The icing on the cake

Kara80s-8Years ago when we were young and ambitious and thought we had a lot to prove, a friend of mine began to prepare a birthday celebration for his girlfriend. As on any birthday, the crown jewel of the celebration would be a cake, but this one would be her favorite flavor, made from scratch.

Everything went according to plan–until it didn’t. In the middle of the cake prep, the power went out. Okay, you say. These things happen. She’ll understand. I mean, really, is it that big a deal? Just go to the store and buy a cake. Take her out to eat and finish it later. It’s just a cake.

Nope. That wasn’t the point. That cake was his labor of love, an all-in dedication of the work of his hands. It was important.

The next step in the recipe was to beat egg whites into stiff peaks. You have to beat fast and hard and continuously for some time before those snotty little suckers finally submit and stand at attention, a feat normally best accomplished by an electric mixer. With no power and thus no mixer, my friend simply grabbed a wooden spoon and got started.

After nearly 25 minutes of beating (and probably laughter and sweat and finally, cursing), those snotty little suckers eventually submitted to his hand and stood at attention. Mission accomplished.

The power came back on in time for the rest of his cake bakery to proceed without incident; the birthday celebration went off without another hitch. In fact, I don’t know if my friend ever told his girlfriend what he had done.

In the grand scheme of things, is this really a big deal? People roll with the punches every day. We take detours, make allowances, adjust our expectations and move on.

Or do we?

How often do we go the extra mile for another person? More importantly, how often do we go that mile when we may not get credit for it? You couldn’t tell the effort that went into that cake just by looking at it, so did it really matter?

Yes, yes it did.

This, my friends, is caring. It’s what we do for the people we love to make their lives better. We go the extra mile when the bottom falls out, when we’re tired, or when they need us. We do it because we can and because we love them, not for the recognition. Real love is not transactional.

Love your people every chance you get.

 

Taking time

I dropped my daughter off at camp today, which is located about 35 miles north of where I live. Since I work about 35 miles south of where I live, camp day always means a lot of driving. Every year I feel rushed and guilty for arriving late on the job, so by the time I reach the car after I’ve made up my daughter’s bunk and said my good-byes, I have one thing on my mind: getting to work as fast as I can.

Today also happens to be my grandmother’s ninety-eighth birthday. That’s right, she’s 98. She also lives about 15 miles from the camp, in a little town that lies squarely in my trajectory to work. Even so, I was prepared to let passing through the town serve as a reminder to call her to express my love and birthday greetings.

As I reached the town’s edge, I found myself thinking of a friend who very recently lost his mother. Late or not, I couldn’t squander an opportunity to tell my grandmother I love her. Instead of continuing doggedly down the highway, I turned my car into the parking lot of a floral shop and bought my grandma a bouquet of summer flowers. Then I headed to her apartment and gave her a hug.

I’m glad I took the time.

Happy birthday, grandma.

More than a feeling

I have come to realize that feelings don’t count for much. What does count is the action–or inaction–that accompanies them.

I’m not saying that feelings are worthless. On the contrary, feelings measure what is important to us, and they often serve as the launch pad for the deeds and behaviors that make us who we are. They can spur us toward activity or leave us huddled in a corner. But feelings without actions are just, well, feelings. They don’t do anything.

Think of it this way. Say you really appreciate a co-worker’s diligence and appreciation to detail. Does that appreciation make a difference to anyone if you keep it to yourself?

Or you love your kids, your mom, your spouse, your dog. Until you demonstrate that love through your actions, does it matter to them? How does your good feeling translate into something meaningful in their lives?

Or say you didn’t get a promotion you thought you deserved and now you’re disappointed and angry. Can’t you give value to those feelings by letting them drive you to work harder, perform better, and speak up for yourself?

Of course, feelings can also spur negative action or even paralysis. Regardless, if left untended and unacted upon, feelings only matter to the person experiencing them. Whether positive or negative, it’s not the feeling itself, but rather the demonstration of it that makes it count to anyone but you.

Love someone? Hate the way your neighborhood looks? Enjoy a friend’s company? Appreciate a staff member’s initiative? Feel sad for a friend who is suffering? Then do something about it. Otherwise, you’re the only one who cares.