Advertisement

A Pandemic, A Chalkboard And A Vector Of Joy04:32
Download

Play

Even in challenging times, a fresh source of delight can turn up just when you least expect it. And you never know how much that happiness might help you, and how that boost might put you in a better place to help others. And that’s why I stay on the lookout for sunshine through the clouds.

This spring, as the coronavirus crisis intensified, I walked through a residential area of Brookline and almost bumped into a chalkboard at the end of a driveway. On the chalkboard, inscribed in the careful and jagged pastel-colored print of a child:

“Question 18: What was your best birthday and why?”

Kaili Gormley's chalkboard, a "vector of joy." (Sharon Brody/WBUR)
Kaili Gormley's chalkboard, a "vector of joy." (Sharon Brody/WBUR)

Curiosity, details, and open-ended follow-up questions — the stuff of life!

On paper placed below the chalkboard, passersby had written answers galore.

Passersby answer the chalkboard question on the scroll of paper Kaili provides. (Photo by Sharon Brody)
Passersby answer the chalkboard question on the scroll of paper Kaili provides. (Photo by Sharon Brody)

Looking up from these scrawled memories of favorite celebrations, I noticed a small handwritten sign attached to the chalkboard:

“Hi my name is Kaili. I am 6. The reason I am asking you questions is because it is fun to know peoples feelings. Hope you are safe!”

I laughed. Clearly, Kaili and I had the same idea about fun. This was a kid I had to meet.

So I did.

Kaili Gormley (Photo by Sharon Brody)
Kaili Gormley (Photo by Sharon Brody)

I spent a bit of time around the chalkboard with Kaili Gormley and her mother, Shan Liu. Liu is an emergency physician at a Boston hospital. She says because of the stress and worry associated with the pandemic, she wanted to help her family and others spot joy in the world.

Liu initially came up with the idea of using this handy chalkboard/paper communication system to ask neighbors about where they’re finding joy. Liu says right away, Kaili took charge — and it’s been Kaili’s project ever since.

Kaili Gormley and her mother Shan Liu, at home in Brookline. (Photo by Sharon Brody)
Kaili Gormley and her mother Shan Liu, at home in Brookline. (Photo by Sharon Brody)

Kaili has now turned 7, and has edited her sign accordingly. She keeps writing questions on the chalkboard, and passersby keep writing answers on the paper spread along the sidewalk. The rising second-grader and her mom say they’d like to turn the effort into a book, to raise money for people affected by COVID-19.

Liu says she’s encouraged by the sense of community and uplift around Kaili’s questions. And how does the project manager herself feel when she sees people stop, read the chalkboard, and write their answers? Kaili says it makes her smile. She says when people tell her and her family how much they like the questions, she can tell they’re feeling happy, and that makes her happy, too.

“It’s really special to me,” says Kaili — your friendly neighborhood vector of joy.

Kaili Gormley with her chalkboard in Brookline. (Photo courtesy Shan Liu)
Kaili Gormley with her chalkboard in Brookline. (Photo courtesy Shan Liu)

This article was originally published on July 04, 2020.

Sharon Brody Twitter News Anchor
Sharon Brody is the voice of WBUR's weekend mornings. On Saturdays and Sundays, she anchors the news for Weekend Edition and other popular programs.

More…

Advertisement

Advertisement