Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Blind Side

“My heart is warm and glad this morning,” my friend Kim blogged on Tuesday. Truthfully, it wasn’t all that unusual, since Kim is a generally sunny person. But this week she was particularly moved. Backtracking: Kim writes a blog that I love to read, called “Great Things about Being Blind.” I’m her number-one fan.

Kim, a storyteller and disability trainer, lives in Ottawa and has been blind from birth. I’ve known her for years. On her blog, she talks about some of the most rewarding, fascinating or just plain funny experiences that her blindness has afforded her.

“I started the blog because I was concerned about the way blind people are perceived and portrayed,” she says. Read a few of her posts and I promise you’ll learn, and laugh. Maybe occasionally blubber a bit.

Often, even while you’re giggling, your eyes are opened. Read this story about two obnoxious ladies on the sidewalk (and Kim’s grace in an awkward situation), and you’ll see what I mean.

Sometimes Kim writes about her work, or media, or travel. There was that time an airline pilot, in full uniform, took Kim’s guide dog for a pee break during a flight stopover – earning some extremely startled looks on the tarmac. Sometimes Kim talks about her childhood: the letters from Santa that were written to her in Braille, the time she gazed romantically up at the moon, only to learn she’d been staring at a streetlight. The site is full of details about Kim’s job, about her guide dogs, about learning to ice skate, about how she identifies money or reads audio books.

For Kim, it’s an outlet. “Even on the day when my retired guide dog died, writing about it was so wonderful,” she recalls.

The thing about a blog is that anyone in the world can read it. “You never know what situation someone is in when they happen upon your words,” Kim says. “You don’t know who you will reach. You offer a gift, and someone takes from it what they take.”

This week, the woman who took Kim’s gift was a new mother across the Atlantic Ocean who had just learned that her baby is completely blind. She was distressed and despairing – until she found Kim’s blog and started reading. That’s when some of the anguish slipped away. She had found hope. And she emailed Kim to tell her so.

“I felt so touched,” Kim says. The new mom lives in England, but the two women have been exchanging emails all week. Even Kim’s own mom has been passing along encouraging messages.

Just imagine the impact that Kim’s funny, encouraging, personal stories have now made on a family three thousand miles away.

“We may never meet,” Kim says. “But I’m glad to know I made a difference for her at a rough time.

Kim smiling while her guide dog gives her kisses.

My beautiful friend Kim with her unquestionably devoted (if slightly slobbery) guide dog, Tulia.

Values Told in Verse

It’s fitting that today, as my young daughter tours a faraway country with her choir (and her mommy misses her dearly), I’m thinking about a special song she performed earlier in the season.

I was drawn to the lyrics when I first heard her at practice. Now, bear in mind that practically every week she’s assigned about ninety thousand news songs to learn by heart, so a lot of lyrics come and go in our living room. But these words particularly grabbed me.

They’re taken from a hundred-year-old poem, “Barter,” by American poet Sara Teasdale. Someone set the words to choral music (it sounds beautiful, by the way; here’s a choir in California to prove it).

From what I can tell, “Barter” is about the value of life’s loveliness: those small but oh-so-important bits like the beauty of nature, the wonder of a child, the embrace of a friend. And I think (but I’m not sure, having forgotten to get a Ph.D. in literature studies) that the poet is saying it’s worth giving up everything you have – your riches, your time, your sweat – for even a moment of life’s loveliness.

Do you agree? This explains in part why people can make such sacrifices to help others, to make even a brief human connection, to gain a momentary sense of reward. Life’s loveliness is worth everything. Here’s the full poem:


Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children’s faces looking up
Holding wonder like a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit’s still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be.

(Sara Teasdale, 1884-1933)

Stand By My Man

If you’re a driver, you may be all too familiar with this crushing feeling: You come out of a long meeting, head towards your parked car, and suddenly spot a telltale bright-yellow piece of paper tucked deftly under your windshield wiper.

That’s what happened to my husband this week. He got ticketed. It’s a surprisingly common fate for drivers with disabilities in Toronto. That’s because parking cops don’t always remember to check for a wheelchair permit on the dashboard when they find cars parked in irregular places.

In my husband’s case, he’d parked his minivan at a sign that showed “no standing” at designated times – but it was outside the designated times. Technically, he was allowed to park there. There are few enough transportation options for drivers with disabilities as it is.

He got ticketed anyway. To make matters worse, the cop placed the ticket exactly where a guy in a wheelchair could never reach it.

That’s when a kind soul happened by, in the form of a twentysomething young woman. She was happy to dump her papers and bags on the ground and reach to retrieve the parking ticket. My husband, who likes to document these things, asked her to use his phone to take pictures of the parking sign and the adjacent building. She pleasantly obliged. When the pictures came out too dark, they collaborated to settle on the right angle, and tried again. My husband is a details guy.

This sidewalk hero must have spent almost ten minutes patiently helping my hubby. When the task was done, he thanked her profusely. She smiled. And just before she walked away, she casually offered: “My dad is quadriplegic, and he drives a van like this one.”

I love hearing stories about people helping each other. I guess I found this one particularly touching because it was my own lovely husband being helped. But also, I can sort of imagine our own daughter, who is thoughtful and sweet, growing up to be a sidewalk hero, too.

I’ve long believed that one of the perks of being raised by a parent with a disability is you learn to be compassionate towards and accepting of people who are different. I picture our kid taking the time to assist a stranger with a disability, and then offhandedly telling them: “My daddy is quadriplegic, too.” And I have to admit, because I’m a sappy sap, it makes my eyes water… just a little bit.

