Ripples on the Ocean of Kindness

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Photo by Emre Kuzu on Pexels.com

If you google the “Starfish Story”, multiple curated images will appear with the beloved story of the old man who came upon a boy throwing starfish back into the ocean. Confused, the old man asked the boy what he was doing. The boy explained the surf was up and the tide was going out. If he didn’t help the starfish, they would die. The old man said, “But son, there are miles and miles of beach and thousands of starfish. You can’t possibly make a difference.” After listening politely, the boy smiled, bent down and picked up another starfish throwing it into the water and said, “I made a difference to that one.” 

As a compassionate knitter, otherwise known as a charity knitter, I have often wondered if the hours of time and money I put into creating hats, mittens, blankets, and booties ever make a difference.

Just last week I was listening to a podcast on “Effective Altruism”. According to the Effective Altruism model, it would appear my time and money could be better spent. In fact, according to that model I should do research on what saves the most lives and currently, that is donating money for mosquito netting to prevent malaria. The model encourages us to donate money to organizations who make it their business to identify the most effective NGO’s and then to just write out a check knowing we have done our part; similar to making contributions to a church’s humanitarian aid fund. 

As a side note in the same podcast, they talked about the guilty pleasure of donating to organizations that are meaningful to us rather than the identified most effective, as if it could be likened to spending money on getting your nails done instead of buying groceries.

A couple of weeks ago I had one of those “I’ll never forget it experiences,” that cracked my heart open. As some of you know in late September I was diagnosed with a low-grade breast cancer that required surgery and subsequent radiation therapy…

One day as I was waiting for my radiation treatment, I saw 2 large white garbage bags filled with knit hats and a basket sitting on the counter overflowing with loomed knitted hats. In my mind I wondered, do people really use those hats. I remember one summer my knitting group made several baby hats and I actually had a hard time finding a hospital that would take them. When I finally found one willing to accept them, I was taken to a room filled with handmade donations. I was then asked to sign a paper saying it was okay if they donated the handknit items to other organizations if they couldn’t use them. I have also heard stories of people finding their donated handiwork at local thrift shops such as Deseret Industries or the Salvation Army. 

So, on a whim as I was walking out I asked the receptionist if they are able to use all of the hats that get donated to them. Frankly, I also wondered about the scratchy yarn that made up most of the hats. How comfortable could that be on a bald head? 

“Just out of curiosity,” I said, “Do people really take those hats? I saw those white bags full and wonder what you do with them all.” I explained that I’m part of a charity knitting group and we wonder if we are doing any good or if we are just filling hospital storage space.

Her reply stunned me.

“Oh yes” she said. “I was worried we wouldn’t get any hats this year due to Covid.” She went on to say, “You have to understand, every 15 minutes we are treating multiple people with radiation and that doesn’t even count everyone who is receiving Chemotherapy.”

And then this…

“You also need to understand we treat people across all incomes; from homeless people to billionaires.”

“Let me tell you a story,” she said.

“Last Christmas we were treating a woman who was homeless. One day after her daily treatment, she was getting ready to leave and she saw the basket of knitted hats. She asked if she could take one.  We said of course, and then she said, “Would you mind if I took a bunch of them? You see all of my friends are homeless too. I would love to give them all a hat for Christmas.”

The receptionist who was telling me the story didn’t have to say another word. We looked at each other in silence, both of us with tears in our eyes. 

We have no idea when we act on an impression of kindness where it will land. My compassionate knitting group meets once a month. We think we are knitting hats for cancer patients, or for elders in indigeneous communities, but once we make our offering it is a mystery as to who will receive it. Someone once shared with me a situation in which a hand-quilted baby blanket was donated to our local children’s hospital. Instead of it being placed in the closet with the other donated blankets, a staff member took it for herself. When I first heard that story, I was disappointed. But now I ask myself, “What is the rest of the story?” 

This year I hope to remember that giving is an act of unconditional love. It is a reminder that we are all connected, whether we know each other or not. I hope to let go of needing to know the end of the story because sometimes the end of the story is much grander than I could’ve ever imagined.

Happy New Year Everyone!

May you be filled with loving kindness. May you be safe from inner and outer harm. May you be happy. May you know you make a difference in this world with every act of kindness you offer.

Blessing,

Barbara

Meditating in Paris


It was Bastille Day in Paris. Having just arrived the day before in that beautiful city, jetlag was weighing heavy on my bones. In an attempt to adjust to the new time-zone we took a morning walk through the vibrant Bois de Vincennes where we came upon a grove of trees with colorful prayer flags draped in the branches.  A saffron robed monk was sitting on a log offering a dharma talk to a small crowd gathered around him. As luck would have it we were on the grounds of The Grand Pagoda, the Buddhist temple which houses within its walls the largest statue of Buddha in all of Europe.

