How the book Black Beauty made me who I am today

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When I was young, one of my favorite books was Black Beauty by Anna Sewell.  It wasn’t until I got it out of the library and read it to my children, that I realized that through some kind of osmosis I had made the entire novel a part of myself.  If someone had asked me why I felt the way I did regarding animals, I could not have answered.  But after I read this book to my children, I understood.  I got all my compassion and empathy from this one book.  It’s funny how a book can mold you into who you become.  Black Beauty, and to a lesser extent, all the A.A. Milne books did that to me.  Here are some quotes for you.

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It was after I read this book to my children that I fulfilled my childhood dream and became a vegetarian.  And, after that, I fulfilled my adult dream and became a vegan.  Some books just stay with you always and forever.

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Despair, Sadness and Hope?

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On Wednesday, I received some bad news. Although it’s not my news, it has however affected my life and my mental health. I can only say that a family I am close to has been ripped apart. It looks like they will not be spending Christmas together, and one family member has been sent away across the country.

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There is really nothing that I can do, and herein lays my problem. I. Cannot. Do. Anything.  For someone who strangely believes somewhere in my heart of hearts that if I only try hard enough, I can save the world, this is devastating. On some level, I truly believe that if I only love hard enough, big enough, I can “fix” anything. When I can’t (because this is not possible), my heart lays bleeding on the floor. You would think that after all these years I would get used to it, but no…each and every time this happens, it hurts just as if it were the first time.

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I have indeed come up with a few things that I hope I will be allowed to do. I can write letters and send cards. I an offer emotional support to those family members I can. This was the worst possible outcome, and the only thing I can do is offer my heart-felt support and love.  For my own mental health I need to focus on what I can do.

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I don’t think I’m a super-hero, wielding love as my super power. But wouldn’t that be the best super power? A love that solves all problems. If only.. So, I need to stop my descent into despair and sadness and concentrate on how I can help.  It’s the only thing that will save me.

Self Reflection

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I’ve been thinking about whether or not I act the way I believe. I don’t intend harm to anyone, but do I actually live life that way? Personally I think that it’s a good thing to wonder about the way that you live your life. Reflection can be important. Checking on how you are living as compared with your beliefs is always a good thing to do, and maybe as the year comes to a close, reflection on your actions as opposed to your beliefs should be undertaken.

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I googled ethical living and got a lot of hits. The subjects varied from environmental, to food, to treating other people with respect. In the end, I feel that your behavior has to do with living your beliefs. If you are religious, then you should live your religion. So, if you’re Christian, live the golden rule – “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Simple. Did you do that this year? Did you help others in need? Did you offer food and drink? Did you offer to help refugees, the poor, the needy? If so, good for you! Your end-of-year reflections should make you feel good. If not, why not?

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Thinking about our actions should be a daily activity. Was I mean or short with someone who had asked for my help? Is that the way that I would want to be treated? If we’re aware of our actions, we can change them. If we don’t reflect, we remain unchanged. How can we grow for the better if we don’t acknowledge that we need to improve?

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I would love to report that I’m living my beliefs. That I’m always helpful and kind. Sure, and pigs can fly; unicorns live in my back yard; and my front yard has a money tree growing in it. Of course not! Is there much room for improvement? Yes! And a resounding yes this is! I am not as kind or loving as I could be. My patience can be short. But by reflecting on my own behavior (as opposed to thinking about someone else’s behavior) I give myself the opportunity to change. How often do you reflect on your behavior, and does it help you to become the person you would like to be?

Be the Change

There are many many things that I would like to change about the world, my country, my state and my town. However, most of what I’d like to change is completely out of my hands. (I also don’t have the many millions of dollars that it would take to implement any of the changes that I’d like to see, either.) So, I’m stuck with how can I go about making any kind of difference.

After much thought, sadness and despair, I realized that I can’t make a huge difference in the world by myself. That was a terrible realization, and I’ve had to deal with the depression that brought on. However, I also realized that I can change myself, my corner of the world, and maybe bring some sunshine to others by bringing kindness to my part of the world.

So, what am I doing? I’m trying to be kind. If a clerk is rude, I try to respond by being nice; when I say “Have a good day.” I mean it. I want the best for other people. I compliment others on something that I find pleasing about them. Do they have nice hair? Is their shirt a pretty color? The other day I told a man in the parking lot that he looked fabulous. He did. He was wearing a beautiful pink oxford shirt with a nice blue tie; black pants and fancy shoes. By the surprised smile I got in return, I think I really added to the pleasure of his day. It didn’t cost me anything, and I felt good, too.  Did this make a huge difference in the world? Probably not, but it made a difference in his day; and mine, come to think of it. This is what the whole “pay it forward” thing is without the money.

Consider kindness in your day. How often are you kind? What can you do to lift others up? We can’t change the whole world, but maybe, just maybe, we can make a difference to the people we meet.

Have Courage and Be Kind

I went to see the latest Cinderella movie last weekend and have been thinking about it ever since. As those of you have seen it know, Ella’s mothers’ dying words to her are “Have courage and be kind.” That’s the phrase that has been chasing itself around my brain for the past week. Courage is needed simply to live. After all, the list of things that can go wrong in life is endless and often it is courage that gets us up and out of our beds in the morning.

But, I don’t think that’s the meaning of this choice of words, here. I believe they are meant to be taken together. “Have courage and be kind.” It takes a certain type of courage to be kind. Ella demonstrates this courage by her unfailing ability to remain kind in the face of increasing unkindness.

This is a lesson I learned when I failed miserably at showing kindness. There was a boy in my high school band who was just one of those awkward, “spazzy”-type boys. The ones who everyone made fun of. I had never made fun of him, and I knew that he “liked” me. Not only did I know, but so did everyone else. This of course, was “social suicide”, and I knew that if I didn’t want to be put into the same category as this one “spazzy” boy, I’d have to do something. Now, to be honest, I was one of those socially awkward “nerdy” girls with glasses, who thought completing all those extra credit projects was a “cool” thing to do. So, my social cred really wouldn’t have been high to begin with. Anyway, to make a long story short, I was unkind to this boy. And, it was probably the worst thing I’ve ever done, since it was premeditated unkindness. This was the only time I was purposefully unkind. I can’t even describe how terrible this made me feel. I was guilty for weeks, until I finally got the courage up to apologize. He was graceful and accepted my apology, proving himself to be the kinder person.

This was one mistake that I hope I’ve never duplicated. I’ve tried really really hard, sometimes necessitating the biting of my tongue to continue being kind. I have often deliberately ignored nasty comments. I’ve instead perfected the art of “misunderstanding” my mother-in-law and other people, and treated rude comments as compliments instead. Thankfully this art has not been so necessary in recent years, and she is convinced I’m the kindest, sweetest daughter-in-law.

I’ve found being kind can be the most difficult thing sometimes. It has taken courage to be kind in the face of unjust criticism. Of course I’ve had nasty thoughts of my own; however I’ve managed to hold my tongue more often than I ever anticipated I could. Being kind is not a default mechanism. It takes courage to be kind in the face of unkindness. But, if we all followed the advice of “Have courage and be kind” wouldn’t the world be a better place?