Monthly Archives: February 2012

Foul-Weather Friends

Winter’s almost over. In fact if you live where I do, it feels like winter’s been over for about four months already. But for those of you who got hit with that widespread snow dump on the weekend – well, winter still knows how to get all up in your business, doesn’t it?

Snow can be a mess, a chore, a pain in the frozen behind. Or it can be an occasion to lend a helping hand to someone in your community. My friend Jill, a busy single mom, looked outside at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday to find her driveway plowed clear, her car brushed clean of snow and her front steps shovelled into pristine condition.

Now Jill could appreciate her neighbours and Mother Nature. “After 15 cm of snow it was wonderful to wake up to all the white and my clean driveway!” she wrote with gratitude on Facebook that morning. In fact, Jill was downright cheering: “I am very lucky!!! I can head to my couch with tea and a book. I have an extra 1/2 hour to myself!!! Yeah!” (Note: No exclamation marks have been harmed in the making of this blog post.)

As someone who prizes hot drinks and literature, I could almost imagine myself curled up on the easy chair next to Jill’s couch. Bliss. When a kind deed can make someone feel this good, we call it mileage. Pass it on.

Small girl in a back yard with a giant snowball.

Finding the meaning in all the white stuff.

Kidneys across America

Here are a few brand-new world records worth knowing about. Most Ghandi lookalikes gathered in one place: 485. Highest number of charitable causes supported by a workplace through payroll donations: 975. And number of kidneys donated in the world’s longest transplant chain: a whopping 30.

If you’ve never heard of a transplant chain, it’s a bit like a take-one-and-pass-it-on arrangement. Buddy needs a kidney, his brother or wife or dad would give him one if they could, but their tissues aren’t compatible. So they promise instead to donate a kidney to a total stranger, just as long as Buddy gets the goods from someone else. And so on down the line.

The success of a transplant chain depends on no one chickening out. But it also requires a good Samaritan to start it off. In this case, it was a Californian and converted Buddhist named Rick Ruzzamenti who talked to a recent kidney donor at his yoga studio. Two days after that conversation, Rick put his own kidney up for grabs.

People don’t need two kidneys, and the odds are extremely low that one will fail after the other is donated. A kidney donated live will function several years longer than a kidney harvested from a cadaver, in part because it’s a healthier organ and the transplant is planned out well in advance. Complications for the donor are very rare. All these factors make live kidney donations a solid investment.

When Rick Ruzzamenti’s kidney became available, it meant that 29 other kidneys transplants could now be put in motion. In each case, donors were saving the lives of strangers with the understanding that their loved ones would thrive as a result.

Donor Rebecca Clark of Florida admitted in a New York Times article that after her husband got his kidney she knew she could back out of giving hers, but she quickly dropped the idea. “I believe in karma, and that would have been some really bad karma,” she said. You’re not kidding, sister.

Previously, the world’s longest kidney transplant chain was 23. This new record blows it out of the water. Sixty Americans agree: Rick, you rock.

People Often for Good

I’m a huge fan of people for good, and I’m also a huge fan of People for Good. Confused? People for Good is the national campaign for kindness I wrote about back in August. The idea, the website and all the people involved in it fill me with so much happy, happy, joy, joy.

Now that we agree on that, I want to share just one teeny-tiny quibble I have with People for Good’s new TV ads. Don’t get me wrong. I love that there even are TV commercials whose sole purpose is to make you sweet, not sell you a car or a beer or all-day mascara. These ads are meant to further the notion that the world would be a better place if we performed more acts of altruism. So far so good. Here’s one about a man giving up his subway seat to a woman bursting with pregnancy, and here’s another one about two car drivers behaving charitably in a parking lot. Here’s one for folks who support bug conservation. They’re fine ads.

So where’s my quibble? It’s with the punch line. At the end of each of these commercials, a message floats on the screen: “If good deeds were more common, they wouldn’t stand out so much.”

See, I just can’t get on board with that. I think good deeds are common. I think a whole lot of good deeds don’t stand out.