My heart leapt with joy and even though only French was being spoken, I took my seat to practice mindfulness.

For those of you new to “mindfulness,” I like to think of it as a training to settle the mind; the fruits of which are increased presence, loving awareness and kindness, clarity of mind, and better emotional regulation.

It was a beautiful morning in the park. As I listened to the knowing chuckles of those seated around me I remembered similar scenes where I had been the giggler in response to a humorous comment one of my beloved teachers had made.

Minutes passed and in the midst of feeling truly blessed by my happy circumstances, I began to feel strain in my back. Mild discomfort grew into aching and next caving, and then as if my body was saying…

You’re not listening to me!

The pain increased to an intensity I no longer chose to bear. I shifted my seat to a very tall tree for support. 

Ahhh…so much better. 

Several more minutes passed and as with all good things, my overall well-being began to transform into restlessness. The French language was beautiful but impossible to understand. The monk’s voice began to fade into a blur.

Unpleasant, tired, unpleasant, hot, I whispered to myself attempting to remain present as my mind had begun the fight to detach from my body. 

Periodically, passerby’s would stop and watch what was going on not caring to lower their outside voices, and then to my mild horror I noticed giant ants climbing up my legs.

 Creeped out, irritation, judging, annoyance, resistance

With each distraction I attempted to remain the observer and dutifully returned my attention to the monk. 

As time moved forward though, the frequency and variety of distractions had their way with me and I became overwhelmed. It was exhausting as I fought to stay present.

What to do…what to do… 

Just as thoughts of leaving began to take hold in my mind, a formation of low flying fighter jets zoomed over the park and our little gathering. It being Bastille Day, the celebrations had begun. 

With annoyance so fresh in my mind, my first thought was…

 You have to be kidding me.

Thankfully it wasn’t long before I saw it as an opportunity to practice welcoming the moment. The monk continued talking but soon stopped and joyfully watched the planes along with everyone else.

Rescued by war planes…how ironic…judging, sarcasm…

Back on track I settled once again into my breath. Breathing with my little sangha, the trees, the swans in the near-bye pond, the flowers, everyone enjoying the beautiful morning, the pigeons, and then …

SPLAT!!!

A very healthy pigeon who was perched on one of the branches above

relieved itself.

It fell first on my hair,

and then down onto my shoulder,

and because of the sheer volume,

its’ journey ended on my lap.

In a mindful state,

I heard the sound,

saw the many colors

and the slimy wet nature of the pigeon’s waste.

I was startled and disgusted but accepted the moment with a smile and the pigeon as a teacher. It helped that I was in my workout clothes and  hadn’t yet showered. 

I would like to say I stayed until the sit was over, but I didn’t. I was done; it was time to go. Not mad and only a little disgusted, I had had enough. We finished our walk in the park and then went back to the hotel for a shower and a change of clothes.

On the outside I laughed about what a great story this experience was going to make while on the inside I labored to make peace with the futility of expectations.

The Grove of Trees

Namaste,

Barbara


Walking the Labryinth

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Grace Cathedral

 

Walking the Labyrinth

 

Roses on the path,

Clean shiny stone,

Color splashed across the floor.

All this and more

Make up the journey

Of the labyrinth.

Continue reading

When an Empty Basket is a Good Thing

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Pioneers of Peace™ is the humanitarian arm of Barbara Scoville, LCSW. Did you know there is a designated blog that chronicles our adventures? To find out more, Read Pioneers of Peace’s latest blog article “When an Empty Basket is a Good Thing”  and consider becoming a regular follower.

 

Reflections on Compassionate Knitting

 

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I am a “Compassionate Knitter” Newbie

Throughout my adult life I have heard stories about “Compassionate Knitting,” otherwise known as “Charity Knitting.” I’ve been touched by people’s kindness and their willingness to use their time to benefit others, but until recently I have never wanted to participate.

My own knitting has been primarily “me” focused. There are a number of reasons why.

1. My knitting time is very precious to me; there never is enough.

2. There are so many beautiful things I want to knit for myself; my eyes are bigger than my stomach.

3. The tactile experience of fine yarn is therapeutic to me. Compassionate knitting usually requires acrylic yarn that can stand a lot of abuse.

4. I knit several sweaters for my mother until I discovered she had no idea how much expense and work went into them. Although I’m sure she was grateful, her negative comments regarding sleeve length and fit in general are what I remember.

5. The several projects I already have in progress compete with each other. They whisper, “Finish me,” “No finish me,” Me first, you spent so much money on me.”

6. I simply have not taken the time to deeply think about other’s suffering, and how my talent could ease their burden.

7. To be perfectly honest, I do think about suffering a lot. As a clinical social worker my life is immersed in suffering. Knitting is the counter balance, my creative renewal that I hold sacred.

