I spent the weekend celebrating the memory of Shirley Kaiser, my old friend Paul Kaiser’s mother and the beloved matriarch of the legendarily big ‘n’ beautiful Kaiser clan of South Minneapolis, and, given the tenure of the times, I was happy to have her as an inspiration: Monday morning at Incarnation Catholic Church, the sights and sounds of several hundred mourners toasting the vivid good deeds of a life lived for others stood in stark contrast to the sights and sounds coming out of Orlando, and to the horrific headlines, personal hits, and big and small losses we’ve come to expect daily in this “sad and beautiful world,” as Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkhous sang it.
Mrs. Kaiser’s legacy is as a wife, mother, and grandmother who practiced an all-encompassing love for her family that extended to her church and charity work that found her delivering day-old bread to homeless shelters and the needy five days a week for 20 years with her late husband Harry. The Kaisers were and are saints, straight up, and while it may be simplistic to pit angels against monsters, the thought of those two good Samaritans doing their good thing every good morning is worth holding up as a role model for we the living, especially as it looks as if we’re hurtling towards the planet’s latest dark age.
At least that’s how it feels. The trickle-down cumulative effect of such man-made catastrophes as the Orlando massacre and hate speak as spewed by the likes of Donald Trump is calculable, and if you’re like me you look into your heart and find more often than not these days it is profoundly troubled. America is at an exceptionally shallow juncture, an idiocracy fast folding in on itself, and from my little corner of the world via my little prism, I’ve borne witness to the sad sea change and how the macro affects the micro: These strange days, friendliness is met with stranger-danger distrust; people are super wary, turning away, closing off.
To hell with it, I will keep trying. I will hold doors for people, greet strangers with a smile and a hello and go out of my way to make ridiculous small talk. It’s all I’ve got. Similarly, the night Prince died, a distraught musician friend of mine asked me, “What are we going to do?” I try to avoid clichés like the plague, but I found myself in self-helpy mode, telling the dude, who hugged me hard afterwards, “Love and light and life and music.”
It’s my only recourse to this increasingly inscrutable thing called life, along with the little things, like what happened with me and a big guy in a big truck the other day. I was on my bike in the bike lane when he pulled in front of me and cut me off to make a turn. He didn’t realize I was there. I slammed on my breaks and, with a quick nod of apology from him and an “all good” wave from me, we were anti-road ragers and off and wheeling on our respective ways.
As he drove away, I noticed the “Coexist” sticker on his bumper and was inspired to finally look it up. Coexist (coexist.org) is a nonprofit organization “created to address the crisis of understanding that tears at the social fabric of societies around the world. Globalization has outpaced our understanding of one another, creating divisions that plague communities with prejudice, hate and violence.”
Yes, please. More of that, please. And in that spirit and in honor of all those poor souls in Orlando and all poor souls everywhere, here’s one man’s suggestion for 49 things you could do instead of killing a bunch of happy dancing loving people with an assault rifle:
- Plant a flower. 2. Nothing. Sit still and breathe. 3. Help someone. 4. Write a song or play or email or book. 5. Call a friend. 6. Be genuinely awestruck by something of your own noticing and worshipping. 7. Help yourself. 8. Practice harmony, empathy, grace, and love, always love. 9. Grow, hurt, grow, hurt, grow. 10. Melt down your guns. 11. Find and feel the hum in your heart and listen to it purr and feed that. 12. Make a meal. 13. Devour that meal. 14. Find a lover. 15. Devour that lover. 15. Have a long conversation with someone you love. 16. Build a bonfire. 17. Tap into your super power. 18. Rage against the machine and the dying light. 19. Create your own weather. 20. Seek and find. 21. Better the world with your fresh sweet soul. 22. Learn more about wine, books, everything. 23. Climb every mountain. 24. Bang a gong, get it on. 25. Let your dim light shine. 26. Be strong and courageous and fragile and sensitive and open hearted and open minded. 27. Listen. 28. Nature. 29. Family. 30. Sleep, rest, rejuvenate. 31. “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.” — Buddha. 32. Tear down a wall. 33. Build a bridge. 34. Savor this minute, hour, day. 35. Look alive. 36. Pray. 37. Dream. 38. Sing your heart out. 39. Allow yourself to be utterly wrecked or lifted up by someone else’s story. 40. Get your hope on. 41. Do your thing. 42. Find common ground. 43. Adopt “viva la difference” as a mantra. 44. Heal. 45. Learn a few new languages. 46. Die trying. 47. Fix the broke. 48. Coexist. 49. Ask and answer, “What would Shirley and Harry Kaiser do?”
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org