it’s a breeze

The Best Advice So Far - it's a breeze - curtain fluttering at an open window

One day last week, I wished a friend of mine a happy birthday. He turned 30 and was feeling old. Interestingly enough, he was a sophomore in high school when I met him, and I was older than he is now. So I was able to paint a convincing picture for him as to just how young he still is.

As we talked about getting older, a famous quote came to mind:

“With age comes wisdom.”

Yet I’m inclined to agree with the second half of Oscar Wilde’s observation on the matter:

“… but sometimes age comes alone.”

I don’t need to look very far to find middle-aged adults who are just as petty, rash, irresponsible or egocentric as they were when they were teenagers. (Some, in fact, are even worse off now than when they were younger.) Likewise, I know many in their twenties who are quite well-adjusted and have exemplary character.

That is, wisdom comes not merely from experience but from intention to ponder that experiences. To learn from it. To make new choices.

To change.

Well, after this exchange with my still-young friend, my eye was immediately drawn to a seemingly trivial bit of movement in my living room—a sight so familiar to me that, if not for that particular conversation, it would certainly not have been noteworthy let alone served as the inspiration for a blog post.

At the open window, the edge of a sheer white curtain floated and fluttered in the spring air.

In that moment, I was transported to a particular night in February back when my birthday friend was still in high school. He and a dozen or so other guys his age were gathered in my home on a Monday night for our weekly meet-up. They crowded onto the olive green sectional or found space on the living room floor, happily munching on pizza, which was the norm.

The conversation that night coalesced around a theme. Many of them expressed that they invited change, that they wanted more for their lives, that they were open to deeper connection with others and a sense of real purpose. They came faithfully each week, ready to absorb. They were honest about who they were and where they excelled or struggled. They took part in discussions and read books. But they hadn’t seen the personal progress they’d expected “by now.” They still weren’t feeling or experiencing whatever it was they thought they should be feeling or experiencing.

One or two of them even hinted that they were disappointed that the other group members hadn’t gone to greater lengths in supporting them during the week between meetings.

Where was the magic that would grant them the life they were looking for?

As they continued sharing their thoughts, I got up and headed for the kitchen, presumably to grab another slice of pizza for myself. What no one noticed was that, on the way, I cranked the heat up another ten degrees.

Even at a moderate 70°, I can tell you that 15 teenage boys will heat up a room quickly. With the thermostat now at 80°, it wasn’t long before the sweat was trickling and they were begging for relief.

Instead of lowering the thermostat, I opened the two windows along one side of the room. “Let’s see if this cools things down quickly.” But even though it was a frigid winter night, the temperature in the room didn’t drop by even one degree. No air was coming in from those open windows.

“That’s not working,” they moaned. “Can you just turn the heat down?”

I had them where I wanted them. Breaking the current flow of conversation, I said, “The windows are wide open. Why do you think the cold air isn’t coming in?”

One of them held his hand up to a screen, as if he thought for a moment that maybe a tropical heat wave had mysteriously descended upon New England. I could see that they were thinking. Another offered, “Maybe there’s no wind tonight.”

After a minute or so more, when I was sure their minds were open, I got up without a word and disappeared down the short hall. I opened my bedroom door (which I knew they would hear). Twenty seconds later, I returned and stood in the center of the room. I pointed to the open windows and, as if I were a sorcerer, freezing air whooshed into the room. In less than a minute, they were bundling up in the hoodies they’d so recently discarded; and within two, they were shivering and had had enough.

I turned down the thermostat, closed one window, leaving the other open just an inch or so as I revealed to them how I’d gotten that air to come in—to transform a stagnant space with something new and refreshing.

My secret? I had opened another window.

Currently, every single person on the planet is affected in some way by the current coronavirus pandemic. Many are feeling fearful, worried, overwhelmed, tired, alone. But I’m just as convinced now as ever that the remedy is not to simply “sit by the window” in our stuffy little spaces, wondering when joy will start coming back into our lives.

Air only comes in when we open another window to let it flow back out. Likewise, I’ve found that life remains stagnant if we merely sit around wishing for fortune to smile upon us (and grumbling when it doesn’t meet our timetable). No, most often positivity comes into our lives only when we open windows that let it flow through us and out again.

I’m not talking solely about karma here (though I’m not debating it either). I’m talking about actionable cause-and-effect.

Are you waiting by the window for feelings of isolation to end? It’s easy to imagine that a virus or social distancing restrictions are the cause of those feelings. But they really aren’t. I know people who live in the same house and yet feel isolated. Conversely, I know people who haven’t seen one another in months or years, yet who sustain real connection. So actively seek to open windows of connection with others. It’s been my observation during the times I am out in public—grocery shopping, for instance—that the masks and gloves and six-foot rules are beginning to cause people to mistakenly see each other as the threat, rather than the actual virus. But we are not the enemy. We are allies, in this together. Yes, it may feel strange. But we’re all the same people we were before this began. So make eye contact. Say hello. Smile and wave to your next-door neighbor when you go out to check your mail. The best way to start feeling connected is to take the initiative and be a connector.

Are you in need of encouragement? Open windows to encourage others. Call and check in with someone. Send a text to share a fun memory with a friend or family member. You may be surprised how quickly you yourself begin to feel encouraged.

Are you feeling weighed down by the onslaught of information about all that seems wrong with the world? Turn off the news and go be the window to something right with the world.

Today, after food shopping, I pulled into a drive-through to get a breakfast sandwich. Another driver arrived from a different direction at the same time, but waved me on to go first. In return, I secretly paid for his order with my own (which cost me about two bucks). Each of us had played a small part in reminding the other of what’s right with the world. I drove away smiling—feeling connected, encouraged and cheerful.

Every one of us has something we can contribute to what’s right with the world. And we can do that right now. No need to wait for the pandemic to subside or restrictions to be lifted.

Are you a musician? Share a song or video concert for others to enjoy.

Do you bake or garden? Make a batch of cookies or pot a small plant, and leave it on someone’s doorstep along with a kind note. Really, any gift, however small, would go a long way. A little bag of birdseed for someone’s birdfeeder. A board game you don’t use anymore. A book you enjoyed.

Are you a carpenter? Build a birdhouse and give it away.

Spend a lot of time on social media? Go beyond hitting “like” or “share” and leave a personal comment or send an uplifting message. Be deliberate about sharing positive posts rather than negative news, controversial content or political persuasions.

Money is tight for many right now. But could you donate even just one dollar to a worthwhile charity that will help someone else in need?

Don’t have a dollar? Do you have enough spare change for a stamp you could use to mail a hand-written note to someone who might be feeling down or forgotten?

As an author and blogger, I’m using my words to promote hope and happiness where I’m able.

Here’s my “best advice”: stop sitting despondently by that same window, waiting for good things to start happening. Get up. Go open a few windows outward to the world. Before you know it, you’ll feel the winds of positive change beginning to stir.

The Best Advice So Far: The winds of positive change can only blow IN when we open windows for it to get OUT.

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