The other morning while on my daily walk to the Rock, I was noticing several discarded articles of trash that had been left behind in recent days by people doing the same activity as me. Seeing this got me to thinking about the who and the why associated with this senseless kind of behavior. Here I was on a beautiful scenic path hoping to get my heart rate up and maybe get the chance to see some wildlife. It was going to be a beautiful, sunny and spring-like day and getting to the Rock was the first item on a long list of to-does I had lined up for the day. It was going to be a great day until I began noticing the trash.
Right away I could feel my mood swing in the opposite direction and the positive energy I had been carrying melted into frustration. As I climbed onward up the trail I began envisioning strangers walking the same path casually dropping papers, cans and plastics because it was too much for them to carry the short distance back to their car. I stopped noticing the fresh air, the sun, and the birds singing in the surrounding woods. The angry voice in my head grew louder and louder changing everything about the walk that I was on. I kept thinking to myself that with all that was going on in the world right now, could we not all slow down a little and focus on doing more of the little things we do better, and do more things right!
Seeing the trash had put me back into a place of despair. I remember thinking to myself, “how could we ever expect to come together as a nation to sacrifice, self-quarantine, stay with social distancing at a time when we need to take important steps to gain an upper-hand on our global health crisis, when we can’t even be disciplined enough to clean up after ourselves!? How hard is it to leave a place in better shape than you found it? I am sure by now I was starting to talk to myself, my head was down and I was not enjoying my walk.
When I reached my destination I stood on the rock where so many others had stood before me, and I looked out over the Pioneer Valley, the towns of South Deerfield and Deerfield, as well as the campuses of Eaglebrook and Deerfield Academy. It truly is an amazing vista and every time I stand there I look for something different. Maybe that is why so many of us that live locally hike that same path so often. Even with this wonderful view, I was still feeling miserable and as my mind started back up I noticed something moving off to the side of where I was standing. Embarrassed, not knowing if I was talking to myself out loud or not, I turned to see an elderly man leaning on a walking-stick bending over to pick up a can. Then I noticed he was carrying a plastic bag half full of other cans, bottles, food wrappers and plastics he had found on his journey up the hill. We talked for a few minutes about the Hill, where we were from and a few other pleasantries before each of us got to going back down our separate ways.
The minute I found myself alone again my outlook on the day, on life, had made a complete reversal. Without intending to do nothing more than do his part in preserving the beauty of this special place, that man reminded of the importance of taking life’s challenges one day at a time. He reminded me to focus on doing my part to make things better. He also reminded me to ignore what others are not doing and to focus more fully on my own actions. The same can be said about being a great teammate and community member. I also came to realize on my way back that day that there are enough good people in the world that make good choices and I should spend more of my time thinking about them. When I do this, I give myself more energy and this can only improve how I carry myself from day to day.
The “angel” I met at the Rock that morning reminded me of why we need to help others, do things for the greater good, and not be too focused on a “return” for everything we decide to do. Now that we are all apart and are afforded large chunks of time in isolation it might be time well spent to consider more fully why it is that helping others can make your life better. Here are a few thoughts I’ve had since that morning on the “Rock”;
- When you do something that does not directly benefit you, but helps others or contributes to a cause you get this helper’s high. When you feel this sense from helping you tend to be happier and happy people are more productive.
- Extending yourself builds stronger social connections with your friends and family. You can show others how much you care by getting involved in ways you have not been before.
- We can all think we are too busy at times. Getting involved and helping others does not add more stress into your life. In fact, it may actually help you to manage your stress better! People adapt better to stress and adversity by building resilience.
- Learning to be a giver and someone prone to help others can be very good for your career. Those who are happiest in their jobs – more committed and less likely to quit, are people that make it a priority to help others.
- Best of all, there is a proven link between better health and helping others. Studies have shown a strong correlation between civic-minded people and living a robust, healthy life beyond retirement.
I hope I get another chance meeting with the “angel” I met that morning. I did not think of thanking him as we parted ways, but maybe he’ll read this and realize he’s the person I am writing about. For anyone else reading this, my advice to you would be to keep an eye out for the unexpected. You should always be open to being inspired and then decide to do something with that energy. Our greatest strength as a society comes from people looking out for one another and helping out wherever we can. By helping others you are also helping yourself. Be that friend, teammate, teacher, sibling, or co-worker that inspires others with a simple act of kindness as my “angel” on the Rock did for me. Together we make one another better.