Category Archives: Guest Stories

Dear Kijiji Lady…

Yes, that’s right – I’m talking to the dear woman who posted this Kijiji ad in Saint John, New Brunswick.

What a wonderful tribute you’ve shared to the person who offered you help you last week.

You turned down her favour. True, you were struggling with a load of groceries and a fussy preschooler after an exhaustingly long day. But by this point you were a block from home, so you didn’t need the lift in her car.

Yet, still, you gave her a grateful shout-out on this mother-of-all-message-boards. You took the time to point out that even though you didn’t actually get into her red station wagon, you witnessed the ripple effect of her kindness. You confessed that her good intentions melted your heart. You observed that the two young boys with her are learning from her example.

And when you went home and wept because you can no longer afford a car and feel you’re letting down your son – and then your little four-year-old angel embraced you and cheered you on and told you how much he loved you – you honestly felt that this incredibly special moment might never have happened if the woman in the red station wagon had not offered you both a ride.

No wonder you felt compelled to post this, in the hopes that station-wagon-mom will find and read it and know much her generosity meant to you.

You don’t mind if other people read your message, too. “If you aren’t the Mom from the red station wagon,” you have written, “please take a moment when you see someone in need and offer to help, offer a kind word or even just a smile. You never know what an impact you can have on someone’s day or how that moment of kindness can be the catalyst for something greater.”

Lovely, Kijiji lady. Wishing you all the best.

Kijiji

Don’t Judge a Book (or a Biker)

Last week I wrote about a tough-looking guy who spoke really sweetly to me. On this same theme, I’d like to talk about a friend of mine we’ll call Rocky. His real name doesn’t actually sound all that hardened, but I’ve picked Rocky (other contenders were Conan and Thor) to go with the image he believes he projects to the world.

I say “believes,” because personally I’ve never known this guy to be intimidating. Let’s be clear: This is a soft-hearted, middle-aged man who has fixed a leaking water pipe in our basement, helped us with a broken table and gone out of his way to give me a ride to the train station. Rocky is one of those guys who’s constantly on-call for any friend who needs a hand, ever.

But he does ride a motorcycle. He has tattoos. He is neither short in stature, nor a beanpole in build. His email handle is “Blue Harley” (and he uses said email account to circulate some rather racy jokes). Sometimes, he is judged harshly.

Still, he writes eloquently. So when, last Friday, he had a disappointing encounter with a woman and her daughter in the coffee-shop parking lot, Rocky was moved to share the story with his friends. It’s touching, and with Rocky’s permission, I reproduce it here:

“To the family in the red SUV at Tim Horton’s today. Yes, I am a big, 230-pound guy with motorcycles and full of tattoos. I am loud, I drink Coke … and I look like I would eat your soul if you stare at me wrong.

“What you don’t know is that I have been happily married and my 30-year-old kids call me Dad. I am a college graduate, my mother is proud of me and tells everyone how lucky she is to have such a wonderful son.

“My nieces and nephews are always happy to see their Uncle Rocky. When my boys broke their bones, I cried more than they did.

“I read books, I help people, I go out of my way to thank war veterans and I even cried at Armageddon and Schindler’s List.

“So next time I smile and say hi to your little girl and you grab her and tell her ‘No, no, dear, we don’t talk to dirty bikers,’ remember that even though you hurt my feelings, this ‘dirty biker’ would be the first person to run into your burning house to save your little girl – and her goldfish, so she wouldn’t be sad!!!!”

Rocky adds at the end:

“By the way, I’m a plumber… and the fellow I was riding with was a police officer.”

Tats? Yes. Tough? Not on your life.

Tats? Yes. Tough? Not on your life.

A Berry Generous Thing to Do

What’s the best thing about becoming a great-grandmother? Ask my mom, and she might rave about the impossible sweetness of a newborn baby’s tiny face, or the stupor-inducing scent of his downy head.

But she may also mention the free strawberries she received, after racing to a pick-your-own berry farm just moments after the closed sign was hung. My mom drove in anyway, and explained her urgent reason for crashing the gate: She was going to meet her new great-grandson for the very first time, she’d promised to bring the family a strawberry shortcake, and she was desperate for the fruit. Could she possibly spend a few minutes in their strawberry patch, gathering just enough for her recipe?

