Laquan MacDonald was seventeen and murdered by a Chicago police officer in cold blood. I watched a video of his murder, along with most of America, right in between reading about how Americans are terrified of letting refugees from war-torn Syria into the country, and reading about how a man with a rifle opened fire at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado yesterday.
I can’t think of anything else to say that hasn’t already been said about how horrible and sad and awful and bleak and shitty and unfathomable all of those things are. I can’t. I don’t have the words for that today. So instead, here are fifteen things that you can do to make your world just the tiniest bit less shitty and terrible.
- Open your closet. Find one warm piece of clothing that you haven’t worn in awhile. Bring it to a place that will give it away, for free, to someone who needs it.
2. Go to a public park or playground. Sit on a bench. Watch some kids running around playing. Don’t get up and try to engage with them, don’t depress yourself further, don’t go down a sadhole if you want kids but don’t have them, or if your own relationship with your kids/parents isn’t perfect. Just… sit and watch. Turn your brain off for a bit. If your brain has to work, picture the way that kid’s body works: the air filling the lungs and expelling laughter, the tiny heartbeat pulsing and racing, the immense amount of neurons firing to process the information that keeps eyes blinking and ears listening and skin tingling and lungs expanding and contracting.
If you see a parent looking stressed out, give them an encouraging smile, as if to say, “You’re doing a great job.”
3. Google a small-business florist near the site of any recent tragedy. Call and explain that you’d like to pay for flowers to be sent to, say, the staff of the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs (3480 Centennial Boulevard, Colorado Springs, CO 80907), or to Hope Church (5740 Academy Blvd N, Colorado Springs, CO 80918), where slain police officer Garrett Swasey and his family were members. When you leave a note, don’t make it about you, or your political or religious beliefs. Leave it anonymous, or simply say, “From a stranger who thought you might be sad today.”
4. Think of a song you love, preferably by a non-super-famous musician. Even if you already own it, download it again. Think about how that 99 cents is actually telling that musician that their work has value.
5. There are several Dunkin’ Donuts within the general area of Sullivan House High School, the alternative school in Chicago’s South Side where Laquan MacDonald was enrolled. It’s probably a tough week for teachers and students both. Buy an e-gift card. Send the link to the faculty. Tell them a stranger bought them coffee.
6. Leave a copy of your favorite book in a public place. Trust that the right person will find it.
7. Locate your nearest animal shelter. You don’t need to adopt a pet, and you don’t need go in and volunteer, although that’s a really nice thing you can do, too. You can just look at the puppies and kittens playing for awhile, or feel what it’s like to hold a tiny, furry, purring creature in your arms for a bit.
8. Here’s a link to Amazon, where you can buy a ten-pack of socks for $9.99. Click the link. When you are asked for your shipping address, find the address of a homeless shelter in your community. If you don’t have a homeless shelter in your community, here’s mine.
9. Think of the kindest person you personally know. Then write her/him an email, letting them know that you thought of them and hope they are doing well.
10. Buy an extra box of tampons the next time you’re out shopping. Leave them in the ladies’ room of your workplace for anyone to take. (If you’re a dude and this weirds you out, talk to this fifteen-year-old kid about it).
11. Think about the people that you frequently interact with in your daily life but know very little about: the barista who works at your coffee shop, the janitor in your building, your mailperson. Introduce yourself. Call them by name whenever you see them again.
12. Go to a diner. Order a milkshake. Tip ten dollars.
13. Get a pile of index cards and a sharpie. Write down, “You are Important,” or “Breathe.” Carry them with you as you go about your day, leaving them in waiting room magazines, on car windshields, in elevators, in bathroom stalls. Keep one for yourself. We all need the reminder sometimes, too.
14. Dig up an embarrassing photo of yourself from your teenaged years. Post it online. Laugh gently at the person you were, and celebrate the human you are now. If you’re still in the process of living through your teenaged years, take lots of pictures. You’re doing great.
15. Think about the fact that the world can feel like a flaming cesspool of dog shit, over and over and over again. Think about bodies being blown up over insignificant cultural and political differences, think about blood being spilled out of human limbs for reasons that you will never fully understand. Think about everyone in your zip code who is homeless and hungry, cold, terrified, and lonely. Think about global warming, handguns and assault rifles, violence on television, rape statistics, domestic abuse. Think about terrorism, both domestic and abroad. Think about petty cruelty. Think about your childhood schoolyard bully. Think about the times that you won the argument but lost the friendship.
Think about all the times you got busy, and didn’t visit your relatives like you said you would, or didn’t give the dollar in the checkout line because times are rough and who even knows what the March of Dimes is. Think about how you don’t want to think about who grows your food or makes your clothes or pieces your iPhone together, because in the world we inhabit, it’s virtually impossible to exist without making some kind of ethical compromises. Think about how you were a turd in some small, stupid way this week alone, to your partner or sibling or parent, because it was simply easier to be a turd than to be selfless or kind in that moment.
Think about seven billion people out there in the world. Think about the statistical three hundred and eighteen thousand births today, or the one hundred and thirty-three thousand deaths.
Think about how enormously complicated all of this is.
Think about how Mother Theresa accepted funds from corrupt embezzlers, how George Bush is an oil painter, a husband, a father, and a war criminal. Think about Princess Diana’s life’s work of charity and goodwill; remember also that she was depressed, lived through bulimia, self-harmed. Name five celebrities, and then imagine them in the morning, with horse breath and red-rimmed eyes, stumbling to splash water on their face, wiping their ass with toilet paper, just like you and me.
Acknowledge that you’re probably going to just close this browser tab without actually doing any of those things. You’re probably not going to drop your clothes off at a homeless shelter, or donate to a struggling artist, or buy coffee for teachers in Chicago. I get it. I probably won’t, either. You’ve got limited funds and bills to pay and a life to live. I know. I do, too.
Accept that there are tons of incredibly easy ways to make the world a slightly less shitty place for everyone, and that you probably won’t do any of them, or at least not very many of them, and that while it’s not ideal, it doesn’t make you a terrible person. It just makes you a human.
Take a deep breath of gratitude for the people out there who actually do make the world a better place. Challenge yourself to be that person, in whatever small way you can manage right now.
Close your browser window. Shut down your laptop, silence your cell phone. Just for a minute, before you go back to Netflix, before you text someone, before you answer more emails or meet friends for drinks or order a pizza or whatever it is that you’re doing tonight: just for a second, take a moment to remember that the world is also pretty fucking magical, and you’re really lucky to be alive in it.
Do what you can.
Oh, and: return the shopping carts in the parking lot that others have abandoned, or mop up the spilled creamer at the Starbucks. It takes like ten extra seconds and it’s not that big of a deal.