Friday 10 July 2020

Reading, Giving and the 29 Gifts Movement

Now that my kids are both sleeping in their own rooms and napping at the same time (both of these things took far longer then I expected) I finally have a bit more free time to myself – which was further helped by the pandemic. At the start of the lockdown I was in a cleaning/organizing frenzy, cooking, baking bread, walking, binge watching TV – all the things everyone else seemed to be doing. But when the lockdowns extended longer then I anticipated those things got boring. I needed a new tablet and finally convinced myself to spend an insane amount of money and get a new iPad mini. Once that arrived I started reading again. Thanks to the Overdrive app and access to the local library system I have been able to read a lot lately…. Far more then I have in years.

I am a member of the Goodreads community where you track the books you have read and can leave reviews/ratings for other members.  One of the things they have is a yearly challenge where you set your goal of books to be read each year. 

As you can see I haven’t been reading much the past few years. Which is crazy because reading has always been one of my most favorite pastimes. Ever since I was a little girl I have loved reading – and read often. I won a reading competition through my local library in the early 90’s and another one through my school due to the sheer volume of books I would read. (Both of those contests had kick ass prizes so that helped my motivation – through the library I won tickets to the Mirvish production of Beauty and the Beast, and from school a $100 gift certificate to a local fine jewelry store). My love of reading was also the main reason I opted to do a specialist in English in university. A University degree based around reading and discussing books? It was a dream! And when I wasn’t reading/discussing and writing about books for my English degree, I was working in the local bookstore. Working in a bookstore was a glorious thing – first, the discount was amazing, as was the ability to borrow hardcovers and read them (I feel like that perk may not continue to exist). Secondly, I was introduced to so many new series, authors and genres from my co-workers and customers. Lastly, I got to attend some cool events like author readings and trade shows. I was even more fortunate that I worked with some amazing people – and even now 15 years later, I still meet up with a group of former co-workers for our Good Times dinners as we have become lifelong friends

But recently between life and kids I didn’t have as much time for reading – or really any of my hobbies - so I didn’t do it as much. Having this time and access to free ebooks has reignited my passion for reading – and I have been spending most of my free-time doing just that. I’ve also been trying to expend my horizons and have been reading other genres and new authors.

One of the books I read, “You are a Badass:How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life” by Jen Sincero (a really awesome book by the way!) included the book “29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life” as a recommended read.

Here is the Amazon summary for book:

"After a devastating MS diagnosis, one woman shares her inspirational journey in gratitude and generosity--in this New York Times bestseller. At age thirty-five, Cami Walker was burdened by an intensified struggle with multiple sclerosis, a chronic neurological disease that left her debilitated and depressed. Then she received an uncommon "prescription" from South African healer Mbali Creazzo: Give away 29 gifts in 29 days. 29 Gifts is the insightful story of the author's life change as she embraces and reflects on the naturally reciprocal process of giving. Many of Walker's gifts were simple--a phone call, spare change, a Kleenex. Yet the acts were transformative. By Day 29, not only had Walker's health and happiness improved, but she had also created a worldwide giving movement. 29 Gifts shows how a simple, daily practice of altruism can dramatically alter your outlook on the world."

The title and theme of the book immediately interested me so I checked it out from my library’s online catalogue. (Side note – I always vowed I would never read books on a tablet but I have really come to appreciate the ease and convenience of them, especially with the online catalogues during the pandemic). Once I started the book I was hooked. The story was compelling and the writing was honest and truthful. The book is categorized as self-help, but it isn’t something full of research and facts – it’s simply the story of the author - her journey and her life. The author is honest about her past struggles with addiction and mental health and how her MS diagnosis and flare-ups played a role in those. When she began her 29 Days of Giving, she was in a really dark place – but slowly through these acts of selflessness, she began to switch her mindset. She felt more positive and was able to focus on the good in her life. She felt happier and slowly felt healthier too. By the end of the 29 days she was in a much better place – personally and professionally. Her marriage was stronger, her life full with new friendships, her career seemed to be in a better place and she had started this amazing movement. She wrote online about her 29 Gifts and started an online community where others joined to do the same. By the end of her 29 Days, there were over 100 other people participating and that number only grew. Her book became a bestseller, it was talked about on Oprah and the Today Show and her giving movement and community continued to rapidly grow.  

It was a quick read – but a compelling one - and I managed to finish it in a day. At the end I felt moved, uplifted and inspired. I tend to be the type of person who tries to focus on the good rather then the negatives anyways, but the book just spoke to me on some level. Maybe it’s the whole scary pandemic atmosphere we are currently living in, or some of the aspects of my own life I am not completely happy with – either way, I finished the book grateful. I am so blessed – but sometimes it is easy to forget the good. It is so easy to let the stress of the day get to us. To focus on what went wrong or unaccomplished. To read the news and be upset at the state of the world or fearful for all the evils and horrors that seem to surround us.