A photo of a no-standing sign on a post

Here’s the evidence, thanks to the patient passerby who stood up for an unjustified no-standing ticket.

Here’s One I’d Vote For

Any mayor who’s willing to run into a burning building to save a life gets my vote. Because really, metaphorically speaking, isn’t this what we want all our politicians to be doing?

His name is Cory Booker and he’s the chief magistrate of Newark, New Jersey’s biggest metropolis. (I’ve never been there, but its tourism website boasts, as local attractions, a lot of old mansions once owned by a bunch of wealthy brewers. Whatever puts you on the map.)

Anyway, Cory arrived home last Thursday night to find his neighbour’s house on fire. Even though his security team apparently tried to hold him back, he dashed into the flames to rescue the woman trapped inside. It must have taken a big dose of bravery. Cory admitted later he was terrified, he suffered smoke inhalation and second-degree burns to his hand, and couldn’t even see the woman at first through the flames. But he and a detective managed to find and save her, so all ended well.

I often brag about the people in my own community, whom I still believe are the best neighbours on the planet. But after hearing this story, I wouldn’t say no if Cory Booker did a little real estate shopping on my street. If his Newark neighbours didn’t appreciate him before, I imagine now he’s pretty much tops on all their party invitation lists.

Drive Test

Today’s story of compassion has a sad ending. So if you’re looking to yuk it up on your Friday morning, I suggest you stop reading right now, log onto YouTube and type in “funny cats” or some derivative.

What I want to write about happened on Monday. At first it was just a regular school day for a busload of adolescents in Milton, Washington – that is, until their 43-year-old bus driver suddenly had a severe heart attack at the wheel. Video footage shows what happened next.

With the bus out of control and filled with clamouring cries of “Oh my god!” and “Is he okay?”, one student, 13-year-old Jeremy Wuitschick, didn’t hesitate. He rushed down the aisle to grab the wheel, carefully steered the bus to the edge of the road and took the keys out of the ignition.

His heroics didn’t stop there. Jeremy directed other students to call 911, and he and another boy started CPR on the driver while they waited for help.

Tragically, the driver died two days later in hospital. But Jeremy is still a star. His actions saved 11 fellow classmates. So if you are still with me (after all, you can always check out funny felines later), let’s give a shout-out to a brave 13-year-old boy who somehow knew what to do in a very dicey situation.

Good Eats for Easter

I know not everyone enjoyed a four-day weekend, but I hope many of you did. Because there’s something to be said for shunning the office, eschewing e-mail, dodging deadlines. Sure, time off desk work usually means, for me at least, a proportionate hike in housework and yard work. And it definitely entails a lot of meal-making for the family members who are suddenly hanging around the household a whole lot more than usual.

That’s why, at this time of year, I appreciate the meals that are made for me. I adore food, therefore any good deed that involves digestibles is tops as far as I’m concerned. This weekend, I was thankful for the Easter dinner that was shared with us. My neighbour knows that a 45-minute drive to a family get-together is not always an option for my husband, yet we can still down the glazed ham and pinot grigio like nobody’s business. So my neighbour’s invitation to merge our small family unit with her extended one was lovely. And I was grateful that our own lunch guests the next day, knowing we’d be housebound for the day, brought half the meal in order to lessen my load. It was a wonderful gesture, especially since the food was good.

Of course it’s the company that counts, not the consumables they offer. Together time with friends and family is the best gift of any long weekend. But together time with friends and family and delicious meals… that I didn’t have to cook? Now the party’s in full swing. I hope your weekend was as full of nourishment, in every sense of the word, as ours.

Picture of colourful painted Easter eggs

We’re not picky Easter eaters, but we do draw the line at three-day-old painted eggs.

Four-Meow Fire

What goes around, comes around. Three months ago, a guy in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, rescued a cat from the blustery winter by adopting her into his home. On Monday, she returned the favour – and then some.

As Shawn Delorme’s three-storey apartment building went up in flames, Chloe the cat persistently meowed and scratched the man’s face until he woke up from a deep sleep. His pet probably saved his life, he says in a news story.

Now Chloe’s missing. So if you happen to live in Moose Jaw, you too can do a good turn: Watch for a small-sized, highly intuitive calico cat wearing a purple and pink collar. This kind kitty deserves a hero’s medal, but I’m sure she’d settle for a tasty dish of tuna.

Choc-a-Bloc with Charity

Is there a natural link between chocolate and kindness? You probably think so – I can think of a hundred reasons why I do – and, apparently, so does Anthon Berg. According to its tagline, this Copenhagen-based confectioner (and official chocolate supplier to the Danish monarchy) believes there’s no such thing as too much generosity. The company claims a history of handing out free samples to customers waiting outside its first store. Now it’s gone one step further, opening the first-ever Generous Store.

Never heard of such a thing? It’s a chocolate shop where you don’t spend money. Instead, if you want to satisfy your sweet tooth, you pay the price of one good deed.

The store was open for just one day. Every package on the shelf displayed a “price tag.” The cost might be to help your mate with housecleaning, or speak nicely to your mother for a week. To make a purchase, patrons logged onto Facebook and publicly pledged the good deeds to their intended recipients. Then, transaction completed, they were permitted to leave the store with chocolatey treats in hand.

Clever marketing gimmick? Of course. But compared to other advertising options like in-your-face billboards or irritating jingles, I’d say spreading a message of generosity is not the worst way to sell a few marzipan bars.

And have I mentioned that eating more chocolate helps you stay thin? It’s true, if you believe a new study released by the University of California. Pass the truffles. I want to believe.

Box of chocolates

Generous spirit… genuine spirits in cream centres… what’s the difference?