Bringing Some Love To New York City
Posted by Shephali Patel on Jul 25, 2007
Another glorious Saturday afternoon in Central Park found the Lemonade Brigade - -Pavitra, Ria, Chintan, Amitabh, Birju, Shephali, and Adam – ready to collect more smiles and give out some liquid love! Week one of our experiment in kindness went so well that we decided to set up our gift-economy lemonade stand at the exact same spot as we did last week.
As usual, our blown-up smile card poster started drawing in the crowds before the lemonade was ready to be served. Pavitra has become a seasoned professional in the art of lemonade-making after just one week, and worked tirelessly to make sure the mouthwatering lemonade kept flowing. Ria, our 2.5-year-old Ambassador of Smiles, had on another one of her adorable outfits and this time came armed with a bubble-making gun to entertain the passersby – who could resist that? And the rest of us were brimming with energy and the anticipation of connecting with people that on any other day would have been random strangers, but today would soon become our friends in service.
The experiences we had this week were characterized by the sharing of kindness stories:
- We met a filmmaker named Lisa who is currently working on a documentary on happiness and kindness story, with her daughter Kayla doing camerawork. She stopped to discuss with me how she is going about trying to capture the “heartprints” that people leave behind in the world. A truly beautiful concept. We hope to see Lisa and Kayla again next week!
- Two lovely people out for a stroll in the park stopped to tell us about themselves and the work they are involved with. Kenli volunteers with a group called Musicians on Call to bring music to patients in healthcare facilities in an effort to complement the healing process. His strolling companion is a writer for AOL Latino and thinks our kindness experiment is something her readers would love to hear about!
- One interesting fellow informed us that he repairs bikes for free through Craig’s List and all he asks for in return is…... you guessed it, a SMILE! Either he must have been so moved by our discussion of the concept behind Smile Cards, or I was looking some kind of scruffy, because he asked me if I wanted some new pants. After I told him to give them away to someone else, he asked me if I wanted one of the thousand-dollar jackets that his wife designs! In the spirit of our gift-economy lemonade stand, I armed him with more smile cards and told him to give the items away to someone else.
It was truly inspiring and heartening to hear these and other stories that day – every day people trying to give a part of themselves to make the world a better place.
We also saw an almost inherent desire in people to forge connections with the other people around them and the world they live in:
- The street magician who regularly performs by the Central Park Zoo came by to visit us again as if we were all old friends.
- Two elderly ladies stopped to have an extensive discussion on how they could actually feel the emotional barriers that some people put around themselves. They said they would use the Smile Cards to break through these barriers whenever they sensed them again. As the two ladies left to leave, not more than 15 feet away from the lemonade stand, they gave a random gentleman both a glass of lemonade and a Smile Card. The gentleman not knowing what just happened to him, approached the lemonade stand so we could explain it to him! He was quite warmed by the idea and said he couldn’t wait to get home to tell his family the extraordinary thing we had witnessed today.
- We walked over a couple lemonades and Smile Cards to four Park Rangers taking a break from the sweltering sun. They were bewildered by the fact that the lemonade was free and that we had thought of bringing it to them without being asked. They thanked us again and again and discussed bringing acts of kindness to the park for the next 30 minutes of their break.
- A very prim, proper elderly lady politely told us that she was glad that we “Arabs were handing out free lemonades and making people smile, rather than doing those things terrorists do”. And she really was genuinely grateful and touched! So, not only are we in the business of collecting smiles, but apparently we are also unwittingly breaking down racial and political stereotypes. This lemonade is some powerful stuff!
- One lone girl who was walking by our stand became a bit startled by our calls for smiles and started walking along the very far edge of the path looking uneasy. I approached her to talk about Smile Cards while she walked and after I had finished she just stood rooted to the spot for a full minute just staring at me and repeating, “That is the sweetest thing I have ever heard”. She didn’t move for another couple of minutes, and we were just standing in the middle of the path in silence, even though she couldn’t get away fast enough just minutes earlier. Then she held my arm and thanked us for making her day and left just like that.
All in all, we heard similar things from all the people we met both this week and last – they were genuinely interested in and moved by the concept behind Smile Cards and random acts of kindness, and they all thanked us for sharing this idea with them and adding some happiness to their day. However, it is the seven of us who are truly grateful for all the wonderful people that took the time to stop and speak with us. They gave us the opportunity to cultivate the feeling of generosity within ourselves and fully appreciate what it took this individual an entire lifetime to recognize:
"When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I couldn't change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn't change the town, and as an older man I tried to change my family.
Now, as a much older man, I realize the only thing that I can change is myself, and suddenly I realized that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.
--Unknown Monk, 1100 A.D
Until next week!! (Oh, and here are the photos from this week!)