How a neighborhood restored my hope

This was supposed to be an angry post.

I was going to vent and I was going to cast blame and pity. I had planned to complain and I fully intended to release a fuming rant.

It hasn’t been easy reading about the mounting reports of assaults and robberies around downtown Madison is recent weeks. Without a doubt, I still live in a very safe city, but when every police report details another attack on a 20-something walking home, it’s hard not to believe you are vulnerable. It’s hard not to imagine yourself as the next victim.

But this is instead a very hopeful post. And it’s hopeful because I came across something even more incredible than the recent uptick in crime across Madison.

I found the inspiring hearts of its citizens.

Since moving into the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood on Madison’s near east side almost three months ago, I joined the neighborhood association email listserv to keep current on events around my part of town.

It’s been nice reading about the family who opened their own free little library (celebrate with a lemonade toast!) or about the one-block Halloween parade this Thursday (adult beverages after!). There’s of course the resident who doesn’t care for the cat hanging out in their back yard. And there was also the neighbor looking for someone to adopt her talking parrot.

But when I opened my email a few days ago, I was shocked to find the following message from a neighbor on the listserv:

“A very nice, friendly old man lives on the corner of E. Mifflin and Patterson. He is 90 years old and does not hear very well. His granddaughter runs the hair salon in the lower level where I have my hair cut. This week some punks jacked up his pickup trunk which has parked in his driveway and stole his 4 tires and rims valued at almost $3000.00. You can walk by his house and see his trunk up in the air with only stones holding the truck up. That something like this can happen in full view of this intersection should give anyone pause.”

I had actually walked by that house the night before. I assumed whoever owned the car was doing repairs. To learn that a car had been jacked up just a block away from my apartment, really had me upset.

But the true spirit of a great Madison neighborhood quickly stepped in. And something simple, but yet incredibly wonderful happened.

A neighbor joined the conversation and suggested we collect money to buy the elderly gentleman new tires. Another neighbor chimed in and suggested simple homeowners insurance hopefully will cover the theft, but residents should be on the lookout for some cheap temporary tires for the truck in the meantime and at least pitch in to buy a set of wheel locks.

A number of residents since have stepped up to pledge some money for the cause.

And I know chipping in for a $20 set of wheel locks seems like a small gesture. But that these neighbors made any offer to help someone they had no obligation to help, speaks volumes about the true character of people in this city.

I’m not really sure any of these people know the man whose tires were stolen. In fact, I’m pretty certain they don’t. But we are neighbors, and even in a city that is close to swelling past a quarter million citizens, neighbors are still looking out for each other.

I’ll remain on edge when I walk through downtown and I still very well could be the next nameless 20-something to have his wallet stolen.

But it’s nice to know that if something does happen, I still have a neighborhood looking out for me and neighbors whose sincere concern for one another outweighs any crime in the city.

Random Fact: The world record for spitting a cherry pit in an official competition is 82 feet, 9 inches.

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The blog post that will change your life

This morning, while walking to work, I was almost destroyed by an oblivious bicyclist. And while I craftily sidestepped out of the way to avoid a bi-pedal end to my bipedal life, I couldn’t help but think about what led to that moment.

Had I left my apartment a second sooner, would I have been hit? Perhaps if I had not pushed snooze this morning, I may have been run over. What would my fate have been if I had chosen cereal over yogurt? Or if I had chosen khaki socks over those black socks that I bought a size too damn small and now take forever to put on?

What if that bicyclist had not pressed snooze this morning? What if he had never been offered that job and never moved to Madison? What if his pet hamster had suddenly and tragically passed away on his seventh birthday, therefore preventing the moment that his father taught him how to ride a bike in the first place?

The point I’m trying to make is that every single moment in life is a result of the millions of events that preceded it. You reading this blog? The result of everything that led to the moment that you learned how to read, gained access to the internet and met the author.

You chose one school over countless others. There was that sport in high school that you decided not to try out for. Those decisions impacted and altered nearly every situation you encountered today.

But you could never have predicted that years ago when you learned how to read, that it would some day lead to your encounter with this blog post. That’s just not something you could have imagined.

Much like I never could have predicted that pressing snooze this morning almost resulted in my head smashing against a sprocket. And that’s just something that you have to deal with.

