Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Not-So-Random Acts of Kindness

Switching to a gluten-free diet, for whatever the reason, can be quite an adjustment at first. Usually, the focus is on the person who has had to alter his or her diet. But lately, I've been reminded that the adjustment also affects the people around us - a spouse, child, parent, family and friends. Going gluten-free is not a solitary act. It's a social act that impacts others, the ripple effect when a pebble is dropped into a pond, resulting in concentric circles of tiny waves.

When I shift my gluten-free focus from my own dietary needs and look outward to those around me, I realize that the people in my life have been infinitely accomodating of my needs. In so doing, they've made acts of love, acts of generosity, not-so-random acts of kindness. All because they want to see that my restrictive dietary needs are met, that I stay healthy, that we all have a place at the table without discrimination.

It's a beautiful thing, to recognize this outpouring of support and generosity. Looking back on my own gluten-free journey, it is a path that has been punctuated by many such not-so-random acts of kindness. As when Kelli voluntarily went gluten-free, so that we could cook and eat meals together at home, and eliminate the possibility for cross-contamination in our kitchen at home. Or when family prepares gluten-free food for family dinners and holidays. Or, when Kelli was hospitalized with post-partum complications on Christmas Eve, our friends - Greg and Emily, and Jess and Dave - cooked up gluten-free dinners that I could take to the hospital, because they knew I'd have a hard time finding Pete-friendly food in the cafeteria. Or when Kelli was in her recent car accident, and our friend, Rebecca, brought by a pot of gluten-free chili so that I wouldn't have to cook dinner one night.

Two other examples, similar to one another, come to mind. As I've mentioned in other posts, Kelli and I live in Colorado, but we're both from New York originally. As far as Colorado is concerned, this makes us transplants, non-natives. And we're hardly alone. More than half the people who live in Colorado's Front Range are transplants. The vast majority of those people are Easterners who have come west. When I look within our social circle here in Colorado, that trend pans out. We know a scant few native-born Coloradans. The rest are transplants like us...from New York, Vermont, Tennessee, Michigan, Indiana, Virginia, Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and a few other states I'm surely forgetting. We've all come west for similar reasons - for the quality of life, the lifestyle, the landscape, and the outdoor recreation opportunities it affords.

That commonality between us bonds us...not just as friends, but as a type of surrogate family. It's an important family to us, in part because, in a sense, we've left our "real" families behind. We call these friends our Colorado Family, and the bonds between us are strong. We babysit one another's dogs (and soon, children). We shuttle one another to doctor visits, and share holidays, and cook dinners together.

For Kelli and me, our Colorado Family is largely divided into two groups: the Monday night group, and the Wednesday night group. The Monday nighters are couples and singles we know through our church. We get guessed it...on Monday nights. The host house rotates, and provides dinner and dessert. The Wednesday nighters are much the same, without the connection via church. They're friends we've met and grown close with here in Colorado. And as with Monday night, the host house rotates and provides dinner and dessert. On a busy Monday or Wednesday night, we may have 12 or more people in attendance for dinner.

And here's the amazing and wonderful thing. After my diagnosis and switch to a gluten-free diet, both groups shifted what they made for dinner and how they prepared it. In short, on those nights each week, they cooked gluten-free. And when they had questions about what to do, or what was or was not safe for me to eat, they asked. Because they wanted to be sure, they wanted to get it right and keep me healthy. I didn't ask them to do it. In fact, in the beginning I insisted that they didn't, because I didn't want to be a burden, didn't want them to have to make too many accomodations for me. I'd just plan to eat before I went, I figured. But these friends did it anyway. It was a beautiful and much appreciated not-so-random act of kindness.

It's a special thing, to be on the receiving end of such love and generosity. But it's not enough to receive it. We must also give it. And for me, giving it back starts with a simple show of appreciation, of saying "thank you." I've done it before...sometimes verbally, sometimes with a quick email, and sometimes with a handwritten note sent in the mail. I've done it, too, with this post, since I know many of those friends read this blog. But it's always worth repeating. Thank you. It means much.

And for the rest of NGNP's gluten-free readers, I encourage you to say "thank you" to the people in your life who've made their own not-so-random acts of kindness toward you and your gluten-free diet. Whether you've said it recently, said it long ago, or never said it all, the time is always right... go ahead and let them know how you feel.

- Pete


glutenfreeforgood said...

Beautiful sentiments, Pete. It's so important to remind ourselves how blessed we truly are. Friends, wherever they're from, are treasured parts of our lives and those who understand and share our GF journey are the best kind.

For what it's worth, I'm a 3rd generation Colorado native. Yeah!


GFE--gluten free easily said...

Hey, Pete--It's great to count one's blessings and realize how fortunate we all are. It seems like you have fabulous family and friends. It's all about giving and taking care of the people we love. If we take care of the folks we love, they will do the same in return. :-)

I love how you shared that your friends learned to cook gluten free to feed you safely. It's such important info to share that everyone can make that transition. I'm betting that they are focusing on real/whole foods simply prepared and that makes the switch so much easier and healthier. I've experienced the same with my dearest friends and family. It is heartwarming. My girlfriends' group is planning a tea as our next get together and while not 100% of the food will be gluten free, my friend who will host already talked about how she will make several dishes gluten free. :-) I thanked her when she mentioned it, but I'll thank her again for being so thoughtful per your post. (Maybe that will get her inspired to have the tea sooner, too. LOL)


peterbronski said...

Hey Melissa. Glad you appreciate the post (and the special people in your life)! Yeah for Colorado natives! Now that we have one in the family (baby Marin), I feel like it gives me just a little bit more "cred." =)

Hi Shirley. Thanks, as always, for sharing your thoughts as well. Yes, some friends began cooking gluten-free by taking the whole foods route. Some went the extra mile and bought GF flour, so they could make GF cornbread to go with chili, or a GF cake for dessert. Awesome!

Cheers, Pete