I’ve made and broken more New Years’ resolutions than I can count. I don’t think it was because I lack resolve but that they probably weren’t worth keeping, after all. This year I’ve found something that I’m going to try to do, and it might just stick this time. I saw an ad on NBC with Ann Curry about a way to honor those who lost their lives in Newtown, Connecticut. It’s called 26 Acts of Kindness and it’s taken off like wildfire. Curry has said that she felt a need to do something after the tragedy but was at a loss as to what one does, given such horrific circumstances. It occurred to her that the best way to remember the 20 children and 6 adults was to do something good for others. It’s probably the best and most wonderful response to the anger and pain that was felt by all of us.
Here is what Ann said about the first experience that inspired a movement.
After being in Newtown, I woke up the next morning and thought about what could be done. What is the answer to this kind of national suffering? And I remembered a moment on the edge of Darfur, when I came upon a woman who was elderly and in the hospital, recovering from burns after an attack by Janjaweed militias. She was surrounded in the hospital, by younger women carrying babies, and I asked her to tell the story of how she had suffered these terrible burns all over her body. I learned that she had tried to rescue her invalid husband when her village was attacked and her house was set on fire. She tried to carry her husband out of her house and stayed so long that the thatched roof of her house came down, the hot embers giving her 3rd degree burns. But she was unable to save her husband. Her husband died.
Ann Curry’s inspiration for #26Acts of Kindness dates back to an experience she had while reporting on the genocide in Darfur in 2007, and the joy that giving Polaroid pictures of children brought to mothers who had never held a photograph of their kids.
I remember walking out of that hospital, and the producer saw the look on my face. He said, “Are you okay?” And I said, “No.” And without even thinking, I remember going to our team van and pulling out a Polaroid camera I had brought on that trip. And then I went to all of these women with their children who were in the courtyard of the hospital, knowing that they had never owned a photograph – ever – of their child. I went around from woman to woman, and I took pictures of them, I took pictures of them with their child, or just of their child alone – without even thinking, just snapping pictures. The first time I did it, I remember giving a photograph to a woman, and she looked at this black square with this quizzed look on her face, and I said, “Just wait one minute! Just wait one minute,” holding up one finger. And then I watched her face melt as she watched her child’s face slowly appear on that Polaroid.
It made me feel better. So I went from mother to mother to mother until I ran out of film.
After the experience in Newtown. I thought, “What if? Imagine if everyone could commit to doing one act of kindness for every one of those children killed in Newtown.” So that’s what I tweeted. And guess what? People committed. I said in my tweet, “I’m in. RT if you’re in.” Not only did they commit to 20 acts of kindness, they wanted to up it to 26 acts of kindness for every child and adult who was lost at the school. Some even debated maybe we should include the mother, who died, at 27 acts. Some debated maybe we should include the killer as well as he was struggling and in pain.
What’s really remarkable to me is how many people responded. They are the ones who carried the ball. They are the ones who chose what to do. People would tweet back, “I’ve done two!” “I bought coffee for a guy in line!” “I bought toys for homeless children!” “I’ve got 18 more to go!” or “24 more to go!” – whatever number they were trying to reach.
I was inspired by them. So I started tweeting about what people were doing. Some people thought it was boasting when they would say “I’ve done this” or “I’ve done that.” I don’t think so. I think that whenever you show by example an act of kindness – big or small – something that spends a lot of money, or because you don’t have the money, something that doesn’t, all of it is welcome.
There is no judgment. I think that’s the key. If people want to do it, great. But I think that if they do it, something great happens to you.
When I was tweeting, I noticed that the number one trending topic was something like “ThingsIlikeaboutmyself.” I thought, “Well, if you do act of kindness, I bet you’ll like even more about yourself.” So that’s what I tweeted.
I know the truth: if you do good, you feel good. It’s the most selfish thing you can do. Right now, this country wants to heal. I think the only thing comforting in the face of a tragedy like this is to do something good with it if you can. Be a part of that wave.*
What happens if we all commit 26acts of kindness for Newtown? A MOVEMENT. U in?
So she tweeted that message, challenging others to join her in her own efforts. She first asked for acts to honor only the children, then expanded her plea to include the educators who also died that day. Someone sent her a tweet, asking for the addition of Nancy Lanza, the first victim, and the shooter’s mother as one who could be remembered in the same way, and Curry, in a random act of kindness of her own, agreed.
Since then, the concept has gone viral, with people doing all sorts of wonderful and generous things in the name of those girls and boys, and men and women of Sandy Hook Elementary. Some have paid off Christmas layaways, purchased gift cards for strangers, picked up the check at restaurants and cleaned up a neighbor’s yard. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, any act of kindness is wonderful. It also doesn’t have to cost anything. If your snow-blower happens to find its’ way over to a neighbors driveway, or your lawnmower goes rogue and manages to cut a friend’s lawn, then you’ve done something worthwhile. Buying an extra gallon of milk for a single mom, picking up a prescription for a housebound neighbor or dropping off some baked goods are all it takes to fulfill your promise. If you have a Twitter account, stop by Ann’s, just to see the inspiring things people are doing. Maybe those 27 acts will turn into a lifetime of doing good, expecting nothing in return, performed for the simple reason that it will make all of us better people.
I think it’s a New Year’s Resolution I just might be able to keep. Are you in?
Happy New Year to all of you, from all of us.