Of course others do take our breath away, like when a community rallies with donations for struggling young students, or when a neighbourhood hangs a hundred thousand outdoor Christmas lights for a grieving mother, or when eight total strangers lift a smoldering car to save a man’s life.

But remember, we’re biologically wired to be kind. Look around, and you’ll notice a pretty steady hum of good deeds in your workplace, in the transit system, on the street, in your home. (Only moments ago, my husband brought me chocolate. Chocolate is kind.)

Most of these good deeds never make the news. But isn’t that the point? They’re so common, so usual, so numerous that we don’t stop the presses. We don’t report them. We don’t log them for the history books.

We smile and we say thank you. And we go on with our ordinary day.

What do you think? Is a good deed a rare bird?

One Day at a Time

I’m rarely inside a deli. Working from home has its advantages, and easy access to sandwiches is one of them. Plus, if and when I do leave the office for lunch, chances are I’m hunting for a spicy salmon roll, not a salmon salad on rye.

Be that as it may, this week I found myself at a Druxy’s twice in three days. Both times it was noonish, the deli was nearby and I needed a meal. On the second visit, I included in my order a butter tart for hubby, who’s on a weight-gaining diet (we won’t get into the mixed blessing that can be). The lady behind the counter handed it to me in a brown paper Druxy’s bag printed with a simple three-word message: “Be Good Today.”

I wasn’t sure if that was a command or a gentle suggestion. Either way, I would argue that the act of buying a favourite treat for my loved one already had me covered. Later, I checked out the company website and got the impression that this slogan is actually intended as a corporate goal. Druxy’s wants its franchise owners to care about their diners. Why the message is printed on the bags that are handed out to customers, as opposed to emblazoned on the wall over the workplace, is a mystery to me.

No matter. I like the idea of doling out encouragement, even if it’s on a wrapper destined for the rubbish bin. Sure, today I may have bought a pastry for my partner. But tomorrow is another day. If I need a little prompting to do good, all I have to do is drop into Druxy’s for a helpful written reminder.

A Druxy's paper bag

Sort of the deli version of a fortune cookie.

Have a Heart. Then Give It Away.

I know this blog usually spreads good news. And I apologize in advance if that’s what you’re counting on. I don’t mean to bum you out on Valentine’s Day, of all days, when every moment should be filled with candy and sticky kisses and almost unbearable sweetness.

But today’s story is bad news. Specifically, it’s a new report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) about organ donation – or, rather, organ non-donation. CIHI says that the number of organs donated over the past five years has not gone up, while the need for the organs has been rising. End result? A wider gap between the haves and the have-nots.

Organ donation is a supreme act of generosity. It can happen if you’re living or dead – depending on the organ, of course. There are some you really can’t manage without. Others, you won’t really miss.

Organ donation saves buckets of money in health care, and makes life a heck of a lot more pleasant for the person who gets the new kidney or liver lobe. Yet thousands of Canadians are waiting every year, and some don’t survive.

What can you do? Sign your organ donor card, or, depending where you live, join an online registry. Have a body parts pow-wow: Tell your next of kin what you want done with your vitals after you no longer need them. Spread the word.

Then kiss a loved one. Because it is, after all, still Valentine’s Day.

Dozens of Canadians are waiting for a heart transplant they may never get. Won’t you be their valentine?

Back in the High Life Again

Don’t you just hate it when a large bronze cast of your favourite Ukrainian poet goes missing?

Such a loss was suffered by the community of Oakville, Ontario, when its 50-year-old, 25-thousand-dollar likeness of Taras Shevchenko went inexplicably missing from a town park in 2001.

But ten years later, after enjoying who knew what adventures, the Shevchenko statue suddenly turned up again – in a photo attachment to an email. Antique dealer Dan Rotko was holding it in his inventory. He’d picked up the statue from a collector, the collector had found it at a flea market, and that’s all she wrote. Now Dan was looking to unload it. And what more suitable group to try to sell it to than the Taras H. Shevchenko Museum and Memorial Park Foundation?

Thing is, this non-profit organization was the legitimate owner of the statue in the first place. Folks there were delighted to find it again – vice president Bill Harasym told a reporter with glee, “It was like meeting an old friend.” And he was willing to part with a $2,500 cheque to have his old friend back.

