October 31st: Reflecting on holiday seasons in the past, I wonder why Thanksgiving and Christmas have lost the magic they used to hold many years ago.
November 1st: Seeking to re-establish that “spark,” I come up with a wacky idea to encourage a more festive holiday attitude within myself and others, as well. I run it past two people, they give me a vote of confidence, and an idea is born.
November 2nd: I decide to make the leap and chronicle my experiences on a blog somewhere in Cyberspace. I research popular blogging sites, ultimately pick Word Press, and create Miracle on 32nd Street. The idea for RACs (Random Acts of Christmas) is born out of my very first post.
November 2nd, 6:46 PM: My very first comment arrives in my email inbox. Heidi becomes my very first poster.
January 1st, 2011: The first ever RAC Challenge officially wraps up its first season, and goes on hiatus until November 2011.
What a difference a day makes. One minute, I’m on my way to rehearsal, daydreaming about Christmas and how the holiday spirit has been elusive in years past. The next day, I’ve gained the title of “blogger”, along with a screen name, website, and one comment.
What a difference a month makes. Compare November to December: in the latter month, I had around 1150 views. In the former month, I had 2500. I gained more posters, but more importantly, I gained faithful posters: people who, like clockwork, continually comment on my writing…people who I now consider as “friends,” although we’ve never actually met face to face.
You can read all about how blogging has changed my life in this article, but this post is dedicated to the RAC Challenge….the idea that started it all. Now, two months and two days after I initially began my blog, I pause for a moment to reflect on my journey with the RACs and how they have had an amazing impact on who I am and my life in general.
A Random Act of Christmas: noun
a selfless act performed by a person or persons wishing to promote Christmas cheer; these acts may be either spontaneous or planned in advance; kind gestures must be something you would not normally do on a regular basis; forces the individual performing such an act to go outside of him/herself and place others’ needs/wants first
One act a day…for as many days remaining until New Year’s Day…that was my goal. What I actually received from the project ultimately shaped and altered my life, and still continues to surprise me.
Did I actually perform one act a day, right up until the deadline? No. I aimed for that, but a few days I just missed the boat. I totally own up to that. I knew there would be some moments where I would slip up…I knew there would be days without posts. That’s the thing about setting goals: you can’t aim for perfection…you must only aim to do your best. If you continually shoot for perfection, chances are you will be disappointed, because, hey…no one’s perfect.
You can’t focus on what you didn’t do or what you couldn’t do…you must be thankful and appreciative of the time you had and what you did with it. It’s like being on vacation in Italy. I spent three weeks there in the summer of 2008, a dream I wanted to keep on living for months on end. By the end of my time there, of course, there will still some sights I had yet to see…places I still needed to visit. There was a train strike which subsequently cancelled a trip to the coast, the Cinque Terre. I never made it to Venice. I couldn’t eat the pizza of Napoli. But, I had seen Rome. I’d walked the steps of the Duomo. I’d seen Pisa, Siena, San Gemignano. The Vatican. The Sistine Chapel. That place in Under the Tuscan Sun where Diane Lane eats grapes and writes a postcard….
All in all, I had done so many wonderful things in the time I was given. I couldn’t linger on the things I had yet to do…so I won’t on my blog, either!
I was given almost two months to perform as many RACs as I could. In the end, I think the total rounded out at 55…a respectable number, a solid finish. 55 acts, spanning the course of two holidays, several snowstorms, student teaching, performances for a musical, and all of the other things life managed to throw at me during those months.
I started off small, starting my list by merely informing a gas station attendant that he had a leaky pump (not intended to be a double-entendre). My first “bloggable” RAC found me surprising my student teaching co-op with a cup of coffee…a feat which only cost about $0.89.
I quickly discovered that most RACs could be filed into 5 categories: Baking, Appreciative, Self-Challenging, Crazy/Kooky/Zany, and Financial.
Baking RACs are exactly what they sound like: you make any sort of baked good for friends or total strangers. I even expanded this category to include “Store Bought Baked Goods,” such as the ever popular Oreo or chocolate covered cherries. I racked up the most RACs in this category. (See here and here for some examples.)
Appreciative RACs are gestures which purposefully thank or extend a welcoming thought to people who need/deserve it. The simplest way to perform this type of RAC is a thank-you note, but you can also merely dial up a friend on the phone to tell them you miss their company. This post and that post show a few of these RACs.
Self-Challenging RACs are the ones you don’t want to do, wouldn’t normally do, but should be doing. No, I don’t want to park farther away…but maybe someone could really use that spot up front. No, I don’t want to give money to that person on the street, but maybe she really needs money. Yep. These are the ones that can be groan-inducing (note: that’s not GROIN inducing…that’s a completely different RAC altogether). These are the RACs which flick on that “little voice” in the back of our heads…our conscience.
