The best thing is beginning to happen: people are beginning to ask me for gold stars.
Yesterday morning, at Parco, a lovely man I chat with often, a human rights activist and professor, looked at me while we were talking about why I face in toward the cafe and he faces out, toward the street.
"It's just not the prettiest street..." I had said in explanation.
He had shrugged. "But it's still a street," he said and then his eyes lit up with thought and he motioned toward me.
"I know why I get my gold star," he said, as if he'd been wracking his brain to figure it since he walked in the door and saw me.
He told me then the story of how he took it upon himself to clear a junkyard behind his apartment that he had been staring at for far too long without his landlord or super doing anything.
"Slowly, I just cleared everything away, old bathtubs, all kinds of junk." He smiled proudly as he offered up that he had even used a machete, hacking away until all was clear. Now, in place of rusty rubble, he had found ground. He is building a garden.
"Wow!" I said, properly impressed, reaching for the gold star he had most certainly gained and giving it to him. "I love urban garden stories!" I said.
There is such beauty in the stories of beautification, of people taking the time to make the best of what they have, even if, as in this case, it doesn't belong to them. My friend's garden is not his own, it is a communal courtyard. But he has the key, his daughter now has a "green" club and his flowers, I am sure, will give joy to countless others. Including me, I hope. I will wait for the blossoms to push my invitation.
I loved that my cafe friend had looked at me and thought of himself, of what he'd done that he felt great about, and that he wanted to share it with me.
Yesterday afternoon, at Naidre's, one of my fave baristas similarly said when he saw me, first off, "I deserve a gold star today..."
He didn't launch into a particular story, but he had been standing on his feet all day, serving others with a smile, serving a new espresso variety he was telling people about with pride. Without knowing anything else, I knew that. And, more importantly, I loved that he knew that he was deserving of reward, no matter what it was he did. I gave him one happily.
That, of course, is the point of my project: that we, all of us, think every day about the myriad of things we do and think to ourselves: "Damn, at least I'm trying!" And, of course, we are. Even when it doesn't feel like we are, even when it seems like all we can do is breathe. Even that, especially that, should not be taken for granted. I once suggested to a friend in a conversation about what really mattered, what one had to say about oneself to prove to oneself and others that they were worthy, that his business cards might just say, right underneath his name, "Breathing." After all, it is this that matters most, no matter what else we might do. For that, if for nothing else, give yourself some gold!