Random Acts of Awkward
Recently, while at the beach with friends, it was pointed out to me that we (my kids and I) randomly compliment people a lot. It's not on accident but I suppose it can take some getting used to. This habit comes from a couple of different places. One: our middle kid, Teddy, is everyone's hype man. He has always been very affectionate and supportive. He's the first to tell his sisters they look pretty, to praise a sibling's artwork and to lift someone up verbally that's struggling. No joke, every time we lift weights, Teddy cruises through the carport and calls out things like "You've got this, Mom!" I wish I had his gift for easy, heartfelt compliments! Everyone needs a Teddy in their life. Having someone like that in the house makes all of us aware of the power of a well placed kind word.
The second reason is a little more...
sensitive. For the sake of not calling anyone out or bad-mouthing a friend publicly, I'll be vague. In my past, there was someone that unintentionally made my relationship with a dear friend very competitive. My grandmother acted similarly concerning my cousins. (I don't mind diming Grandma out because she's gone and I don't mean it hatefully.) We rarely heard from Grandma and saw her even less. On the couple of occasions we did speak on the phone or receive letters, she spent the entire time talking about our cousins. They were so cute, so funny, and doing amazing things. My cousin Jennifer "could have been a model, she's so tall," and my cousin Taylor could do no wrong and was so close to Grandma she even had her own special name for her. Yay for them. She didn't ask us questions about what was going on in our life and she certainly never said kind things about us. I resented my cousins for their many talents and their relationship with her. Closer to home, I constantly heard about how great this friend was: so pretty, thin, dainty feet, very talented, so well liked by everyone, always making friends, and on and on and on. She was all of those things! What made it hard, though, was that I never heard good things about myself. If she was thin and delicate, in comparison I was "sturdier" with "big bones." I was reminded that I was too shy, had massively wide feet, cankles, looked terrible in pink, and countless other tiny criticisms that I fight against to this day. These were never said in a mean way. It was more like, you should be honest about what you're dealing with. I didn't learn until much, much later that the friend had the same experience, but about me! I'll never know what the reasoning was behind it, but this person only ever built us up to each other. I never heard any of the nice things said about me and she never heard any of the nice things said about her. We were pitted against each other, constantly comparing ourselves to the other girl and feeling like there was nothing good to say about us. Sad, right?
As an adult, I started to notice how easy and automatic it was to say nice things about other people out of their hearing. For one, the church we've been a part of for the almost 7 years we've lived on Oahu is very non-catty. I've lived places where the gossip mill is pervasive and lethal, where "Christian" women stand together in small groups and tear each other apart for sport. Hearing "bless her heart" in any tone other than sarcasm gives me PTSD. As a youth minister's wife I received hate mail in the form of a photocopied article about "How You Can Tell You're a Snob" with a handwritten note telling me that I should read more to find out why no one liked me! Jesus would be proud. Not so in our church family. With the women in my church, there is a real, active effort put into speaking life and love into the people around us. You'll never hear one of them complaining about their husbands! In some ways, it can feel inauthentic at times for this enneagram 4 who desperately needs to be able to talk about the good and the bad, the hard and the wonderful. But it's done out of love for good reasons and I digress. It's very natural and familiar to have a friend leave the group and immediately hear things like "Doesn't that color look great on her?" or "I love her hair like that!" It's a wonderful place to nurture relationships and I love that my kids have these adults modeling friendships for them! It did occur to me, though, that the one person that might like to hear those compliments most was the person we were speaking about; the person who had just walked away!
So, as a general rule, the Braddocks like to tell people the nice things we're thinking about them, when we think them. I'm not going to lie, it can be awkward. We're genuine but not particularly smooth. I think of them as my Random Acts of Awkward, especially when it involves strangers. It hasn't happened often, but I have had total strangers say something unexpectedly kind to me before and it 100% made my day. It shouldn't be this way but my husband telling me I look nice doesn't have the same impact because he's stuck with me! Of course I want him to think I'm pretty and I definitely want him to say it, but he's said it at some incredibly questionable times over the years so I don't entirely trust his judgement. He thought I was pretty when I gained 75 pounds and incredibly swollen with an intense about of water weight while pregnant with our first! He loves me. His love goggles don't have the same impact as a total stranger, like the teenage guy working at Starbucks, telling me my hair is bad ass! That dude has no reason to say ANYTHING nice to me! I'm storing it up in my mind vault and trotting that sucker out every time I'm feeling fragile!
Considering I feel that way, it stands to reason that other people should too. Enter me, yelling out my window at a woman running that she looks awesome in her leggings. I'm not sure she appreciated it. I'm going to tell myself she did though. She did look awesome though and I thought she should know it! I've also yelled at a high schooler walking along the road that he has amazing hair. He looked scared. I stand by my assessment though. His hair was killah. Sometimes it's more successful, like the older lady at the library with a sassy haircut full of wild curls. When I told her I loved her hair her smile lit up the room and she admitted she had just decided it was time to work with her natural hair texture. Well, it more than works, my friend, your hair is amazing!
Because I'm me, I took this one step further. I started to think about those little random acts of kindness in terms of a story. What kind of person might need little, anonymous kind words to tell others what she noticed? And what might happen if she reached out to someone in their moment of greatest emotional need, and she found someone who could truly see her? How might a broken, hurting man and a woman who hides behind the safe wall of her anonymous good deeds allow themselves to be vulnerable enough to have something real together? This was the first book that I wrote and is the story closest to my heart. I love these characters and the journey they take! It's also the only book I've written that isn't set in Hawaii so I'm still debating where it's release should fit in the order of things. I've been tentatively calling it "Random Notes of Kindness," but I can't decide if I hate the title or not. What do you think? Anyone have a better title for an emotional love story about a meet cute involving anonymous notecards, volunteer work, and a found family in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia?