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Slices of Life

Fingerprints on the mirror

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I had been outside since 5:45 a.m., in 50-degree drizzle. My feet were soaked despite several changes of socks. My fellow outside poll observers, Republicans and Democrats alike, looked just as forlorn as we answered voters’ questions in Virginia during the 2018 election.

At about 2 p.m., a woman with three small kids in tow waved at us as she went in to vote. I loved seeing her – and other parents – bring their kids to the polls. “Thank you for being here!” she called to all of us as she emerged. My colleagues and I smiled at her and each other. We felt good, being part of the electoral process…cold as it was.

Fifteen minutes later, the So I finally made it. Man, how I’ve waited for this stage in life. 

After years of being pregnant, breastfeeding, snuggling little ones in the middle of the night and cleaning up LEGOs off the floor day and night (after first stepping on them) I’m finally here.

Free at last. Free at last. Free. At. Last.

By free, I mean a stage in life where chaos no longer rings supreme. As much as I indulged and relished that stage, I celebrate (to an extent) its end.

I can put pillows on the bed (neatly) in the morning and know they will still be in place when I go to bed at night. I can put the cat food or water in a dish on the floor and rest assured that no one will touch it, turn it upside down or try to drink or eat it.

I clean the windows and mirrors and they stay spotless. Same goes for the kitchen floor and countertops. 

For a person who self-actualizes over order, it is a piece of heaven on earth. Except for one tiny factor (or two): grandchildren.

They came to visit last weekend and I was reminded of the beauty of chaos. I was reminded of the loneliness a beautifully-made, pillow-filled - albeit empty - bed can create. 

After a weekend with my grands I’ve come to a couple of conclusions. Pillows be damned. A clean kitchen can check itself at the door for all I care. Give me those grand babies - those messy, sticky, sweet and lovable grand babies - chaos and all. 

They’ve visited me a few times this summer. We went into town to the candy store. We rode on the pontoon to the sand bar. We stayed up late, way past our bedtimes, putting together puzzles and crafting at the kitchen table. We picked veggies from the garden and tasted them right there. We found apples that had fallen from the apple tree and make homemade apple crisp. We watched the eagle’s nest, caught fish, witnessed loons with babies on their back and saw snapping turtles hatch. It’s been a magical time. Nothing short of it. At least for me. I can’t speak for my grands; I hope they feel the same way. 

After their first visit in June, I noticed the hallway mirror. It’s a full-length type, reaching from the floor to near the ceiling. At the bottom were numerous handprints, of the childhood variety. They’d obviously found themselves in the mirror and couldn’t help touching and leaving a visible reminder of their presence.

I remember a similar instance with our dog, Daisy, years ago, except instead of fingerprints on the mirror, she left nose prints on the window. After Daisy passed over her rainbow bridge, I noticed the nose prints, and for the longest time couldn’t bring myself to wash them away. It was like washing her away.

I feel the same about the handprints on the mirror. I know they are fleeting. I know these days of magic are short lived in the big scheme of things. 

So, despite my orderly nature, I walk by those fingerprints every day and smile. I think maybe I should clean them, but know I won’t. At least not for awhile. 

They are too close to precious memories. They serve as a representation of the squeals and giggles and marshmallows and freezies eaten this summer. They are a reminder that childhood is ephemeral. Handprints start out low on the mirror and rise higher and higher each year until they gradually disappear along with the stickiness and innocence of childhood.

So for now - for beyond now - I celebrate sticky. I celebrate the simple beauty of a visit to the candy store or picking tomatoes, pulling carrots, plucking zinnias from the garden or finding magic apples on the ground as seen through a child’s eyes.

It is nothing short of magic - much more for me than for them. I am the winner in this equation.

So I celebrate visits to the lake. Chaos and all. Fingerprints and all. Especially the fingerprints, the lessons they teach and the perspective they bring. I wouldn’t give them up for the world. And if you visit me next summer, they might well still be here.

And you’ll know why.

Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright and author. Don’t miss a slice; follow the Slices of Life page on Facebook.

woman reappeared. She hopped out of her SUV with a tray of Starbucks hot chocolates. “You all look cold, and I wanted to thank you.” 

That was the best hot chocolate I’d ever tasted, and the warmest I’d been all day. But more importantly, I was touched by her kindness towards three total strangers. 

A new University of Texas-Austin report provides a psychological explanation of what happened, with an experiment oddly similar to my experience. People were handed a cup of hot chocolate and told they could keep it or give it to someone else. Those who gave it to someone else reported a bump in their own happiness and an expected bump in the happiness of the recipient. The recipients did report a bump in happiness – but one higher than what the givers had anticipated. In other words, we underestimate the impact of our kind gestures. 

Harvard Business Review reported a similar experiment with compliments, finding that, though we are happy to receive compliments, we may be reluctant to give them. Somehow, we think they will be seen as insincere or cheap. Again, we underestimate our ability to make others happy.

But these kindnesses and compliments are important, particularly now as we try to rebuild social fabric frayed by Covid isolation and toxic polarization. 

We are wired with a need to feel valued and connected to others, which these unexpected kindnesses do. They raise our self-esteem and link us to each other. Research shows countless other kindness health benefits, from oxytocin reducing stress levels and blood pressure to serotonin increasing happiness. 

Kindness is also contagious. Simply witnessing an act of benevolence lights up our brains positively and makes us more likely to replicate the kindness.

In fractious times, it’s a simple way to make life a little easier for everyone. 

First, remind yourself that people definitely will appreciate you appreciating them. Then consider – and commit to – some research-backed options. Do a friendly check-in with potentially lonely friends via text or a call. Send a card describing what you admire about someone. Compliment a colleague on a task they’ve completed, the more specific about what you liked, the better. Smile as you pass strangers on the street. Add an extra bump to a tip. Post a kind comment on a website. Leave a thank you note for your letter carrier.

Trust the research. They’ll appreciate it more than you’ll know. And they just might pay it forward. We need this, right?

Melinda Burrell, PhD, @MelindaCBurrell, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a former humanitarian aid worker and now trains on the neuroscience of communication and conflict. She is on the board of the National Association for Community Mediation, which offers resources for community approaches to difficult issues.

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