Stories of Kindness from Around the World


--by JS from Berkeley, posted Jan 14, 2006

Warm and humid, it's raining lightly here in North Carolina. With all its grass and trees, the state seems to be covered in green. I flew here today, lifted and carried in on wings of compassion, fluttering in unison from so many. This is a tale of the joyous celebration of life that occurs when kindness is unleashed and allowed to fly free. I feel fortunate just knowing of this story, but having been able to participate in it has been an incredible blessing.

It all came about a couple weeks back, as I was sharing with some friends a story of my good friend Sandra from North Carolina and all the fun we used to have.

My Friend Sandra

About 11 years ago, I had posted signs around Berkeley, California, hoping to start a "Thinkers Support Group" - a group aimed at seeing the world as it is, without discounting our own feelings, emotions, and spirits. One morning, Sandra walked down from the forest after a night of contemplation, when she happened upon the sign. In a state of clarity, it hit her that this is exactly what she was looking for and so she called me up.

From that moment on, Sandra and I instantly became best of friends. Sandra was a vibrant personality - slightly manic, incredibly brilliant, with a fire and zest for life I had never quite seen before. In her presence, my own esprit and wackiness were set free, and together we were totally out of control. Sandra and I would walk the streets in dresses, drink green beer the 17th of each month, and scream "Mariposa!" at the tops of our lungs for no reason whatsoever -- "mariposa" being the Spanish word for "butterfly."

Things got even more out of control when we moved in together into a tiny studio apartment right next to UC Berkeley where she was attending. The upstairs unit of this little cottage was darling and very inexpensive. The only hitch was that Helen, an 87 year old woman who rented out the small unit, lived in the large house in front and had a strict policy of no boys. Naturally, with me being a boy, in the spirit of true adventure we had to figure a way around this.

Sandra flirted with a guy working at the coffee shop behind our unit and was able to get a key through the alley gate. From there, I would prop up a step and jump the fence, then hoist a tall ladder to the second story window. I would unlock the padlock we had placed on the outside of the window, climb in and then lower the ladder back down with an attached rope. Our system was perfect and allowed me to go in and out at will, without Helen ever having to know.

We lived together as friends, with a sheet dividing the small space into two, very inexpensive rooms. Two forces now united, our insanity would only multiply.

One day as I was climbing up the ladder, a woman yelled out from the street across the alley, asking me what I was doing. I reassured her that I wasn't a cat burglar, breaking in, but that I lived there. Unfortunately, that woman was Helen's daughter and our days of splendor and mad fun were quickly brought to a halt.

As with most stories, Sandra and I eventually went in different directions, but would always share a deep connection.

As I told this story to my friends, it inevitably led back to Sandra's life now - and how her story takes a turn in a less fun direction.

At age 28, Sandra married her fiancé from Argentina. Just days after their marriage, Sandra had a funny feeling. This feeling was immediately diagnosed as breast cancer, which required a double mastectomy and a long, difficult process of chemotherapy. In her characteristic joie de vivre, Sandra embraced the cancer as an obstacle to overcome and as an opportunity to grow spiritually. Without entertaining sadness, Sandra celebrated the chance to be bald and embraced her new perky breasts. If ever there was a positive cancer patient, it was Sandra.

Eventually, Sandra prevailed and was able to go back to living her life, enjoying her restored health and marriage. Yet her new life was way too short-lived as new tests would soon reveal. After only nine months, her cancer was back and had spread throughout her body. Without any known cures for advanced breast cancer, doctors had estimated her chance of survival was now at a very slim 3 - 10% - a sliver of hope to allow for the miraculous. What these statistics of course could never account for was the vibrancy of Sandra's spirit. Nevertheless, her battle to stay alive was going to be a fierce one.

Caterpillars Crawling

Sandra was getting great care, but as I told this story to my friends, I knew that Sandra was right in the middle of this fragile and very difficult process. When I was asked if I had ever visited her, the answer was no. I hadn't. I had chosen a path of unpaid service work and thoughts of flying to visit people generally never entered my field of the possible. With this question, however, I immediately realized how special this would be and quickly began entertaining the notion. My friend also suggested that we should do something for her and again, this immediately rang true. Of course we should! But what?

One friend, Gary, suggested that we make a mandala for Sandra with chalk. This is something we had done before on various occasions. We would usually wake up super early and gather together at sunrise to create intricate patterns of beauty with chalk or rice flower (rangoli) in public spaces. We would then leave and let people discover this anonymous expression of love. The word "mandala" means healing circle and to create a healing circle for Sandra, with her name right in the center, sounded like the perfect thing to do. Doing this on campus at UC Berkeley, right where Sandra attended, would have an even greater impact, letting her know that her life really mattered and was causing a butterfly effect on the other side of the country, even as she lie sick in bed in North Carolina. But could we embellish this even more?

One thought was to get a bunch of people to all send her cards or have everyone sign one giant card. Then it occurred to me... mariposas!

With no time to waste, I created some black and white butterflies to cut out and color. The idea was to ask random people passing by if they would like to color a butterfly in honor of Sandra, or write an inspiring message on the back. My friends Felipe and Nicky recruited volunteers and we all set out one morning.

It was the day before the first day of the new school year. The campus was full of new students going through orientation. We picked a spot right in front of Sather Gate - a central landmark on campus - and there we went to work.

