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Maria with her daughters, Katherine & Christina
Way Below the Clouds

Way Below the Clouds

By Maria Shriver
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I went on the road this week. I flew, I drove, and I kept my mind and heart open. What follows is what I experienced and felt. This is what I wanted to share.

When I looked out the plane window, I saw clouds as far as my eyes could see. The sun's rays pierced through the clouds, making what I saw nothing short of breathtaking. Close your eyes for a moment right now and be still. Can you visualize what I saw? Can you see our Earth's majesty with your own eyes? I hope so. Appreciating Earth helps us care for it. And right now, Mother Earth is definitely in serious need of our kindness, attention, and care.

So today, which also happens to be National Daughters Day (and a special Happy Daughters Day to my own, Katherine and Christina), I want to focus my column on the power of kindness. I want to write about the kindness I experienced during my recent travels, and about how it reminded me of who we really are at our core.

I flew into Seattle and made my way to Yakima, Washington, which I was visiting to speak about life, family, Alzheimer’s, and service. Over the years, I’ve traveled across pretty much all of this country courtesy of various political campaigns and my own journalism career. But Yakima had somehow evaded me.

Driving into town, I saw long stretches of wide-open roads, giant pine trees, rolling hills, and vast lakes. It all felt natural and stunning. Then, out of nowhere, there were orchards. Apple orchards. Peach orchards. Berry vineyards. Yakima is known for its apples (honey crisp are the new "it" apples, FYI). It's also known for its hops (for beer), its vineyards, its peaches, and its berries.

I love traveling through different states and seeing new landscapes. I also love meeting new people in different regions and hearing about their lives, their families, their hopes, and their challenges.

Now, I know I’m no authority on Yakima. While I was there, I spoke to locals and heard that their town has challenges just like most towns. (The local news director, for instance, spoke to me about the challenges of poverty, opioids, and gangs.) But what struck me deeply was the human kindness I felt. Besides “How are you doing today?”, the second statement I most commonly heard was “Thank you for coming to Yakima.”

I heard it from Mr. Johnson after I visited his produce store, which has been a family business for generations (it’s also a must stop if you are ever there). I heard it from the waiters and waitresses in the Yakima steakhouse. I heard it at the Essencia Artisan Bakery. I heard it at my hotel. And I heard it from a woman named Jan.

Jan serves on the board of the Yakima Town Hall, which was celebrating its 50th anniversary. It’s an organization that was started by female volunteers and that is run by female volunteers to this day. They were women who had a dream 50 years ago. (105-year-old Virginia, who I got to meet, was one of the founding members and a graduate of Stanford University. She was a part of the founding group whose dream was to bring speakers to their community to inspire the hearts and minds of its people.) I went to visit the town hall because I was inspired by those women’s dreams, vision, and persistence.

Everywhere I walked in Yakima, I was met with kindness. I share this with you because as I’ve written before, I believe it’s critical to start shining a light on the good that is out there. Focusing on the good balances out the negative and reminds us of who we are. It reminds us who we can be on a grand scale, if we so choose. In fact, every time I travel, I’m always struck by how vast this planet is and how different we all are. And yet somehow, we are similar when it comes to our hopes and our dreams. That’s what I think we lose sight of when we are screaming about politics. We lose sight of you and me. We lose sight of ourselves.

As I flew home with my bags of apples, peaches, and freshly-baked pies (yes, I did buy freshly-baked pies), I reflected on what happens to one’s body when kindness has been bestowed upon it. It calms down. It settles. It relaxes and lets down its guard. When one opens themselves to acts of kindness, life feels more hopeful, positive, and humanistic. It’s that simple.

So this morning, I made a conscious choice not to write about the New York attorney general’s civil suit. I chose not to write about the queen or the new king or their family dramas. I chose not to write about the Martha’s Vineyard stunt, which one friend of mine described as genius in contrast to my description of grandstanding. I chose not to write about Putin and his nuclear threats (although watching so many everyday Russians resist his demands to enlist and fight does give me hope). And while I’m not writing about the hurricane that hit Puerto Rico, we are talking about our neighbors there in our Move Humanity Forward section below, so I hope you will take the time to read more.

Instead on this Sunday, I want to encourage you to ask yourself whether you are leading your life with kindness. On this first day of Rosh Hashanah, when our Jewish friends begin a week of reflection followed by a day of atonement, may we all reflect on how we are leading our lives at this very moment.

Is there room for growth in your life? Is there room for atonement? I know there is in mine. Are you open to reflecting on how we can not only be kinder people, but how we can do more to build up our country, safeguard our planet, and treat our fellow human beings with gentleness, graciousness, and kindness? Those are all universal needs.

The people who live where you live need those things. The people who live and work where I live and work need them too, as do the people in Yakima and other places, including those on the same plane as me, in the same coffee shop as me, and even in the same car as me.

People amongst us are suffering from anxiety, trauma, fear, and depression. Those amongst us are scared about climate upheaval, threats of nuclear war, and skyrocketing inflation. Life here on Earth is hard, so why make it harder for others? Sit with that. Making it better isn’t just a president’s job or a boss’s job. It’s all of our jobs, and it’s something we can each take on in our own way.

You see, way below the clouds is all of us: you, me, all of us. We are perfectly flawed human beings making our way, doing our best, falling down, and getting back up. We are trying.

And just like a peach or an apple, we grow when someone nurtures us, just like Mr. Johnson’s family has done with their orchards for years. We grow when someone like Jan is kind to us and mirrors for us the breathtaking truth of who we truly are.

So, lift your head out of the clouds and look around. Express kindness to someone you know. Express it to a total stranger and tell me what you experience when you do. What do you feel about them and about yourself? What do you feel about humanity and about our country?

We are all so different and, yet, we are all the same. How beautiful is that?

Love, Maria

Prayer of the Week

Dear God, help me take my head out of the clouds and connect my heart and mind instead with what's right in front of me. May we never forget the power of treating our fellow human beings and our home with gentleness and grace. Amen.

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