Crazy/Kooky/Zany RACs…the ones where you’d have to be “triple-dog” dared to do them, but they ultimately ensue in hilarity, laughs, and probably several odd stares…
Financial RACs are basically donations or fiscal gifts to any person or organization. I realize that some may not believe they can participate in such a practice, especially when money’s tight, but I am living proof that yes, you can. Even the smallest donation goes a long way, like tipping your wait staff, or giving $5 to the Salvation Army. Every little bit helps.
I could go on and on about every single adventure and escapade that resulted from the RACs this holiday season, but they’re all documented here, on my blog. The anecdotes I’ve been able to tell about my trials and efforts are one thing…what I’ve gained from them is something completely different.
Acting with kindness is something I strive to do every day, but this challenge made me realize how much more I should really attempt to do. During the last two months, the challenge made me purposefully perform acts of kindness…I didn’t just do them because the right circumstances came along…actually, most of the time I had to actively search for an idea or inspiration for an act. In other words, you can’t be passive about wanting to do good. You have to muster up some gumption and take a risk.
When I began to tackle one act of kindness per day, it was something I looked forward to…however, even the kindest person knows how life can sometimes take a hold of your best intentions and throw them to the background. When I had ample time to blog and get in my act for the day, I was peppy and eager to do more. When I was short on time, however, I found myself scouring my brain for ideas and last-minute attempts at RACs.
I’d like to say that the moments where I didn’t perform an RAC were the ones where I was short on time…but really, it was because I became too hung up on my own issues. It’s funny, but I’ve discovered that when you let go of your own problems and focus on others, your problems start to alleviate and disappear. Suddenly, your aim becomes their aim…and the stress of your own world temporarily abates. I found this to be true on many occasions. When you do good for others, a part of that “good” transfers into your own life.
And you know what the annoying, grating part about all of this is? When you force yourself to perform more purposeful acts of kindness, you install sort of a Jiminy Cricket into your conscience.
Suddenly, EVERY opportunity for do-gooding activates an alert system in your brain. Grab that door for the person behind you. Pick up that piece of trash. Clean up after strangers. Offer to carpool with a colleague. Give someone a plate of cookies for no reason. At first, you begrudgingly follow that voice, often with consternation and through gritted teeth. Yes, you say. Yes, I really should be doing that. You also become more aware of the little gestures that fall to the wayside, and they play into your mind so much that you feel guilty for not doing them. There is sort of a kindness “comfort zone” that we all must step outside of. We all have a limit of how kind we will purposefully be. Will you let that car in before you to the drive thru? Will you be patient with the employee behind the speaker? And, would you pay for the car’s meal behind you as you exit the drive-thru? What is YOUR kindness comfort zone?
Once you do challenge yourself to step beyond that zone, however, there is a turning point. All of a sudden, you’re performing more and more acts of kindness, with regular consistency and higher frequencies. You assert yourself in doing these things so often that one day…lo and behold…you’ve created a new, positive habit. You no longer have to think and mull over an idea…you’re simply just doing it.
I startled myself with this realization on a Thursday where I failed to accomplish an RAC…or so I thought. This happened late in the game, and I was really disappointed with myself for not staying true to my own guidelines for this blog: one RAC a day, no excuses. I was nearly ready to kick myself in the butt (I’m double jointed….), until an analysis of my day made me understand that, in actuality, I had performed 3 RACs without knowing it. At that moment, I finally realized…RACs had now become a part of my life…a part of who I am. I was suddenly chatty with supermarket check-out employees. I struck up conversations with complete mall shoppers. I smiled at complete strangers. I had somehow made these gestures into habits.
And like any good habit, you can only foster and encourage it by positive reinforcement and repetition. That’s what these past two months have shown me. You can’t let yourself get sluggish…you can’t let your kindness “muscles” get weak. You have to condition yourself to do good. You have to practice. And even if practice doesn’t make perfect, it sure has been fun along the way.
I have a long list of resolutions for 2011…read more books, write a short story novel, cook/bake more…those are a few of my choice ideas…and high at the top of the list is not a resolution, but a promise. A promise to practice kindness more, each and every day. A promise to let myself get discouraged with my attempts every now and then, and a promise to pick myself back up again when I stumble…but, underneath it all, a promise that I will continue to incorporate all that I’ve learned these past two months into the rest of my life. And that, my friends, is a resolution worth keeping.
Thank you to everyone who participated in the first-ever annual RAC Challenge. Without the encouragement and support from several loyal readers and inspirational human beings, I would not have made it this far. Fear not! I’ll be bringing back the Random Acts of Kindness next November, just in time for the new holiday season.
In the meantime, Miracle on 32nd Street will be undergoing some “seasonal” changes, with modifications to the lovely décor and a few site links. The address will remain the same, and I, Aunt Bethany, have settled into a very comfortable arm chair with no intentions of leaving! Be on the look-out for posts centered around humor, baking, cooking, photography, video games, wine, beer, movies, music, and…as always…life, and why I find it hilarious.
Happy New Year!