The farm owner looked at her own two smiling teenage daughters, then nodded towards three baskets of freshly picked berries on a nearby table. “Take them,” she said.

“What do you mean, take them?” My mother asked, startled. “How much do I owe you for them?”

“Take them,” the other woman insisted. Yes, she was bestowing the berries on my mom as a gift. In honour of her new status as great-grandmother. And if you know my mother (well, most of you probably don’t – but you can take my word for it), she always appreciates a good, solid act of kindness. But she’s especially touched if it happens to be garden related.

Welcome to the world, baby Chase. There are a lot of awfully nice people in it.

And sometimes, they give you strawberries.

Strawberries

Good Gone Wrong

My friend Kim, who blogs about being blind, gave a classic example last week of how not to be kind. In her post “I Am Not Your Good Deed for the Day!”, she explained just how it felt to be manhandled into a chair by a coffee-shop patron who seemed bound and determined to score a few karma points. Kim wrote that the customer “…proceeded to grab me and push me towards the table. He shoved me into a chair and said, ‘I did my good deed for the day.’” (My confident and ever-eloquent pal Kim was quick to show him the error of his ways. Outbursts like “I am not an inanimate object!” and “I am not sitting at a table with someone who thinks like you!” were involved.)

Just days after I was captivated by Kim’s story, my daughter and I watched almost the same story unfold on a city bus as we headed home from a vocal lesson. It was rush hour, and consequently it was standing room only – that is, after my kid and I helped a very pregnant woman find the last vacant seat near the front of the bus.

A minute later, a woman with low vision and a white cane boarded the bus. Like anyone else of a young-enough age and with working legs, she was prepared to stay standing for the ride. But the man behind her was having none of that. “Excuse me, do you want a seat?” He asked her. “No thanks, I’m fine,” she replied. Did he listen to her? Rather, this man began wildly waving people out of their seats, announcing loudly to passengers: “She needs a seat! Give her a seat!” My daughter and I cringed on the lady’s behalf. Yet someone obediently jumped up, and the man grasped the lady’s arm and steered her towards the newly available bench. The woman was cornered. She quietly sat down.

I don’t think there’s any question that the man meant well. But as my daughter said (newly 14 and with a finely honed sense of fairness): “He treated her like an object! He thought he knew what was best for her!”

I’m all for kindnesses being extended to people with disabilities. I’ve written many times about total strangers and friends alike who have helped my husband out. By the same token, he has done many good turns for others. People with disabilities, like anyone, can excel at both performing and receiving good deeds.

But if you ask me, if both parties aren’t feeling fantastic by the end of the transaction, something has surely gone wrong in the process.

If you want to hear more disability perspectives from Kim, check out her new weekly radio show, “Welcome to My World,” on CKCU community radio at Carleton University. Listen to past episodes online at http://cod.ckcufm.com/programs/438/info.html.

Want to hear more disability perspectives from Kim? Check out her new weekly radio show, “Welcome to My World,” on CKCU community radio at Carleton University. Listen online at http://cod.ckcufm.com/programs/438/info.html.

Free Agent

Want to find a new job? Track down your biological father? Practise your stage hypnosis act? Get someone to exercise your dog? No need to shell out for employment counsellors, private detectives, private audiences or dog-walkers. There’s another option: Call the Free Help Guy. This anonymous but charity-minded man, who makes his home in London, England, set up a website offering complimentary assistance of all types when he found himself temporarily underemployed and had some time on his hands. And, yes, he’s been giving away his time and efforts to all those causes listed above… and more.

Why reach out this way? “I hope that projects, blogs, missions like this all do their bit in making this world a slightly nicer place to be a part of!” FHG says. And why, you may wonder, has our friend opted to remain incognito as he dishes out favours, gratis? He insists he has nothing to hide, but explains: “I felt I would be more accessible to people if I was anonymous… I think if people don’t have a name, face and identity to go by, then no preconceptions can cloud their judgment of my offer of free help.” He sincerely believes he makes a more open and honest connection with people without the pesky static of extra details – like names.

“If my journey can be inspiring to anyone,” FHG adds, “then I want that inspiration to come from the act of giving, rather than the person behind it.” He’s doing something right. Our pal is currently working on project number 15… not bad, considering he started in February.

Hey, anyone whose tagline is “for the next six months I’m going to make your life better” has got my support.

