Rescued in a Jiffy (Lube)

As any driver knows, it can be challenging to find the words to describe that funky noise your car is making. Is it more of a clunk or a click? Low frequency or high? Constant or intermittent? Is it pinging or popping?

Or is it, perhaps, meowing?

When Khrystyna Kova of Wetaskiwin, Alberta, got back in her car last Wednesday morning after driving her daughter to school, she heard the unmistakable sound of a cat. And it seemed to be coming from somewhere inside the vehicle.

On the off chance that her car wasn’t haunted by a feline poltergeist, Khrystyna hastened to a nearby Jiffy Lube. Mechanics there popped the hood and eventually spied the source of the plaintive mewls – a small kitten, trapped, unbelievably, behind the engine. Yes, the very engine that had been powering up a Honda Civic just moments earlier.

At first, they couldn’t even get him out. Shop manager Blair Backman did his best to reach the tiny animal from beneath the car, but the space where the cat was trapped was too small for his arms.

Another customer, Tanya Marceau, overheard what was happening and came over to help. She had an asset, she assured them: skinny arms. While Blair called out directions from beneath the car, Tanya was able to reach in and nimbly work away at some wiring that had entangled the kitten. After 20 minutes, she finally pulled him out.

Thankfully, the kitten seems fine now, apart from a probably lasting distaste for the Indy 500. Happily, he also has a new home. Khrystyna suggested Tanya keep him, after noticing how effortlessly she comforted him. That suited Tanya just fine. And thanks to her new kitten’s new name, she’ll never forget where he came from.

“We named him Jiffy, because we saved his life at Jiffy Lube,” Khrystyna said in a news story. “That cat has nine lives… It’s a miracle.”

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Photo by Nick Sgambelluri/FreeImages.com

Tire Pressure

There’s nothing worse than getting a flat tire on Friday at 5:00.

Come to think of it, there are thousands of things that are worse: wasp stings, eczema, incarceration, halitosis, vandalism, corn smut, Milli Vanilli… and that’s just off the top of my head.

So let me rephrase it: A flat tire is a major inconvenience on a Friday at 5:00. Made even more so when you just got on the highway, you’re running late – and you happen to be quadriplegic.

Such was my husband’s dilemma a few days ago. But thanks to the kindness of strangers, he got through it a little less scathed. First, of course, we give a nod to the driver who alerted my husband to the flat tire in the first place, gesturing like mad to get his attention. The guy almost managed to communicate the problem before the on-ramp to the highway. Almost, but not quite.

My husband, of course, began to fret just a little bit, listening to the steady thump of a shredding tire as he crawled along the highway towards the nearest exit. Meanwhile, I called the nearest tire centre – Google helpfully informed me it was “CLOSING SOON!” – to let them know he was headed there.

The woman who answered the phone, Diana, was as compassionate as could be. “Oh no!” she commiserated. “We can put his spare tire on when he gets here, and that will get him home.” Our wheelchair van is secondhand; I wasn’t even confident it had a spare tire. “Now I’m going to cry!” Diana responded. (Spoiler: She didn’t cry. But she was seriously considering it.)

Luckily, my husband made his way to the tire centre before closing time. The workers were prepared to receive him, and one of them even knew where to find the spare tire in its secret hidden compartment made invisible by several magical enchantments.

They got the spare on. My husband was almost ready to set off for home (at the prescribed speed, a.k.a. a snail’s pace, with four-way flashers going). Just one more hold-up: They wouldn’t accept any money. Diana was insistent. “Absolutely not. I’m a hockey player!” she exclaimed.

We’re not sure what that means. Are hockey players extra-tough? Extra-sweet? Extra-resourceful? All of the above, probably.

We’re grateful for the good deed. Sometimes I don’t think people realize what a real difference they are making. You saved my husband in a pinch, Lady Diana.

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Our spare tire. So tiny and adorable.

Holding Court on Mental Health

Before now, had you ever heard of a member of royalty talking openly about mental health issues – exposing very personal struggles – in order to help others?

