom. I always look up to her and follow her personality, style, and almost everything else. I admire how kind, forgiving, and funny she is.”
Although I was sitting on her bedroom floor among messy piles of smelly camp clothes as I read those words, I'd never felt such peace. Subconsciously, I always knew I influenced my children, but there it was written by my child in pink gel pen, and it was positive. Thank God, it was positive.
The reason this was so monumental was because of my past derailment. When my daughter was five and six, I was not one to follow. I got off course from who I wanted to be. I was rigid, controlling, distracted, easily angered, and overly critical. I’d become a yeller, a door slammer, a grudge holder, and an over-reactor. But when this child spilled an entire bag of rice on the floor, she held up a mirror in which I could clearly see myself. What I saw was quite disturbing. As 1,000 tiny grains scattered across the floor, my daughter looked at me with fear in her eyes. Her expression brought me to my knees. Who have I become? I wondered sadly. My daughter made an innocent mistake, and she is terrified of my reaction.
That was not who I wanted to be.
That was not how I wanted to be remembered after I was gone.
That was not the example I wanted my children to follow.
I prayed for small steps I could take to become a more positive, peaceful, and present person. I began writing and taping up my daily goals, my hopeful intentions, my little victories, and my positive mantras. Especially motivating and healing was my go-to phrase: Only love today. I recited it like a prayer and performed it like a duty; only love today quickly became more than words; it became a way of life – and its influence reached far beyond myself and my family in unimaginable ways.
Making it a daily practice to choose love is transformative. Although it feels very personal, it has the power to impact those around you, even strangers. I was reminded of that the other night when I walked into a fast food restaurant.
The young lady behind the counter said, “I love your hat … I love your smile … I just love your whole aura! You give off the most wonderful vibe.”
“I get it from my mom,” I said, realizing that fact and saying it all at once. But it was true. My mom radiates joy. As far back as I can remember, my mom has always greeted others with love. She always seems excited to see people, no matter who they are. Her inclination to look on the bright side used to drive me crazy, but somewhere along the line, I began to follow her example. Thank goodness, the positive path she paved was always there, even when I lost my way for a bit.
One of my favorite things Gary told me about the NYC experience is how his daughter responded to his good deed being shared around the world. After learning from a friend that #livelikegary was a trending hashtag, Gary said his daughter’s eyes “beamed with pride.”
I knew precisely why his lovely daughter cried. She witnesses the kind and loving essence of her father every single day inside the walls of her home, and now the world was getting to see it too.
Six years ago, I’d almost convinced myself my undesirable words and actions behind closed doors didn’t really reflect who I was.
Who was I kidding?
The words and actions behind closed doors are the most accurate reflection of who I am.
If I’d asked myself: Am I one to follow? Would I want my children to speak and act as I did today? Would I want them to treat people as I treated them today?
The honest answers six years ago would have been no.
In fact, I saw (and still see) some of the not-so-pleasant behaviors I passed on to my children during that tumultuous time. But I refuse to live in regret. I choose to focus on the fact that today matters more than yesterday. Who I am becoming matters more than who I was.
Today I want to live like Gary.
Today I want to be one to follow –
One whose name is mentioned and kind things are spoken
One who chooses love as much she humanly can
One who is as kind in private as she is in public
And now, I turn to you, because you were the main focus of the news interviews. One reporter wanted to know why I thought the post went viral.
The answer was easy.
I said, “Right now the climate of our country is negative, divisive, hopeless, and bleak. I think people latched on because it was a feel-good story that they could be a part of.” [video]
And we still can, my friends.
This story is far from over – now it gets personal.
Right where we are now, in our homes and in our communities, we can be love … we can be kindness … we can be hope.
As we near Election Day 2016, one of the most negative and divisive presidential campaigns in US history, we must remember our influence on our children and the people around us is far greater than the impact of any political figure. We must remember what we had the power to do in six short hours when we worked collectively for good.
On November 8th and in the days that follow, do not be dismayed. Instead say, “follow me,” though positive words and loving actions.
Love has the power to transform.
Love has the power to heal.
Love has the power to regain what’s been lost.
Love has the power to spread good news in record time.
Love has the power to change the course of the world.
Love starts with us.
And carries on in the ones who are watching us live, eyes shining with pride.
Friends, if you would like to know more about my transformation from a distracted and joyless existence to one of peace, presence, and connection, please check out my first book, HANDS FREE MAMA which details all 12 steps of my journey. The follow up, HANDS FREE LIFE, delves into the not-so-obvious pressures and distractions of our culture that cause us to put living and loving last on the priority list. Finally, if you would like a daily (or moment-by-moment) inspiration book that will serve as a reset button whenever you need to calibrate your day toward positivity, peace, and connection, please check out my forthcoming book: ONLY LOVE TODAY: Reminders to Breathe More, Stress Less, & Choose Love.
Next Saturday, November 12th, I will be speaking at an uplifting women’s retreat in Mandan, ND. The topic of my talk is: “Cultivating Peace, Presence, and Grace in a Maxed Out World.” This is a FREE event and you can register with the lovely people of Spirit of Life by clicking here. In 2017, I will be coming to Jupiter, FL … Des Moines, IA … and Charleston, SC. Click my speaking events page for more details!
Thank you for being part of this uplifting Hands Free Revolution community. It is my hope to meet you all someday!