"Brighten Up Your Corner" - Claudia Wendell

What did you hear on the news lately? About earthquakes, plane crashes, starving children, war, cruelty, mudslides, death? How many rude people did you encounter? How many hurting people? It’s hard to feel bright and cheerful with all that’s going on around us.

There’s so much around us that we don’t like, but do we really want the news or other people to dictate our day? Dictate our moods, control our emotions?  So again I think of my sister reminding me—she thinks I never listen her—that we can’t take on the whole world, we can only brighten our own corner. We can become aware of the exact moment we’re in. She’d say, “Can’t you just live in the moment for a change?”

Where is your corner of the world? Is it your country? Your state, your city, your block, your house and family? Or is it the spot you’re occupying in the moment? Can you change the world, your country, state, city, block or family right now? Or can you brighten that one little spot you’re in? We want to change the world, but the place to start is in each of us.

Today I want to talk about the little things. We don’t have to spend time looking for nice things to do. There are a multitude of opportunities to brighten our corner every day even though they may seem insignificant.  Did you call someone today to simply say, “Hi, I was just thinking about you,’’ instead of making the excuse that you don’t want to bother them?

Sometimes when my sister calls and I am, shall we say, less than cordial, instead of saying, “Well you’re a real treat!”, she’ll say, “Oh do you have company—is Bina there?” Bina is short for Crabina—as in crabby-- her lighter way to point out the attitude in my voice. We can accept and help people on their down days and be sure that includes those closest to us.

Let’s run to the store for a minute. One the way, did you incessantly complain about the poop-along drivers in front of you—I’m guilty of that—or did you give yourself a little extra time and enjoy your CD along the way or, better yet, have a few word with your Maker?

I don’t know if you ever listen to Joyce Meyer—she’s a fundamentalist preacher—she likes to talk about all she’s learned just going to the grocery store. When you found that cart in the parking place you wanted, did you move it over in front of someone else’s car so that the original perpetrator has now managed to annoy two people—maybe more depending on the action of the next car owner? Or did you take it with you into the store—you’re going that way anyway.  Did you grab another one along the way or did you tell yourself you’re taking someone’s job? Did you barely make it through that closing door without ever looking behind you to see if it was going to close in someone else’s face? Did you pick up that piece of paper on the floor or did you tell yourself, “I didn’t throw it there.”  Before you left, did you take a few minutes to find a manager to tell him about the exceptionally nice and helpful employee? Or did you find one to complain about? Did you drag someone down or lift someone up?

Even in the littlest things we are setting an example. And while we’re at the grocery store:

A few decades ago I was at the supermarket. Prominently displayed right next to each other were bags of potatoes, 5# bags and 10# bags. Except for the weight they appeared the same, both were russets, same brand—and oddly the price was the same—99 cents (I told you it was decades ago). I started to wonder if it was a mistake or a social experiment when I watched nearly everyone choose the 5# bag. The only reason I could think of that they would take the smaller bag was they didn’t think they could use all of the 10# bag. Which one would you buy? If you didn’t need 10 pounds wouldn’t you buy the 10# bag and give the other half away? Did you notify the manager that possibly a mistake had been made?

Having a bad day? Change your perspective. Turn your attention. As I was writing this, I glanced out the window to see snow—March 24th snow. Oh, great. More snow. Haven’t we had enough?  Instead, I started focusing on it. Wow, the big snowflakes! And it wasn’t even that windy snow, it was coming straight down, like beautiful Christmas Eve snowflakes.  I was reminded of the crystalline structure of every flake, God made every single solitary one different. Besides, I told myself, it’s not the 17 inches I remember us getting in late March in the past. Sitting in my warm little house I sometimes take for granted. Beautiful snow.  I know this sounds Pollyanna-ish, but life if so much easier if we habitually see all the things there are to be grateful for.  In the moment find something we DO like. The more I got into writing this message the more I realized I was writing to myself.

Some of the otherwise nicest most gentle people lose it in traffic. Maybe it’s because we need to vent somewhere along the line and spewing forth in the privacy of our own car accomplishes that. Unless of course you believe, as some do, that thoughts and words are “things” that they actually have substance, that they go out into the Universe. So just in case, are you able instead to yell, Hey, have a nice day!”—with enthusiasm--even if no one can hear you? Did YOU make a stupid driving mistake yourself and then got all huffy when someone laid on the horn? Try smiling and waving next time, you’ll find yourself laughing out loud.

Do you insist on taking the time to make a better world? Did your write or call your council person or state representative or congressman? If you have a little extra stature in the community did you meet with him in person? Or did you decide that it won’t make any difference anyway?  Did you check on your elderly neighbor when it was 95 degrees? Did you ask her if she wanted anything at the store—oh no, what if she wants to come along?  Did you offer to give someone a ride—but only if they were going your way?  Did you drive around the block to see if that person really was in trouble or were you more concerned that you’d be late for work?

Did you show the neighbor kids that big fat harmless garden spider in her miracle-of-nature web? Did you take the time to explain how she repairs it or re-spins it every single night? Or did you kill her and take it down because you don’t happen to like spiders?

I remember the little 4 year old neighbor boy out in front of his house, stomping on ants and exclaiming, “Kill kill, I have to kill the ants!” I sat down with him and explained how industrious they are and how hard they work, how they take care of each other. A few days later I heard him out there telling someone else what he’d learned. If I remembered all these years later I like to think an impressionable child is now, as an adult, at least a little gentler because of it.

All of these things are so elementary and as I looked at the list I thought none of them likely apply to any of the nice people I know.  But they do illustrate the tiny things we can do to make a better world.

Those who know me well know that I am a work in progress—but then we all are. Some are farther along than others--but that is not our business it is God’s business. Everyone has their own foibles and challenges. I fall short every day.  We live in a world of imperfect people--we are all imperfect. Once we remember that, it is easier to work on removing the log in our own eye before looking for the speck in our brother’s eye. When my sister or I want to point out to the other she’s being a bit judgmental, we have that abbreviated to, “Oh yeah, that speck/ log thing.”

In one of his sermons Eric Hoffman said, “Every imperfect person we meet gives us the opportunity to do the counterintuitive thing—respond to them with active love.” For me that may be simply not reacting in the moment.  Truth is we can’t be bright little bulbs all the time...and there will always be plenty of people we don’t like, in situations we don’t like or can’t control. It’s harder to brighten the corner occupied by difficult people. Ask for help.

God is alive and busy in our lives. In the words of one of our church’s own singer/song-writers, “We struggle and we stumble ‘til finally we cry, let go, let God.”  Now, how much easier is it to brighten your corner when you know you don’t have to be in control?

How can I brighten my corner today?  These words, commonly attributed to William Penn:

"I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness or abilities that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."