Yesterday, a British charity posted a video of a Facetime call between two well-known royals: the Duke of Cambridge and the Lady of Gaga – er, rather, Lady Gaga.

It appeared to be a comfortable, convivial chinwag. Lady Gaga sipped from a teacup at her kitchen counter, while Prince William leaned forward earnestly in his Victorian upholstered chair.

They were there to chat about mental health. Lady G discussed how it feels to experience anxiety and depression, even in the midst of ostensible success and fame – and why talking about it makes it better. It raises awareness and stamps out stigma. Ultimately, it means more people will reach out for help.

“We have to make the strongest, most relentless attempt we can to normalize mental health issues, so that people feel like they can come forward,” LG explained.

Prince William agreed. “It’s so important to break open that fear and that taboo.”

The Facetime call was arranged through Heads Together, a British charity overseen by Prince William, his Duchess Kate and little bro Harry. The trio say their previous work with vulnerable people has taught them that all too often, fear and shame are stopping people from seeking essential mental health treatment.

“We shouldn’t be ashamed of it,” Prince William said. “Just having a conversation with a friend or family member can really make such a difference.”

In an interview the same day for the suicide-prevention organization CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), the Duke of Cambridge elaborated very Britishly: “There may be a time and a place for the ‘stiff upper lip,’ but not at the expense of your health.”

The call ended with cute little waves at each other, and a promise to chat more when Lady Gaga tours the U.K. A royal friendship has been forged. And surely it will have a positive impact.

Fun fact: 83% of men and women surveyed say they find it helpful to talk about their mental health issues. Another 2% said they find it almost as therapeutic to sip from a teacup.

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It’s uncanny how similar this room is to my own home office. (Photo by Heads Together)

Beauty and the Beasts

A few recent stories of animal-directed altruism have had me smiling. There’s this report about a firefighter in California who used mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to bring a dog back to life. I’m sort of stuck just trying to figure out the anatomy of that, given the wide disparity between the shapes and sizes of their respective oral cavities. Nevertheless, this combination of quick thinking and a little inter-species first aid led to the successful revival of a beloved pet – one who otherwise would surely have succumbed to the smoke from a house fire.

Feathered creatures deserve our love too, which is why a group of residents in a Boston retirement home have been busily supplying the chicken coop next door with tiny hand-knitted sweaters. (Endless games of Parcheesi can get tedious, after all, and idle hands are the devil’s playthings.) Apparently this particular breed of chicken isn’t used to cold weather. The chickens are now proudly strutting around in their knitwear – dare we say, getting a little cocky.

If you think that’s weird, I mean special, this isn’t the first time a group of do-gooders has made outfits for birds. In past years, knitters have supplied an Australian charity with handmade penguin sweaters to protect the birds from oil spills. (The sweaters keep them toasty warm while preventing them from ingesting oil as they groom themselves.)

So many different ways to be kind to animals. Wacky? Perhaps. Wonderful? For sure.

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“Don’t look now, Selma, but I’m afraid that bimbo Gertie has copied your outfit again.”

Lights, Camera, Kindness!

If you’re in the Dundas West neighbourhood of Toronto this Thursday and looking for some fun and warm-fuzzies, stop by Dundas Video. This establishment is known for serving up retro video games and movies alongside its alcoholic beverages. If that’s not enticing enough, on March 23 you can stop in to watch a new documentary about goodwill.

ISO: Tall Cans, Tokens & Compassion is a short film about Bunz Trading Zone, a community-based favour-swapping, item-trading, connection-forging group. (ISO means “In Search Of” and is frequently used in Bunz messages, as in: “ISO someone to help me remove my storm windows,” or “ISO beginner accordion lessons.”)

Clearly, the Bunz platform serves as a catalyst for many acts of kindness. It helps the cash-strapped. It helps the environment. It helps the community. It even helps the lonely.

It’s fitting for this documentary to make its debut in Toronto, since it’s here that Bunz first launched in 2013. But it’s gradually spreading around the world, with total membership now at 120,000.

“It’s cool, because you meet new, cool people, and you develop a sense of community,” a guy (short on adjectives, long on sentiment) says in the movie trailer.