Having said that, inspired by my friend Warren last Spring, I have become an initiate in the community of compassionate knitters.

Really quick…the back-story…

A couple of months ago Warren approached me while at our Friday morning knitting group, and asked if I could find a home for several hats he had knit in an attempt to use up his stash. At the time I was in the middle of organizing a diaper drive for our local refugee population. I said sure and it was agreed that we would meet at our local gym where he would give them to me. The following Monday morning we met at 6:55am and I was given two grocery bags stuffed full of warm hand knit hats. They weren’t just physically warm; they were emotionally warm. When I got home and looked at them spread out on my kitchen table I felt the physical manifestation of kindness and charity.

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Lesson #1

Acts of Kindness are Contagious

Warren’s goodness made me want to be a better person. I immediately thought about 2 hats that have been on the needles for over 2 years. It wouldn’t take long to finish them and then I could make his pile even larger. My next thought was of my own stash and the fact that rather than sitting in a drawer it could be sitting on someone’s head keeping them warm. I finished knitting the two hats in a couple of days, which brings me to Lesson #2

Lesson #2

Compassionate Knitting isn’t as Time Consuming as I Thought it Would be.

After completing the two hats, and feeling pretty good about “finishing something” I thought about other kinds of hats. My daughter’s cousin through marriage had sadly just lost a premature baby. Preemie Hats! After hearing all about the tragedy in this family, I had a desire to offer love and support for those going through such difficult times. I found a wonderful free pattern, went to the store and bought very soft baby yarn. Knitting preemie hats is like eating potato chips. They are so cute and fun to knit that I couldn’t just stop at one. They only take about half a day to knit. How do you spell immediate gratification?

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Because they are so easy they are the perfect project to take with you when you are anticipating a wait. I love that I am doing something worthwhile during the time that I used to think was being wasted.

Lesson #3

Using up Stash is Good, but a Worthy Excuse to Buy Yarn is Better

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Buying yarn brings me joy 🙂 Walking into rooms filled with fiber and color are like Shangri-La. The only problem is that I have enough yarn to keep me busy until I die. However, if I have a nobel purpose, I can justify additional purchases. I love chatting with shop owners and their staff about the perfect yarn choice for my compassionate projects and I feel really good about supporting our local yarn purveyors.

Lesson #4

Small Compassionate Knitting Projects Provide Opportunities to Learn New Techniques and Stitches

Interested in trying a new technique or stitch? A hat can double as a swatch. I learned how to cast off and then pick up purlwise to create a beautiful effect.

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Small projects are great opportunities to practice designing which can later be applied to larger projects.

Lesson #5

Compassionate Knitting Attracts People who Feel Empowered to Make a Difference

There is some controversy about whether compassionate knitting is truly helpful. Where do all of the hats, scarfs, mittens, blankets, socks, and dog sweaters go? While organizing POP’s Operation Love Bundles, I was specifically told not to contribute hand knit scarfs. Homeless youth prefer fleece. I have heard stories about the countless hats, scarves, and fleece blankets being warehoused at our local charitable distribution centers. Are compassionate knitters naive? Could their time and resources be put to more effective ways of relieving suffering? Or are they choosing to make their voice and their hearts heard through the clicking of their needles? I don’t have an answer.

What I do know is that I am currently participating in compassionate knitting because I like being connected to people who spend a portion of their time using their talent to make a difference in someone’s life. That’s an attribute I admire. It reinforces my belief that there is more good than bad.

Lesson #6

If You Ask, Some will Come and Some will Run

For close to 4 years now, I have been asking others to join me in charitable causes. Nothing is harder than asking people to give of their time and resources. It’s a boundary issue. Most will decline, but there are those who are looking for opportunities to make a difference. It is wonderful to see those individuals and groups rise to the surface and contribute. Even though I may not know them well, it feels like a joyous reunion with kindred spirits. Combine that feeling with knitting and it becomes intoxicating.

Lesson #7

Compassion and Gratitude go Hand in Hand

Warren told me he knits the cuff of his hats to match twice the length of his ears. Doing this provides a double cuff which maximizes the warmth the hat can provide. He wasn’t just using up his stash. Warren knows what it feels like to be outside in the cold all day. It was his job. He told me he used to knit hats for the men on his crew so they could better brave the winter.

When I knit preemie hats I wanted them to be soft and adorable. I imagine their mothers faces when they see their babies in the isolate wearing a strawberry on their head or a big beautiful flower.

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Currently I’m knitting women’s summer chemo hats. I actually went to Sally’s Beauty Supply and bought a wig head so that I could block the hats as well as see how attractive they would be on a bald head.