I have the strangest feeling I’ve seen this guy somewhere before…

I have the strangest feeling I’ve seen this guy somewhere before…

Home is where the Heart is

I met a mom the other day who has truly opened her heart and her home. She’s an oncology nurse in a busy hospital. Three years ago, when a Nigerian refugee came to her ward seeking treatment for cancer, medical care wasn’t the only kind she needed. The young woman was also desperate for a safe place to live. She’d been assaulted at the home where she and her four-year-old daughter had been staying.

The nurse took her in. She must have thought, Why not? Her adult daughter was moving back home with a newborn baby boy, so any concept of empty-nesting had already, well, flown the coop.

Sadly, the Nigerian mom’s cancer proved incurable. But as her health declined over the next two years, the nurse only became closer to this tiny family, until any boundaries between her blood and theirs pretty much melted away.

By the time the young refugee was on her deathbed, there was no question in the nurse’s mind. She formally asked if she could adopt the little girl, now six, and raise her as her own after her biological mother was gone. Legal experts were brought in, a will was prepared, papers were signed. Then, a year ago, this little girl from Nigeria became the nurse’s very own child to raise.

Today the girl is seven years old, beautiful and thriving. She calls the nurse “Mommy”; she and her adoptive-mom’s-biological-daughter’s-toddler-son are as thick as thieves. And she fits right into her new life. She’s backed by the entire department of oncology at the hospital, where doctors and nurses have pooled their money to pay for clothes and lessons.

So much can change in a small span of time. For this nurse, it began as a workplace encounter with a young woman who’d crossed the ocean with a tragic history. Now she has a daughter for life. I only spent a few minutes with this lady, but I have a feeling I’ll reflect on her story for a long time to come.

Do these beautiful flowers have anything to do with today’s post? I’m sure there’s a metaphor somewhere. I do love spring.

Do these beautiful flowers have anything to do with today’s post? I’m sure there’s a metaphor somewhere. I do love spring.

Gentle Into That Good Night

I lost a longtime friend on Friday night. I hadn’t spoken with him in a couple of months. And I hadn’t seen him in longer than that – probably it was that time our families bumped into each other at the mall or the hardware store, and we all pounced on each other with hugs and kisses and promises, yet again, to get together for dinner soon.

This is the week that I regret we never cemented those plans.

We all have people in our past who meant something, who, for better or for worse, helped shaped the person we became. Ray Cohen was my first full-time boss after university. Come to think of it, he was my only full-time boss, since, after working with him for 13 years, I left to expand my own business.

For a very long time, Ray was in my life on a day-to-day basis. We went to each other’s weddings, we cheered each other’s milestones. He knew all my bad habits, I knew his. He appreciated my strengths and I truly appreciated his.

As I often remind people, we are none of us girl guides. Like any pair of colleagues, Ray and I didn’t see eye to eye on all work issues. But we were simpatico when it came to the things that mattered more: friendships, family, laughter. He had a sharp and wicked sense of humour. He was a warm hugger. He was the pal you wanted by your side in times of crisis, because he always came through.

And since this blog is about good deeds, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you about one of the biggest things he ever did. Ray established the Canadian Abilities Foundation and started Abilities magazine, a publication that connected people with disabilities nationwide and linked them to information, long before there was Internet. He did this because he saw a need. He met young people with disabilities who came of age and saw their childhood services and supports fall away. Ray knew that in order to be empowered as adults with disabilities, they needed access to advice and ideas.

Ray sacrificed a secure job, moved to a new province, to try and fill the gap that he’d identified. Not only did he publish a magazine for many years, but he ultimately oversaw production of a number of disability-themed directories and online resources.

He was truly passionate about his work, so much so that the lines were constantly blurred between colleagues and friends, between after-hours meetings and social life. I know he made a difference to a whole lot of people. And that’s the legacy he leaves behind.

This week, I’m extremely sad that he’s suddenly gone. I’m sorry that we never did do that dinner date. Within 24 hours of leaving the shiva for Ray, I’d cemented plans to get together with another longtime pal and her family.

It’s not the only way to honour an old friend, but it’s a good one.

“Could we see when and where we are to meet again, we would be more tender when we bid our friends goodbye.”

“Could we see when and where we are to meet again, we would be more tender when we bid our friends goodbye.”