“I think people are in need of some kind of… personal connection in this kind of alienating society we live in now,” someone else notes.

If Bunz can fulfill that need, good on it. You can find out more about the trading group in this news article.

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In the meantime, I’m contemplating what I might be ISO (drywall repair? Post-apocalyptic fiction? Homemade french fries? The possibilities are almost endless…) (Image courtesy of Justin Lee)

Feel the Heat

Here in Toronto, we’ve been enjoying an exceedingly mild winter. It’s the kind of winter where you forget your toque at home and it doesn’t really matter. Where snowflakes, if there are any at all, settle themselves on the ground sporadically and with a wry smile.

That’s why the last few days of weather have been less than welcome here. Biting wind. Icy temperatures. Actual genuine 100% Canadian snow. And a deep, widespread feeling of distrust.

Eh?

This surprised me, too. But research has shown that when the physical temperature around us drops, we tend to be more suspicious of other people’s motivations. Conversely, when we get a blast of heat, we increase our trust and positivity towards others. Apparently, our systems for monitoring body temperature and controlling emotion are linked, and the warm or cold air around us can influence our feelings. (This field of science, in case it comes up at Trivia Pursuit, is known as embodied cognition.)

You can imagine all the creative experiments the researchers are coming up with to prove it. In one test, a “stranger” (sneaky scientist) asked someone to hold her cup for a minute while she wrote something down. If the cup was steaming hot, the person holding it was more likely to think of the stranger as a warm, kind individual. But if the cup was icy cold, they thought she was a bit of a – well, we won’t put that in print.

I may be misrepresenting the science somewhat. Perhaps the effects were a bit subtler, but they were quite unmistakable. So why has nature wired us to feel more connected to each other in the presence of higher temperatures? One theory is that if we trust people who make us feel warmth, we’re more likely to cuddle with them, hence saving the energy it would otherwise take our bodies to fight off chill. Hey, if it’s good enough for penguins…

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More snow? Blast it. (Photo by Jason Lemay/FreeImages.com)

Up Close and Very Personal

In my line of work, writing freelance magazine articles, I speak to a whole lot of different people. And some of them are vulnerable.

Sure, there are the polished experts – Canada’s go-to spokespersons on this, or the country’s foremost researchers in that. There are even the B-list celebrities (A-listers are out of my reach) whose very living depends entirely on media attention.

But lots of times, I interview ordinary people who have survived difficult, even devastating, life experiences. I’ve talked with women who’ve tragically lost their unborn babies. I’ve spoken to parents whose children have mysterious, unbidden, possibly life-threatening medical conditions. I’ve had conversations with men and women who have been depressed, even suicidal. I’ve questioned people who have endured other hardships large and small that have impacted on their day-to-day lives in profound and lasting ways.

At the end of the day, when a writer is switching off her computer monitor and powering down, she might ask herself: What’s in it for them? Why do these people open themselves up, at times ripping apart metaphorical stitches, to expose their pain to the world?

I know the reason. It’s because they’re convinced they can make a difference. They can show other people they’re not alone. They can give advice, so important and precious, advice that can only come from someone who has walked the same path. They can do their part to lessen the pain for the next person.

I know for certain this is why they do it. Why else would someone who is not a pathological egomaniac reveal such personal details to hundreds of thousands of readers?

And yet I was reminded of it again last week, when I interviewed a woman who had survived a potentially lethal disease. While we talked, she cried a little. But she was candid and honest and answered every one of my questions.

Afterwards, she admitted she had considered whether or not to go ahead with the interview. She’s generally a private individual, she told me. This isn’t like her, to tell her story to a national magazine. But she knew it was the right thing to do.

“If it helps even one person,” she said, “it’s worth sharing what I went through.”

You know what? Her decision may save a life. Or multiple lives. I am constantly humbled by the generosity of the women and men I speak to. It’s no wonder I love my job. I get to see the compassion of the human spirit – truly, up close and very personal.

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We don’t get through everything unscathed, but we can leave a trail for the next person.