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I did some research and learned that hats with holes are not a good idea for the summer. Soft cottons and cotton acrylic blends are preferable. I gave each skein of yarn the neck and under the chin test for softness. I thought about cloches vs beanies, and brims to keep the sun off the face and the neck. I thought about hats to sleep in, learning that even summer nights could be chilly for a bald head on chemo drugs. Above all I wanted the hats I knitted to be beautiful because if I were sick that’s what I would want.

And that’s my point. “Compassionate knitting” has ignited my compassion. I took the time to put myself in someone else’s shoes. Of course I can’t know what a person with cancer is feeling, but I’m a little closer and if nothing else, in my own way I’m saying you’re not alone.

As I touch the suffering in the world in this small way I am reminded of what I have to be grateful for and savor those things a little bit more and therein lies the magic. I see the suffering and can say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” For this round I’m safe, but I know it’s coming as it has and always will, and I hope I won’t be alone.

Lesson #8

Diversity Applies to Giving Also

There are as many ways to give as there are stars in the sky and they are all beautiful.

Lesson #9

Who is the Giver and Who is the Receiver? That is the Question

The answer: It is one continuous round. At it’s best, the lines are very hard to define and that’s what I’ve gotten caught up in. Right now, my love for knitting and giving have become a Venn diagram; the middle circle, where the two overlap is creating an energy that’s just feels really good. I am definitely on the “receiving end.”

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Onesies Hand Knit by Sandra Ronca Alias Slouchybee on Ravelry

In the next couple of days I will share with you yarn choices and patterns for summer women’s chemo hats If you are interested in contributing, I will be taking the completed projects to Huntsman Cancer Center the 1st of August.

Drop-off locations are:

Me-You know where to find me

Blazing Needles, 1365 South 1100 East SLC, Ut 84105

Unraveled Sheep, 9316 South 700 East Sandy, Ut 84070

Knitting Pretty, 1393 West 9000 South West Jordan, Ut 84088

Sending love your way,

Barbara

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Kudos to Sandra Ronca aka Sloucheybee on Ravelry and her charity knitting group “Craft Around Corners” Sandra is sporting her newly knit chemo hat.

Pioneers of Peace Diapers Wipes and Onesies Drive Rocks It!!!

Cynthia Mills and the Blazing Needles Community donated 2240 diapers, 47 packages of wipes and 20 onesies

Cynthia Mills and the Blazing Needles Community donated 2240 diapers, 47 packages of wipes and 20 onesies

Greetings Everyone!

Here it is the beginning of May and I am just now posting about our hugely successful POP Diapers, Wipes, and Onesies Drive that took place throughout the month of March. Please forgive me for the delay… Continue reading

Sharing with our Neighbors

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Picture courtesy of the Utah Refugee’s Center

Greetings Everyone!

The humanitarian arm of Barbara Scoville LCSW, Pioneers of Peace™ is back on the ground walking, not just talking. This time we are turning our efforts towards the 60,000 refugees from Burundi, Bhutan, Burma, Somali, Karen, Chin, Ethiopia, Iraq, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somali Bantu and Sudan who are currently living in Utah. We have learned from Deb Coffey at the Utah Refugee’s Center, that there is a never-ending need for diapers, wipes and onesies.

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As I have talked with moms everywhere, this is a shortage most can relate to. The necessity to keep our young ones clean and dry coupled with the high cost to do so, hits very close to home.

Remember when you ran out of diapers and all the stores were closed?
Remember when you only had one diaper left and no money to buy more?
Remember when you had to choose between money for food, or money for diapers?
Remember when your baby had a poopy bottom and you didn’t have a diaper to change him?
Remember when your baby’s diaper was so heavy it was falling off?

Now… imagine coming to a new country for refuge.

A refugee, by definition, is someone who, “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his or her nationality and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

Translation: A refugee is a person who left his or her country of origin and is unable to return due to persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

Imagine being in a new country with a new language and having to rely on what others are willing to share with you. That may be hard to fathom for some people, but it is not hard to imagine being the mother or father of a baby that you can’t provide diapers for. What would you do?

Pioneers of Peace™ feels deeply about helping to ease this burden and are therefore hosting a “Diaper, Wipes, and Onesies Drive” during the month of March. 

Please join us in helping parents care for their children by contributing:

  • Disposable diapers of all sizes (half bags welcome) Highest need is for larger sizes
  • Wipes
  • Onesies (all sizes) white only

If you or your business would like to be a drop-off location please email me at barbarascoville@pioneersofpeace.org

Current drop-off locations  are located at:

Mountain States Counseling, 5635 South Waterbury Way Suite C-202, SLC, UT 84121

We would like to especially thank Cynthia Mills at Blazing Needles located at 1365 South 1100 East for supporting this effort by being a drop-off location. Not only will you have the joy of making a difference in our community, but you will be treated to a color and fiber explosion that will delight your senses.

All contributions will be donated to the Utah Refugee Center

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May you always find your cup half full 🙂

Barbara