The fact of the matter is, you can’t predict everything and you cannot control everything either. So just go ahead and don’t worry about it. The best you can hope for is to notice that bicycle at the last second and jump out of the way.

And don’t worry about the fact that stopping to avoid a speeding bicyclist will completely alter the rest of your life.

Random Fact: In 1960, Russian canine, Strelka, was the first dog to orbit the Earth and return safely. She later gave birth to six puppies, one of which was given to President Kennedy.

The three types of people

There’s something about bad people. Relatively, there are not a lot of them, but they tend to make themselves known. And they do this by taking action. Bad actions. They steal, they lie, they kill. They make this world we live in a little less wonderful with every bad deed.

And then there are the good people. But we will get to them in just a moment.

There is one more group of people. They are just people. They don’t lie or steal or kill. They don’t choose bad actions and are not bad people. They also don’t choose good actions. They just exist. They go to work, they come home after work and they watch football on Sundays (something many bad and good people do though too).

There is nothing wrong with people who are just people. They don’t often do anything that negatively impacts our lives in the world. They most likely go unnoticed. And that’s OK. It could be worse. At least they are not bad people.

But they also are not good people.

So what makes someone a good person? Well, just like bad people, they also take actions. Except good people show love, hold the door for someone behind them and give of themselves to others.

It is not difficult to be a good person, but it takes a little more effort than just doing nothing. You have to go out and prove that you are a good person. And the little actions count just as much as the big actions. Buy a friend dinner. Give a lost stranger directions. Volunteer at the community center. Smile. Ask a friend how they are doing… and actually listen. Bake cookies for the office. Let someone board the bus ahead of you, even though it’s pouring out.

These are all good actions and they make you a good person. And the world could use as many good people as possible.

But you have to take action. For every awful action in this world, we must strive to carry out a thousand good actions. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that only bad things happen and that bad people control our fortunes.

So tomorrow morning, when you get out of bed, consider what it will take today to be more than just a person. Take action, remember even the smallest actions matter, and make the concious choice to be a good person.

Random Fact: In Somalia, there are about 200 times as many camels as there are cars.

Why I’m Afraid of Heights

There’s actually nothing inherently frightening about heights. If anything, the adventure is intriguing and the general human spirit of curiosity should be aroused.

But what makes me afraid of heights is the fear of death.

Common actions such as tripping, falling over or shutting off an airplane engine at ground level are not all too haunting. At heights though, they could become deadly.

Likewise, asking a person out on a date is not inherently a scary process for most people (Although there are a few people I imagine who literally and inherently are afraid of talking.) For the rest of us, the real fear lies in the potential rejection that may follow such invitations. And the fear of rejection is, in turn, likely a fear of sadness. Nobody wants to be sad.

And take for example the idea of setting your palm flat on a hot stove. Something most reasonable people would not do on purpose. Are we afraid of the stove though? No, we are afraid of the pain caused by touching a hot surface.

It’s important in life to dig a little deeper. Fears are easier to deal with when you actually know what you’re afraid of. This allows us to better calculate our decisions. Cost vs. benefit is always in action.

For example, we have established heights are actually a pretty cool experience. The idea that man can fly in an airplane is incredible. I have no fear of flying. But I do have a fear of crashing and dying. And so I weigh my costs carefully; not to avoid flying, but to avoid death. I choose not to fly on an airline with a poor safety record or in bad weather. These decisions reduce the risk of my actions, increasing the rewards.

And when it comes to persuading that special someone that they deserve a lucky night out with you? It’s not logical to fear the action of asking someone a question, and so you do your best to control for the real fear of rejection. You only ask someone out if you feel there is a good chance they will say yes. The more certain you are they will say yes, the lower your risk and higher the potential reward.

You still use your stove, you are just careful not to come in contact with the hot surface.

I think you get the idea. The point I’m attempting to make here is that while cost vs. benefit plays a role in every decision we make, we often make many layers of calculations that weigh the risks and rewards before making our final choice. It’s important to be aware of all those singular decisions that we make.

There are of course fears in life that simply don’t have a logical explanation. We will never know why the image of Charlie Chaplin has haunted me since childhood.

But despite my fear of silent film actors, I can confidently say that I am not afraid of heights. Though the inherent risks of falling from those heights and splattering across the ground scare the crap out of me.

Random Fact: With 79.68 telephone lines per hundred people, Luxembourg has the highest ratio of telephone lines to people in the world.