The Common Good

Paying It Forward Ends Up Paying It Backward Too

People mill about the magazine rack near my cozy chair at Barnes & Noble. In between chapters, I send them silent love bombs. I hope, somehow, their day is brightened, that they will feel unexpected relief. I especially focus on the grumpier sorts, or the two loud women, or the dude who smells of cigarette smoke, or the crying child and angry mum (my personal fave).

Rejoicing figure, Cheryl Casey/ Shutterstock.com
Rejoicing figure, Cheryl Casey/ Shutterstock.com

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On the other side of the rack, a scrawny pair of corduroy legs with a metal cane catches my eye. I feel . . . a bond. For years, I was convinced that my dwarfed, arthritic body could only bring me rejection and pain. Eventually, Iʼd realized Iʼd adopted those practices toward myself. Ouch. I wonder if the tired corduroys have done the same.

Silently, I begin the “Prayer of Thy Healing Angels” from Lorna Byrne. I started this habit a while ago when I realized how disconnected I felt from the world. Iʼd reserved my energy for a small circle of friends and family. But there was suffering all around and I felt powerless to help. I was not particularly philanthropic. Activists made me squirm.

Years of soul-searching, though, left me with a deeper compassion for myself and so a growing empathy for others. Even the chowderheads. The very least I could do was send them light.

Iʼd thought my love bombs would be altruistic. Then a weird thing happened. It was helping me. Comforting me.

Wait.

I was trying to be selfless, darn it. Making up for lost time. So I added more ʻtangibleʼ random acts of kindness. I paid for peopleʼs car tolls. I bought little kidʼs “art” at craft fairs. I waved cars out in front of my car. I let people go ahead of me in grocery store lines (especially moms with kids). It all felt awesome. For me. Hmm.

Iʼd read double-blind studies where patients who were prayed for had significantly improved over patients who didnʼt receive the vibes (and neither group had a clue). What I didnʼt fully realize was that those who reach out from their hearts are likewise being calmed, cherished.

Sweet.

This is good news for the insecure, self-serving, distracted parts of me that donʼt want to give unless itʼs reciprocal. It turns out that it is always reciprocal. Fire at will.

The man uneasily squats down in front of the magazines. I feel a familiar rush – envy and amazement. My whole life, Iʼve ached to do deep knee bends. At night, sometimes I dream I can hug my knees to my chest, kneel, straighten my arms, tie my own shoes, or some other Olympian feat. Such indescribable joys! Then I wake up.

A sadness follows me for a while. It takes time to adjust my antenna back to what I can do.

Sir Corduroy rises out of his Herculean squat. As he steadies his wobbliness, I quietly cheer. Those legs arenʼt as nifty as some, but theyʼre doing the best they can. I bless his regal body. Then I realize, with surprise, Iʼm appreciating my own.

Iʼve come to love this cherub bod far more than I ever thought possible. Wow. She wonʼt win any beauty contests or marathons. She wonʼt be dazzling any runways or airbrushed on the pages of Vogue. Sheʼs a broken down vehicle in a showroom of BMWs. She turns heads for all the hard reasons. But sheʼs my bombshell anyway. Sheʼs gone the whole freakinʼ distance with me and for me. Sheʼs beautiful for all the right reasons.

My dear body has been a relentless teacher. Sheʼs a megaphone for what matters and sheʼs a barometer for when I forget. Sheʼs my home on the earthly adventure my soul longed to explore. She lets me take a crack at loving the ʻunlovable.ʼ She asks for compassion in the midst of pain, surgery, and lifelong scars.

Sometimes, I sulk over an old wound. I freak about the future. There are days when my knee swells up or my shoulders hurt from typing, painting, or sleeping. Then I remember the simple practice. Itʼs free and painless – I take my mind off my problems by praying for friends and strangers. Taking a vacation from my noisy complaints, fears, and impending doom heals the distance between us. It summons the soul.

In my periphery, as I watch cane and corduroys limp away, my eyes tear. I feel a new tenderness for myself, through him. I remember how far Iʼve come. Life bombed me back.

So when loss knocks at my door, a health issue barges in, an economy tanks, a friend walks away, a relationship dies, money is scarce, hope dies, or my dinner burns, I lean into the light. I shift my incendiary BS (belief system) away from “Iʼm separate and alone” and remember my dreams are interwoven with yours.

Whatever we give, we get to keep.

Whether you pass a car accident or youʼre stuck in traffic – whether you have to see the doctor, lawyer, or your ex – whether youʼre in pain or youʼre being a pain, load up on love bombs. Go nuclear. It will bless your own burns.

Begin with the next person you see or think of. Nail ʻem with light. Then open your catcherʼs mitt. Itʼs coming back home, brighter than before.

Bombs away people.

Julie Bond Genovese is an inspirational speaker, workshop leader, artist and the author of her bestselling memoir, Nothing Short of Joy . This piece originally appeared on MariaShriver.com HERE .

Image: Rejoicing figure, Cheryl Casey/ Shutterstock.com

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