Sometimes we find gratitude in places where we least expect it. I love Wendy Mogul’s book, “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee.” In this book, Mogul says that parents should allow their children to experience the world in its entirety, including the difficult, sad, and disappointing stuff.  The consequences of their own decisions teach children better than anything else could. Little did I know, that there are actual blessings from actual skinned knees. Even for grown ups.

Tonight, I had a little mishap while riding my bike. A young boy, probably 10 or 11, cut me off and his bike and my bike collided. I went flying across the bike path, praying the entire time that I wouldn’t fall really hard or seriously hurt anything. Once on the ground, I saw my left leg bleeding with a serious case of road rash.

My knee is skinned.

Finding the blessings of my skinned knee

I was covered with sand (It was the lake path, after all) and my bike was on top of me. The boy ran over, clearly feeling terrible, and pulled my bike off of me. At this point, I was annoyed and in pain. I barked a little at the boy about not cutting people off and barked a little more to get him to move my bike out of the way. I was ready for a pity party because clearly, my injuries were a big deal. And I was in my 50’s! Even more reason to pity me.

I did decide to finish my ride, which meant continuing forward a few more miles before turning around and riding home. Once I got to my turn around point at Navy Pier, I took a little break. And as I stood there at the drinking fountain, scrubbing my hands to get the grease off, what happened next completely reframed my thinking. A young man saw my leg and expressed concern. He was so kind and warm and encouraging. I eventually told him, “If this had happened to one of my kids, I would have said, ‘You are fine! Buck up!'” So he looked at me with an impish grin and said, “Well, then. Buck up!” He was right. I needed to end the pity party and get over it.

The entire bike ride home I found myself reviewing what had happened after I had fallen, and realized that I had many more things to be thankful for than angry about. So, in that spirit, here is my list of observations that have inspired gratitude in me and given me a new understanding about “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee.”

  1. I had just bought a new pair of biking capris and was considering wearing them on this ride. Had I worn them, they would have been torn.
  2. To continue on the clothing front, I have a little blood on my shorts and perhaps some grease, but essentially, no clothing was ruined in the making of this skinned knee.
  3. When I fell, a really nice guy came over to me and understood that standing up was going to be a challenge. So he put out his hands and actually pulled me up. Not an easy job, for sure. But it was easier for him than it would have been 50+ pounds ago.
  4. Once I was standing, I lost count of how many people stopped to ask me if I was ok. This happened right after I fell too. They came over to me, stopped, looked me in the face and asked me if I was ok or if I needed anything. Humans can be ok sometimes.
  5. I checked Facebook after I was standing for a minute. (Of course I did!) The first thing I noticed was that one of my sons had liked a note I wrote in 2009 that was something like 25 things about me. I reread it when I saw that he had liked it and was really proud of what I wrote. It included statements like, “I really, genuinely like my kids” and “West Wing is a really cool show.”
  6. There was no major damage to my bike and I was able to fix my bike myself. And I was able to get most of the grease off of my hands with only water and a few pieces of tissue.
  7. Sometimes we all need a guy like the one I met at the halfway point who told me to buck up.
  8. When I stopped at the halfway point, I also met a mom with her 3 young kids. Her youngest daughter was named Sofia. Like my Sophia. That always makes me happy.
  9. I always knew I was pretty strong and pretty tough. However, tonight will provide me with some reinforcement should I ever forget. I finished my damn ride. The whole thing. I didn’t wimp out and cut it short.
  10. I bet that young boy with whom I collided is going to be a little bit more careful on future bike rides.

By normal standards, tonight was not my best bike ride. I fell off my bike, have some nasty road rash, swallowed one bug, and got another in my eye. And in a few minutes, I will go in the shower and wince at least a little bit as I clean up my injury. What I have learned, however, is that I move perhaps a little too quickly in difficult experiences to anger and thinking negatively. I am going to challenge myself to reframe my thinking during these moments. Because, as I discovered tonight, there is generally much more that is positive in most experiences (certainly with some exceptions) than negative. And when I focus on that, I am a much happier person.

 

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My mom

My mother, Grace Ketroser

This post is dedicated to my mother, Grace Ketroser, who died in October, 1985, from lung cancer, and who understood the value of community better than anyone I know. Between extensive volunteering and inviting every person in Minneapolis over for a home cooked meal, she was an advocate for being an active and giving member of the community. I still miss her every day.

