Small things you can do every day to make your world feel a little bit less hopeless.
Laquan MacDonald was 17 when he was murdered by a Chicago police officer. I watched a video of his death made public, along with most of America, between reading about how Americans are terrified to let refugees from war-torn Syria into our country, and reading about how a man with a rifle opened fire at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado.
I couldn't think of anything else to say that hadn't already been said about how horrible and sad and awful and bleak and unfathomable all those things are.
So instead, here are 15 things you can do every day to make your world just the tiniest bit better.
1. Open your closet.
Find one warm piece of clothing 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 or 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 a kid's body works: the air filling the lungs and expelling laughter, the tiny heartbeat pulsing and racing, the immense number of neurons firing to process the information that keeps their 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. 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 your 99 cents is actually telling the musician that their work has value.
4. Buy an e-gift card.
There are several Dunkin' Donuts in the general area of Sullivan House High School, the alternative school in Chicago's South Side where Laquan MacDonald was enrolled. It's probably been a tough time for the teachers and the students both. Buy an e-gift card, and send the link to the faculty. Tell them a stranger bought them coffee.
5. 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."
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.
9. Think of the kindest person you know personally.
Write them an email, letting them know that you thought of them and hope they are doing well.
8. Here's a link to Amazon, where you can buy a 10-pack of socks for $9.99.
Click the link. When you're 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.
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 15-year-old kid about it).
11. Think about the people that you frequently interact with in your daily life but know very little about.
Maybe it's the barista who works at your coffee shop, the janitor in your building, or your mail person. Introduce yourself. Call them by name whenever you see them again.
12. Go to a diner.
Order a milkshake. Tip 10 dollars.
13. Buy 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 teenage 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 teenage years, take lots of pictures. You're doing great.
15. Think. Think about the fact that the world can sometimes feel like a flaming cesspool of garbage.
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 too 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 the 7 billion other people people out there in the world. Think about the average 318,000 births today or the 133,000 deaths.
Think about how enormously complicated all of this is.
Think about how Mother Teresa 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, and 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, just like you and me.
And remember, amidst all this, there are tons of incredibly easy, tiny ways to make the world a slightly less shitty place for everyone.
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 today: Just for a second, take a moment to remember that the world can be pretty magical sometimes, and you're really lucky to be alive in it.
Do what you can.