Some of us laid out and colored the chalk mandala. Others busied themselves with cutting out the butterfly shapes or coloring them. Some wrote inspiring messages and others greeted people passing by, inviting them to join in. At one moment, I looked up and saw so many of us all engaged in various activities - those special, childlike kinds of activities we hadn't been involved in since grade school - and it was just so much fun. The response was overwhelmingly positive. People enjoyed chiming in to help lift the spirit of a fellow human being - it just didn't matter that they had never met nor probably ever would meet this stranger in distress.

I was so excited that Sandra would receive so many good wishes and blessings. The miracle of it all was in the selfless expression of so many who were contributing. Without such extraordinary collective good will, nothing like this would ever have been possible. It was truly a celebration of the golden thread - the life, the love, the compassion, the hope, the kindness - that weaves through and unites us all.

Everything unfolded beautifully on that day - the mandala sat right smack there in the center of campus. One person pointed out that this would seriously flavor the very first experience of college for many. With a stack of finished mariposas in hand, I couldn't wait to mail these off to Sandra, just hoping that she would put them up on her wall for inspiration.

Spinning a Cocoon

Just when it seemed like we had pulled off something wonderful - a beautiful medley having been sung - conspiring minds turned up the amperage. A little package was dropped off at my house, composed of a beautiful, handmade card and an enlarged "smile card," from, that said "Smile. You've just been tagged! Experiments in Anonymous Kindness is the name of the game, and now - you're it!" I was it.

The third part of this little package was a printed itinerary for an airline trip to North Carolina to hand deliver the butterflies to Sandra! This was a huge gift! Wow!

As I adjusted my plans for an unexpected trip to North Carolina, the kindness fever began to grow even more. I was informed that another anonymous person had insisted on paying for a rental car while I was there. And yet another person had reached out to a friend in North Carolina who opened up his house to allow me to stay there during my visit.

A network of kindness was quickly spinning together an incredible tale - a message of hope for Sandra and beyond. People from all corners were joining together to say yes to life! To join in on a spontaneous expression of goodness all centered around one person no one had even met. As for me, I felt as if I were just an enabler of this great tale - allowing the goodness to flow and providing an excuse for people to share the best of themselves.

In the next couple days, with the help of more friends, many more colored butterflies came in, and soon I was on my way. As I looked through the collection of beautiful butterflies, I found that there were some with inspiring messages that had yet to be colored. With two connecting flights to North Carolina, I set my sights on the strangers sitting next to me. When I asked one young woman if she wanted to do something fun, she quickly looked around for any possible empty seats. Fortunately, she gave me a chance and had a blast, even offering Sandra her favorite CD.

It was so much fun coloring with the people next to me. There is something so primary and joyous about just coloring. Coloring as an act of compassion is the perfect excuse to become like children again.

Butterfly Arrival

When I arrived at Sandra's house, I shared with her and her family the story of how we had gathered together on campus to create a mandala for her. I showed her pictures of the mandala event and the many people involved. I told them of the butterflies, and gave her a box filled with hundreds. Sandra looked at each one - all beautifully colored with love. She read the backs, one by one, each filled with inspiring messages like "Blessed are the flexible, for we shall not be bent out of shape," and "There is nothing that the human spirit can not overcome with a smile." As Sandra looked at the butterflies, tears rolled down her face. She couldn't believe the overflow of compassion that had just flooded into her life.

I told her of the incredible kindness that had brought me over to North Carolina and had even delivered a rental car and a place to stay. I shared with them the smile cards, and the many stories and individual acts of kindness that all made up the bigger story.

Everyone there was moved. I was able to spend several days with Sandra and her family. She was going to the hospital every day and was very weak, but her spirit was just as vibrant and positive as ever. We talked and philosophized, meditated and laughed. It was really priceless to have been given the opportunity to spend such precious time with my good friend. And I know it meant a lot to her too.

On the last day, everything came full circle when I was able to put up the butterflies. From the hallway ceiling, they flew into her room and covered her ceiling, spilling slightly down onto the walls. They literally looked magical, alive and beautiful - forming different patterns of flight and genuinely appeared to be flying. The effect was extraordinary and I knew that when I left, Sandra would be in good shape as she had received and was surrounded by some of the greatest energy the world has to offer.

Flying Away

On the way out, I stopped by the Human Kindness Foundation nearby, founded by Bo and Sita Lozoff. Much of their work involves a Prison-Ashram Project, which is designed to connect prisoners and prison staff with their own deeper selves. Most of their work is conducted through mail correspondence, but they also offer living space to some. There, I met some truly inspiring people - ex-prisoners who had been transformed and were devoting their lives now to inner peace and helping others. I told them all about my friend Sandra and again, unstoppably, the kindness began to flow. I was given photos of butterflies and little messages of inspiration to pass along to Sandra.

What this experience has shown, above all else, is that we truly share a core connection with one another. Modern life has taught us that we are all separate beings and oftentimes, we limit our care to ourselves and to those most close to us. In reality, these walls of separation aren't much different from prison walls. It is when we tear down these limitations that love and compassion and kindness can flow in and around like mariposas. Your walls are all your own - to keep or to break through.

Wishing you wings...

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Readers Comments

KraftKindness wrote: What a wonderful & inspiring story! Thank you for sharing!
jsmc10 wrote: Such a beautiful, inspiring story, you both sound so incredibly strong, i am very sorry about your friends diagnoses :(
Lawrie wrote: Beautiful love and kindness divine. Thanks a million. Namaste.

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