Strong and engaged communities are hallmarks of successful nonprofit organizations. Whether it is fundraising, promoting events, or recruiting volunteers, a vibrant community makes everything about a nonprofit more effective. But the techniques for building these strong communities eludes many organizations. What do those successful organizations know that could be shared so that more nonprofits could benefit?

Sock Monkey

SMAC! Sock Monkeys Against Cancer

My friend Jennifer Stauss Windrum just finished a wildly successful campaign for SMAC! (Sock Monkeys Against Cancer) on the crowd funding platform, Start Some Good.   The entire back story of how this project came to be (here, here, and here)  is pretty heartwarming. The way that Jennifer went about creating and building this community was truly masterful. And although SMAC! and WTF (Where’s the Funding) Lung Cancer, the parent initiative that spawned the SMAC! campaign, are social good ventures, not nonprofits, the same principles apply.

I met Jennifer through a Facebook group called Punk Views on Social Media (PVSM.)  Jennifer first decided to create SMAC! in the spring/summer of 2011. Her crowd funding campaign was not until November of 2012, but she began planning more than a year in advance. Community building takes time. Jennifer enlisted support by asking questions and soliciting help in the very early stages. She created a private Facebook group, and utilized the collective intellect of the members of that group as well as that of PVSM. Jennifer really listened to what we had to say, incorporating much of our input into the choices she made. By crowd sourcing the development of SMAC!, Jennifer was able to build, in her own words, a “group of ambassadors on Facebook.” Jennifer said, “As a one-man band…I couldn’t possibly tackle all that I wanted to. I needed to build an army.” Jennifer had created a comprehensive PR/Marketing/Social Media strategy. This army helped her implement that strategy beyond what would be possible for just one person. Our involvement in the early stages of development created an emotional investment. We were enthusiastic about helping to bring SMAC! monkeys to life. When Jennifer was ready to consider funding sources for SMAC!, she decided to rely on this community she had created by embarking on a crowd funding campaign.

One of the key components of the SMAC! campaign’s success was Jennifer’s extraordinary ability to tell her mother’s story, particularly through video and blog posts. She openly shared the raw emotion of what it was like for her mother to be fighting lung cancer. We fell in love with her mother’s spirit and courage and felt as though we were building a living legacy to this woman who was losing her battle with lung cancer. This authenticity and transparency was a part of everything Jennifer did. She built our trust because she was very clear on the motivation for this campaign, and on what would happen once the money was raised. This inspired us to become (and remain) involved in the community.

Jennifer also realized that she needed to provide multiple strategies for engagement so that everyone could find a way to help promote the message.  She provided a clear plan with steps we could take to support SMAC! This meant that not all of her efforts were on just one platform or even online. She utilized Twitter and Facebook to reach people. But she also sent out email campaigns, text messages, and did extensive blogger and media outreach. For those not online, she created SMAC-downs, events to promote the cause, and provided instructions to people across the country about how to host their own SMAC-downs. And she live-streamed happenings as well. Her outreach was incredibly comprehensive.

This campaign was not easy for Jennifer. There was a fair amount of stress built into the process already. She was creating something that was, in many ways, completely foreign to her.  Just before the campaign was set to launch, her mother decided to discontinue all but palliative care. No one was sure how long she might have. But with aggressive stage IV lung cancer, her time was certainly limited. There were so many other hurdles and difficult situations along the way. But what impressed so many of us, was Jennifer’s tenacity, even in the face of extraordinary adversity. Regardless of what else was going on, she just kept going.

The most extraordinary part of what made the SMAC! campaign successful was Jennifer’s ability to show gratitude to everyone involved in the process. She thanked people online with Facebook posts and with video. She thanked people personally via email and Facebook messages. She continuously told us that it was our hard work that led to the success of the campaign and never seemed to take credit for her hard work. That great humility made Jennifer irresistible. We couldn’t wait to help her every step of the way because we had fallen in love with her.

I am so grateful to be a part of this truly awesome SMAC! community. Jennifer created an environment in which her journey became our journey and her victory became our victory. And we all felt as though we had been a part of something magical. Imagine if more of our nonprofit organizations became skilled at building communities the way Jennifer built this one. I can only imagine what might be possible if more of those organizations created some of that magic for their communities as well.

(Special thanks to the gang in PVSM, who helped me come up with the content of this post.)

I learned, as I was writing this blog post, that Jennifer’s mother, Leslie Lehrman, had lost her battle with lung cancer. May Jennifer find peace and comfort in the living legacy that has been created in this extraordinary woman’s memory.

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