Today is my birthday – yay! – and it’s also Memorial Day, the one day a year we collectively honor and mourn the men and women who gave their lives in service to our country. In fact, in nearby Waterloo, NY, it’s the 150th anniversary of the first public Memorial Day celebration.
Growing up, my mother always joked that the town threw a parade for my birthday, but we always knew what the day was about. She never passed by a veteran selling paper poppies without making a donation – spare change, a few dollars, whatever she had handy. She taught me to honor the dead, and to be grateful.
Nowadays, we Americans use the weekend to have picnics and parties, to revel in a day off from work, and to hit the mall in the name of retail therapy. We’ve forgotten to love and support each other in favor of fireworks and half-off sales.
But today is my birthday, and I get to be greedy, so here is my birthday wish.
Over the next 52 weeks, I’m asking you to do one act of kindness a week for someone you don’t know, or at least someone who doesn’t expect you to be nice to them. If possible, challenge yourself to be nicer and nicer as time goes on, going more and more outside of your comfort zone every week. Holding open a door could lead to carrying groceries or mowing a law or painting a house. By this time next year, maybe you’re traveling to another country or volunteering time for a local non-profit. Or maybe you spend the year baking cookies which leads to cupcakes which lead to holding a bake sale for charity. Wherever your kindness leads, my wish is that you follow it.
That’s 52 nice things by this time next year. Come on, you can do it. I promise you won’t be the same person 365 days from now. And the world won’t be the same, either.
And the Memorial Day challenge? Make one of those nice things you do for a serviceman or woman. Maybe you offer to help out a family whose husband or wife is serving overseas. Babysit, do yard work, or just bring the trash cans up the driveway every week. Consider sending a letter or care package to an active serviceman or woman who doesn’t get mail from home. (Anysoldier.com is an excellent way to send mail to any soldier in need of a morale boost; I wrote about this last Christmas, if you want to learn more.) How about adopting the grave of a veteran and placing a flag or wreath on holidays? (Here’s a great story of a man who had made that his life’s mission.)
Today Mars comes the closest to Earth that it has in a decade. On my birthday!! Coincidence? I think not. I believe that’s the universe’s way of coming close to remind me – and hopefully you – that in the vastness of space and time we are but tiny specks of dust – and yet, important enough that planets travel across the galaxies to say hello. We are powerful; we are living and breathing and colliding with each other in ways that leave us all just a little bit changed forever. That’s a big responsibility for tiny dust specks.
So on my birthday? Make a wish. Be a change. And remember that life is an adventure. Don’t forget to live it.