Be the YELLOW

“Be someone’s Yellow Joy”

Several years ago, I ran across an early childhood teacher’s personal social movement to spread kindness, a tribute to his colleague Honor who lost her battle with cancer. While I didn’t know Honor, her story resonnated with me. Even though she faced her own mortality, she leaned into the experience and continued to speak her truth. Her colleague reflected on the larger than life, happy woman who taught the youngest of children. Honor always wore yellow and her classroom was filled with yellow. She taught her kindergarteners to spread kindness – to be someone’s yellow.

Since then, I have used her story, my own story, the story of my daughter to remind others to pay it forward – to brighten someone’s day – to fill the world with kindness and love. It’s why I leave cookies and notes on people’s desks or in their mailboxes. It’s why I have coffee or lunch with students who need someone to listen. It’s why, in the pre-pandemic days, students would stop by my office, sometimes just to sit on my floor to do homework. It’s why I show up in the middle of the night if someone needs me.

Spreading kindness, I guess, really is my WHY. Leaving the world a better place by caring for others gives my life purpose, and for this Sagittarus, having a purpose in life is incredibly important.

On occasion, I have been the benefactor of being someone’s yellow: when a dear friend from the Progressive Education Network lost his battle with stage 4 lung cancer, two of the young women I mentored on the Manchester University softball team delivered a huge bouqet of yellow daisies (my very favorite flower); when my daughter Elizabeth’s diagnosis of brain cancer rocked my world, several of my former students, now mothers themselves, sent me a box filled with yellow gifts; and the day after my daughter died, which happened to be her 29th birthday, another former softball player delivered a huge yellow gift bag filled with, you guessed it, everything yellow she could find.

Being someone’s yellow matters. It doesn’t make the difficult situation or heartache disappear, but it offers hope. It reminds the receiver of humanity – of connection – of the reality that someone cares – that they are not alone. Even random acts of yellow are not lost; the unsuspecting stranger feels a rush of warmth and cannot help but smile. Yellow holds great importance – it brings sunshine into the world and brightens the space.

A week after my daughter died, one of the Manchester University women’s basketball players texted me, “Come outside. We have your yellow.” Honestly, seeing a group of cheerful young women and faking happiness for whatever they were about to give me required a strength I didn’t know existed. Before they arrived, I had been lying on the couch devastated by my loss, wishing the floor would open and swallow me in entirety. However, my desire to please and not disappoint pulled me off the couch, and I found myself slipping on my shoes and walking outside into the dark winter evening.

What I didn’t anticipate, though, was the incredibly sweet, fluffy ball of a golden retriever with which they were about to surprise me. As one of the players said, “Dr. Coach, we brought you your own yellow,” or something like that, a player stepped forward with a nine-week-old puppy stuffed inside her team jacket. After a few seconds of processing the situation, I took the puppy into my arms, and she felt at home. It is the first, most tangible moment of understanding how a grieving parent can hold immense saddness and complete joy in the same tender space – a lesson I have experienced several times since that moment.

Her name is Yellow Joy, and the months that have unfolded since that sad-happy day have been filled with potty training and behavior management of a puppy – although most days feel more like management of the human in a house with three large dogs. At first, I couldn’t fathom caring for myself let alone a vulnerable puppy, and I doubted whether I could actually do it. I quickly learned, though, the power of distraction and the cure for a fractured heart in puppy snuggles and sloppy kissses. And I been surprised at the sound of my own belly laugh as Yellow charged out of the bathroom – ears flopping – eyes wild – rolling across the floor as the towel she was dragging behind her tripped her up.

I wouldn’t trade this surpise gift for anything – she represents love – she embodies connection – she fills the house with silliness and curiosity – she truly is my YELLOW. And she serves as a reminder that acts of kindness – no matter how big or how small – really do make the world a better place.

#MakeRoomForJoy

Visit Make Someone’s Day Yellow by clicking on the picture

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Cooking with Purpose

For most of my childhood and adolesence, I spent nearly every weekend at my maternal grandparents’ house. Besides traipsing around outdoors with Grandpa, hours were spent sitting at the kitchen table talking with my grandmother as she cooked. Often, I would join her in snapping green beans fresh or try my hand at frying hamburger to stir into her chili. On holidays, I would lie in the spare bedroom next to the kitchen and listen to Grandma hum as she stuffed the turkey in the early hours of the day, long before we would sit down as a family around the kitchen table.

I learned a lot from my grandmother, much more than how to cook for a large family on a blue collar budget. Perching on a chair pulled up to the counter was eventually replaced with standing next to her, chopping onions or assembling monkey bread, watching, listening, soaking in her kindness. Her lessons extended beyond knowing when the fried chicken was done. Much later, long after my weekends with her had morphed into raising my own family, I realized the moments in the kitchen were not intended to teach me about food.

As Grandma Mitchell patiently showed me how to cook, often without a recipe, I knew I had a frontrow seat with a master story teller. I held onto the stories that unfolded, stories of growing up in the Great Depression, of tire rations, of outhouses, of working a factory job, of selling crickets for the bait shop in my grandparents’, of my grandfather being stabbed, of burying her third child as a toddler. Through her stories, I learned the joy that accompanies a life well lived, regardless of the circumstance. Her cooking held great purpose.

My grandmother’s feet no longer kiss the earth, but she is always with me. For the last three decades, gatherings, especially around food, have served as a foundation for my home. My siblings and their families often gather around my table for holidays or celebrations, and when my children lived at home Friday nights found the basement filled with basketball or football players, always hungry. In these familiar moments, I draw deeply from Grandma’s genuine love for others.

As my two children have moved into their own adult lives, my house is still filled with young people: first year students, softball players, women’s basketball players, students needing a home for difficult discussions about race, or sometimes just two or three who need someone to listen. Just as it did in my own childhood, food brings people together, and amazing conversations happen long after the meal is removed and the dishes are piled in the sink.

Currently, cooking has a different purpose for me. The purpose has a more immediate need – higher stakes. As my daughter battles stage four brain cancer, part of her speech therapy includes following writen directions. Following recipes feels like a natural way to meet her therapist’s request. Each night this week, we have selected something for Elizabeth to make. I write out the items she needs as well as the steps she must take to assemble the dish. Because of the location of the cancer, language processing is hard, but like my grandmother, she is kind, gracious, and humble.

As the Gautama Buddha says, “Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it.” My grandmother filled me with a sense of purpose one dish, one story, one song at a time. Today, my love of cooking offers a physical way through which I can express my purpose: deeply loving others – those who are biologically mine and those who are not. Bellies are filled. Hearts are filled. In my book, that’s a win-win! #MakeRoomForJoy

My suprehero making roasted potatoes. Grandma Mitchell would be so proud.

I’m joining an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us. #sosmagic