On one of my last evenings in San Miguel de Allende, I was invited by a friend to come along to a party to celebrate Joseph’s birthday. That’s the way it is in San Miguel. Connections matter. And they happen immediately! We were ruminating all day about what Joseph asked us to bring as a birthday gift: Sharing a random act of kindness that each of us had given freely to the world without expectating anything in return. The mantra is to focus out!
Now, to set the stage: Joseph is of an undisclosed age. Let’s just say, he’s somewhere between late thirty-something and wiser. Who knows? He would not tell. More importantly, Joseph is like what many aspire to become but rarely achieve: sassy, smart, theatrical, witty, and on top of the world. Joseph teaches acting and improvisation in San Miguel. He inspires students to let go and discover. They love him for it.
Joseph and his partner Eli perch on a mountain top in a home layered, almost sculpted, into the hillside. San Miguel is at their feet below. Joseph is from the U.S.A. Eli was born and raised in Mexico City. They are a perfect example of the San Miguel melange and mystique.
Joseph and Eli are passionate about life, sustainability, giving back and paying forward. They are active volunteers involved with non-profits that help local Mexicans. That’s why Joseph said, don’t bring a gift. Share a random act of kindness.
So, after we circled the resplendent table laden with the potluck dishes that could have been catered by the finest professional chefs but weren’t, after pouring bottles of wine, after tasting the homemade red velvet cake perfectly executed, after scooping the handcrafted ice creams and gelatos, after consuming the fresh fruit custard tart, we circled up on the terrace overlooking the sparkling town below.
It was there in the twilight that each guest told how they randomly (and not so randomly) were committed to creating a better world for others. One person extended a helping hand to an old woman, another gave a contribution to a street person, another made a gift to help a school boy fund his education, one gave roses to strangers as a gesture of loving kindness, another gifted food to a shelter, one started a spay/neuter program for street dogs, one bought sheet music and supplies for local musicians, another raised concern about costs to buy books and uniforms for local children to go to public schools (a disincentive to further education for poor families). The sharing became a discussion about how to start an organized support system to raise enough money to underwrite these expenses at $325 USD per child per year. The small acts of kindness add up.
By bringing us together, Joseph gave us a gift in celebration of his birthday. Our gift to him was the food and drink we provided for the table to share. His gift to us was his energy and creativity to raise our awareness for how important it is to continually and consciously make the world a better place for all. On this night, that resulted in starting a social action program that would make a difference for school children in the region.
During my leadership training five years ago at The Legacy Center in Durham, NC, one challenge was to approach a stranger and perform a selfless, random act of kindness. This is not something we as a society are comfortable with nor have we incorporated easily into our complex social norms and rituals. That’s why it is considered an opportunity to go from Me to We.
Who knows what would happen if you modeled the same approach at your next birthday celebration? Want to try it? There’s an old Talmudic saying: to do something positive will make a difference for seven generations.
And, yes, connections matter.
Today, I’m in Los Angeles with my son after spending a week in Santa Cruz, California, with my 96-1/2 year-old mother who is in declining health, and after a day-and-a-half romp around San Francisco with my sister. I am midway through my return trip from Oaxaca to North Carolina. From here, I meet my husband Stephen for three weeks on a quiet lake in Maine. Then, back to NC, then back to Oaxaca for our Day of the Dead Photography Expedition. Today, I am far from Oaxaca, though she is always in my heart and in my mind’s eye.