Kindness and Butterfly Coins

I’ve been doing random acts of kindness since the death of my eight-year-old grandson, Jacob, in August 2013. Shortly after Jacob died, my daughter and I designed cards to leave behind whenever we chose to do an act of kindness. It seemed a fitting way to remember and honor a little boy who was kinder than anyone we knew, challenging ourselves to be more like him.

random act of kindness

Anyone who has been following my blog for any length of time, is aware of what butterflies mean to me since my husband’s death, particularly blue ones.

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So when I heard about using Butterfly Coins for random acts of kindness, you can imagine my excitement. Founded by Ron Hornbaker and Bruce Pedersen, ButterflyCoins.org is a global experiment to inspire and track the butterfly effects of random acts of kindness. The coins are coded so you can follow the ripple effect of kindness.

Of course I wanted one of the 2018 editions of the coin with a beautiful blue butterfly design. (now sold out) Minted in solid, thick brass, two inches in diameter, the coin weighs nearly two ounces, and features a color enamel-painted butterfly. It is beautiful.

butterfly coin

By carrying one of the coins in your pocket or purse, you’re reminded to look for opportunities to help someone, friend or stranger. Pass along the coin with your kind deed, encouraging the recipient to pay it forward. The coins have unique tracking codes on the back, along with instructions to make a brief story note about how they received it. Each coin has a dedicated story page, where you can watch your legacy of kindness unfold countless times into the future, forever.

The 2019 Second Edition coin is a Monarch, and on sale right now for $6.95 each by clicking HERE.

monarch coin

Of course, I’ll have to come up with an act of kindness worthy of this beautiful coin. Most of my random acts of kindness are small; pay for the person behind me in line at a window drive-up, purchase a piece of pie for someone sitting alone at a restaurant, leave a dollar and a Jacob card taped to a pop machine. While my favorites are those I can do as a faceless, nameless benefactor, leaving the card behind, opportunities do arise that I just can’t resist. Most recently, there was an older woman checking into a breakfast at my workplace. I heard her telling her female companion she’d saved for the $10 cost by putting one dollar bills into an envelope as she got them. When she retrieved the envelope from her pocket with a shaky hand and opened it up, I saw confusion on her face and heard her gasp. The envelope was empty! Her companion seemed just as flustered as she was, so I asked if I could cover her breakfast in honor of my grandson.

“Please let me,” I pleaded when she demurred. “I love doing random acts of kindness in his name, but haven’t had the chance recently.”

“His name was Jacob,” I added when she finally agreed, partly because I didn’t have a card with me, but mostly because I like to be able to say his name.

This week, with wind chills dipping below zero in Iowa, I’m carrying gloves in my car with the cards.

gloves

Yesterday, I chased an older gentleman down when I spotted him waiting at a busy intersection, hunched over against the wind as he zipped up his coat, stomped his feet, and clasped his bare hands together to blow on them before shoving them into his pockets. I made several laps around a bank parking lot until he reached the drive. When I opened my window and handed him a card and a pair of gloves, his face lit up as if I’d handed him a gold coin.

Or a beautiful brass butterfly one.

 

Kindness Matters

I spent a lot of time around chickens as a youngster. My family lived on the outskirts of a small Iowa town and raised chickens for the eggs and meat. They were friendly fowl for the most part, except when we chased them around the yard for butchering or attempted to confiscate warm eggs from beneath the broody hens.

Not a big fan of my mother’s oatmeal, I’d sit on the front step of the chicken coop, holding my bowl full of the dreaded stuff, and flicking spoons of sticky oats behind my back. The sudden squawking and frantic beating of wings as the chickens scrambled for the treasured milk-sopped grain should have revealed my subterfuge, but Mom never said a word.

I’d play with fluffy yellow chicks when they escaped the confines of the pen, cupping them in my hands and letting them peck at the buttons of my shirts. I named my favorites, once befriending a chicken who let us hold and pet her. When our parents were gone to the grocery store, we’d let “Chickey” loose in the house, where she’d run straight to the living room chair and make herself at home.

Because of their close proximity, I also carry a vivid memory from a summer when the usual mild feather-pecking of my father’s flock heightened to cannibalistic proportions. I watched in horrified fascination as the laying hens circled their designated prey; one of their own. Whether one hen was more aggressive than the others wasn’t discernable, because chickens imitate each other. Soon all of them were pulling feathers and pecking until they drew blood, ultimately pecking their peer to death.

chickenDad read books about the disorder, asked questions at the feed store, and frantically tried every tactic suggested to get them to stop, to no avail. He lost several chickens before butchering the entire flock.

When I look back on the bullying I endured in elementary school, I think of those chickens. For whatever reason, I became the target of the class tyrant. Because her taunts were aimed at me, others soon joined in. She was relentless, always finding something wrong with me; my hair, my clothes, my entire existence.

When my nine siblings and I would gather at my mother’s house many years later, our reminiscing sometimes included stories of being bullied and our subsequent lack of self-esteem. My mother’s countenance would dramatically alter when our chatter veered off in that direction. With a pained look on her face, she’d insist that we were better people for having experienced the poverty that likely led to the bullying.

“You’re more empathetic, more sensitive, because of it,” she’d say. “Being poor didn’t hurt you. You all have good work ethics and know the value of a dollar.”

Being poor might not have hurt us, but the incessant bullying certainly did. You cannot be pushed, tripped, kicked, spit on, and informed daily that you are worthless, without some ill effects, no matter how wonderful your family is or how many teachers told you differently.

“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” I was taught, but the words did hurt. At some point, I began to believe the repeated taunts; I was ugly. I smelled bad. My clothes were even uglier. I was stupid. I morphed from a happy first-grader who loved learning, to a sixth grader who navigated the school hallway with books clutched tightly to my chest. I’d scurry to my destination, shoulders hunched, head down, avoiding eye contact. I couldn’t do anything about the clothing, but by golly, I wouldn’t be stupid. I retreated into a world of books and writing. By the time I escaped the bowels of hell parochial school had become, I’d lost any semblance of self-esteem. I was fortunate to escape the bullying when I transferred to a public junior high, where the friendship of one popular girl meant an acceptance I’d never experienced in elementary school.

Yes, we are the sum of our experiences, and it could be said I was driven to prove myself as worthy because of my grade-school experience. I excelled in school; acting in plays, participating in speech contests, writing for the newspaper, and joining several clubs. I even ended up as senior class secretary. I went on to graduate from college, no mean feat for an attendee of the inaugural 1965 Head Start government program designed to offer the preschool experience to low income children.

But the fact remains that to this day, some fifty years later, a chance meeting with one of those childhood bullies can transport me right back to that awful feeling of worthlessness. I consciously steel my shoulders to prevent them from slumping, and it takes every ounce of courage to meet the eyes that once looked upon me with disdain.

As a parent, I understand the reason my mother hadn’t wanted to be reminded of the bullying that most of her children endured. There wasn’t much she could do about it, except suffer with them. Even as a child, I soon realized that. The one time I arrived home in tears, knees and palms skinned because I’d fallen as I ran from a group of boys throwing snowballs at me, her eyes betrayed her own pain as she feebly tried to convince me that boys only picked on girls they liked. I didn’t come home crying again. I couldn’t bear to see my mother’s hurt, just as she couldn’t bear to be reminded that her children had once suffered at the hands of others.

I don’t have the answer to bullying. I only know that, having experienced it, I want my corner of the world to be filled with kindness. And maybe it’s that simple; beginning in our own homes, teaching our children kindness and compassion while emulating it ourselves. Kindness might be one of the most powerful and underrated agent of social change there is.

How can one person make a difference? By keeping in mind that every human being faces their own private battle. Showing compassion and love for even the most unpleasant and disagreeable among us. Speaking up when we observe an act of meanness. Remembering that words hurt and being careful with our own. It isn’t always easy. Sometimes our kindness is rebuffed. Our intentions misread. Avoiding gossip and mean-spiritedness can be difficult in a workplace or environment that thrives upon such banter. When the desire for approval from our peers supersedes our good intentions, it can feel like a risk, but it’s one worth taking. The future of our world depends on it.

Don’t be a chicken. Always choose kindness.

 

Galatians 5:22 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,”