The Lagniappe Project

There’s a term that those of us from Louisiana use to describe those little unexpected, wonderful things that just happen out of the blue — lagniappe. It means “a little something extra.” An extra candy bar falls out of the vending machine. You get a free car wash when you get your car serviced, and they vacuum it out, too. Lagniappe makes you feel good. It perks you up. Sometimes it’s just the right thing you need at just the right moment.

Earlier this year, I signed up for the Smart Social Summit, a small conference hosted by SpredFast. The conference promised to explore some topics I need to learn more about – content management and social media marketing.

I’d never heard of this conference before and didn’t recognize any of the speakers, but I decided to take a chance on it. It was fairly cheap, and it was in Austin, which meant no traveling and no hotel expenses.

Shortly after I registered for the conference, the organizers announced that Michelle Obama would be the keynote speaker. Lagniappe! I expected to love every word Mrs. Obama said, but what I didn’t expect is how what she said would affect me.

You see, I’ve spent every day of 2017, so far, in a depressed slump. As a side effect, I lost my creativity. I haven’t had the will to get my camera out. When I try to write, I just sit there, staring at the screen. I’m not the only one.

But for me, Michelle Obama changed all that.

One of the last things she said during her talk drove home something I’ve been trying to do all year.

“Be kind. Be open. Be human.”

-Michelle Obama

In February, I started a project to help me feel better. Instead of doing my annual giving all in one during the holidays, I decided to spread it out through the year, giving something every month. I also decided that I wouldn’t confine my giving just to tax-deductible donations; I would try to be aware of opportunities around me.

For example, I was sitting in the doctor’s office in August waiting for the nurse to call me back when I overheard a conversation between the receptionist and someone on the phone. Normally, I don’t pay any attention to that kind of thing. But this time, my ears went into enhanced mode.

Apparently, the patient needed a medicine refill, but couldn’t afford a doctor’s visit to get a new prescription. The patient begged to have the receptionist ask the doctor if she could just get one or two pills to tide her over.

“I know this is none of my business, but I just heard you talking with the woman on the phone about how she couldn’t afford an office visit. How much is an office visit if you pay cash?” I asked the receptionist.

“About $100.”

I just happened to have a bit of cash in my wallet. I counted out five $20 bills and handed them to the receptionist. “Is this enough?”

It took a couple of beats for the receptionist to catch on to what I was doing, but then she smiled. “Yes, that’s enough. I’ll call her and make an appointment.”

The lagniappe is the feeling that I’ve actually helped someone. I would feel good for a couple of days, but then something else would happen that would send me back down into the gloom. A hurricane, a fire, something someone in power would say or tweet. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

So, the second quote was for me.

“I still want people to believe in the power of hope. Because that’s all we have.”

-Michelle Obama

I realized that I had given up hope. But I need it. I need to believe that things will get better. Because if I don’t, then I won’t get better.

To take a cue from cognitive behavior therapy, we don’t have much control over what’s happening around us. We don’t have direct control over what’s happening in Washington or the rest of the world. We certainly can’t control nature. However, we can control how we react to these things. It’s a choice. It’s not an easy choice, but it’s one we all make, consciously or not.

Do I want to sit at home, wallowing in a useless, destructive blanket of misery, or do I want to get off my ass and do something constructive?

Until I heard Mrs. Obama speak this week, I had decided that misery was the answer. But, for me, it’s no longer the right answer. I can’t waste my life waiting for things to improve before I get on with living.

It’s time to cast off that blanket. It’s time to brush off my camera and dust off the keyboard. It’s time to get going again.

Who knew that a little social media conference in downtown Austin would help me find my way again? That, friends, is true lagniappe.