But once Dan – who is also Ukrainian – heard the backstory, he wouldn’t take the money. Why? He was just happy to hand Shevchenko over to his rightful owners. “Call it fate,” he said in the news story.

It probably didn’t hurt that his mother practically threatened to disown him if he took the money. Turns out Mama used to bring Dan, as a boy, to the Oakville park to visit his lyrical countryman’s likeness.

Still, it was an impressive act of kindness for Dan to donate back the statue, which will be installed at the Taras Shevchenko Museum on March 9, the 198th anniversary of the poet’s birth.

And what does Shevchenko himself have to say about his joyful reappearance? The bard is keeping mum about his adventures of the past decade: “Then all the shame of days of old / Forgotten, shall no more be told / Then shall our day of hope arrive / Ukrainian glory shall revive” (My Friendly Epistle). He may have written those lines in 1845, but the prescient poet could easily have made those comments today – now that he’s finally back in the high life.

Bat the Breeze for Mental Health

You knew Clara Hughes as the Canadian girl with the stunning smile who brought us home six Olympic medals in her sports of speed skating and cycling. Thanks to the Bell Media publicity campaign that’s been everywhere lately, you now also know her as a young woman who was diagnosed with depression. It’s not rare. One in five of us will experience a mental illness before we’re done. The rest of us will love someone, work with someone or hang out with someone who experiences mental illness. That means mental health affects every single one of us.

Bell Media claims to pour more cash into mental health promotion than any other Canadian corporation. Their campaign is “Let’s Talk,” and it’s about getting the topic out into the open because it’s normally so hidden – which is, of course, half the problem. According to Bell, two out of three people hide their psychiatric status because they’re afraid of what other people will think. A third don’t get medical help. Want to make a difference? Open your mind, and open your heart – and if you’re someone with firsthand experience, open your mouth.

Tomorrow, a plethora of Bell Media-owned TV stations will broadcast documentaries, talk shows and panels on the theme of mental illness. You’ll see familiar faces talking about it, like former hockey player Stephan Richer and singer/songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk (LOVE her! Interviewed her for a magazine feature and she was dazzling, even over the phone).

You can do good just by tuning in to these TV shows and learning. And if you happen to subscribe to any of Bell’s phone services, every long distance call you make or text message you send tomorrow will earn five cents for mental health initiatives. So will a retweet (@Bell_LetsTalk).

I happen to be a Bell customer. So maybe I’ll call my mom tomorrow and say hi. It’s always good for my mental health, and hers. And tomorrow, it’ll be another nickel for someone else’s.

The Groundhog Way

Here’s the burning question: Did any of Wiarton Willie, Balzac Billy or Punxsutawney Phil see a shadow yesterday? According to national news (yes, this makes national news), the forecasts made by various notable rodents across North America yesterday certainly varied. In other words, not too reliable. But it’s a fun tradition – so long as, I suppose, you don’t ask the groundhogs who’re thrust into the spotlight. Another tradition: watching Groundhog Day the movie, inevitably aired on TV this time every year.

In case it isn’t part of your own holiday tradition, here’s the run-through: The flick, made in 1993, features the incorrigible Bill Murray as an arrogant, egocentric weatherman stuck in a time loop. He’s destined to repeat Groundhog Day, over and over, until he gets it right. What does that mean? He’s got to become a better person, doing more acts of niceness and fewer of narcissism.

Hubby and I have seen this motion picture more than once. But this was the first year our 12-year-old daughter watched along with us. We got to dissect the storyline to death afterwards, discussing personal development and moral character and noble virtues and junk and stuff. Good times.

By the way, anyone who doubts Bill Murray’s sense of humour should take 10 minutes for this video spoof about fact-checking, which has for years made the rounds in writers’ and editors’ circles. For further evidence, check out his self-deprecating cameo in Zombieland (you’ll never look at Purell quite the same way again). That’s all I’ll say. Happy Groundhog Day, and may you always be of noble character… and junk and stuff.

A scene from the Groundhog Day movie

Bill Murray and his woodchuck chum take a joyride without consequences in Groundhog Day.