I see this in my parenting sometimes – where I am so focused on trying to get kids fed, or cleaned, or in to bed that I get annoyed at the little things that interrupt that. But often it’s those little things that can make the day memorable or special. For example - Liam’s new favorite game is “The floor is lava” and involves laying pillows, books, mats all over the place and jumping from them to avoid the “lava”. Obviously this creates a giant mess and tends to happen right before bedtime during puppy time. (Puppy time is the 10-30 minute period before bed where Liam, Katie and their cousin Rome play. It started with them playing with Paw Patrol toys and items – hence the name “Puppy Time” but is now a period of chaos right before bed!) So anyways, I would usually have the room all cleaned before bed only to have Liam going around throwing stuff back on the floor, jumping around (sometimes falling) and making a giant mess. This was stressful. I’d say we couldn’t play, get annoyed, and have to pick up all the toys again. Liam would be disappointed, I’d be annoyed – it just was meh all around. But it really is all about your outlook. Does the mess of the room really matter? Is some pre-bedtime insanity really an awful thing? Sure I am tired and just want the kids in bed, but these are memories being made. The past four years with Liam have shown me just how quickly it goes by – do I really need to rush bedtime and forgo these moments? Before I know it they won’t want puppy time or to play silly games like these – I have to stop and enjoy these little things. I have to change my outlook and focus on the positives and not the negatives. Trust me, it is hard – especially when tired and stressed after a long day with two kids – but its something I am trying to work on.

Anyways the book just spoke to me on many levels and I truly felt inspired to try and make some changes in terms of my outlook and focus. I also wanted to try the whole 29 Day Challenge myself. I figured it was such an amazing concept and what a great time to do it when we are in the midst of a pandemic. Plus I was curious about the author, so after I finished reading the book, I turned to Google.

Sometimes it is better to wonder.

The book was written in 2009 so it’s been over a decade since this movement began.
It turns out that the author recently passed away – I found an obituary for her dated April 2020. It provided a small glimpse into her life since the book – she and her husband had divorced (he was the man she wrote about with such love and appreciation), and she had remarried and had a child. There were a small number of tributes on the page – including one from the spiritual leader who had inspired her movement which simply (and almost coldly) stated “Rest in peace, may you travel well”.

I also found an online community for the 29 Gifts Movement – still active – which led me to the open Facebook page of the author, which she was using up until the time of her passing. She talked about the 29 gifts movement as well as her current struggles – her son was living with her parents in another state, she was separated from her current husband, she was living in a motel and trying to find some sort of affordable housing which was hard as she couldn’t afford much. There were also several links to a GoFundMe page where she was trying to raise money for some dental surgery she needed and something relating to her therapy dog. It painted a very sad picture of her recent life.

The whole thing left me really shaken and really stuck with me. It’s not like I knew this woman – and all I did know was gathered from a book, an obituary and a social media page. But there was such juxtaposition between the author as she presented herself at the end of the book to what she became at the time of her passing. The book ended with her hopeful and inspired. Over a year had passed between her initial 29 Days to the book being published – and in that year life was going well. She was happier, things were looking up, her marriage was strong, her friendships more meaningful and her business was doing well despite the confines of her illness.  Then the book came out and the movement became even more popular. The book became a best seller – she made appearances and got recognition from people like Oprah.

I don’t know what happened in that time between 2009-2020, and I am in no place to speculate based on an obituary and Facebook page.  But it just seems tragic. There weren’t any tributes on her Facebook page despite the thousands of friends. No articles about her passing and the incredible giving movement that she started. Nothing mentioned on the 29 Gifts website. Even the author, whose book included this as a recommended read, didn’t have anything posted acknowledging her passing.

I don’t know why this has stuck with me. Maybe it was seeing the face of her son in many images on her Facebook page – a little boy probably only a few years older then Liam. Maybe it was sadness over the reality that despite the positive place the author ended up in, life didn’t remain positive for her. Maybe it was facing the reality that sometimes life just sucks. I honestly don’t know. But whatever the reason, it really made me look at my own life. To really examine my own mindsets and focus on the things I have to be grateful for. And of course it reiterated the importance of selflessness – and made me vow to try and give/help others – as a part of my daily life.

Regardless of what happened in the author’s life over the last decade, she wrote an amazing book and started an amazing movement. I am so glad it was something I came across and read.

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