Monthly Archives: October 2012

I Heart Lifesaving Skills

Let’s say a total stranger collapses at the shopping mall. The unthinkable has happened; their heart has stopped. Your first instinct may be to help. But before you can act, someone else steps up. They’re checking for a pulse or doing chest compressions or otherwise appearing as though they know their way around a first-aid course or two. So you back off. There’s nothing more, after all, that you can do… is there?

Wrong, say researchers at the Kanazawa University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan. They studied over 5,000 dire situations. And they found that when people go into cardiac arrest in a public place, their odds of surviving are higher if two people try to help – and they’re doubled if three people pitch in.

The researchers aren’t actually sure how many of the guardian angels in their study knew or performed CPR. That seems to me a critical bit of missing information. Were these various team members actually helping to pound a heart back into life, or were they simply throwing out encouraging words to the ones with their sleeves rolled up?

Regardless, there is separate research to prove that CPR saves lives. In fact, the hands-only method, where you don’t do any mouth breaths, has the same success rate in adults as traditional CPR. Intrigued? Learn how to do it here at this link. (And then, good luck shaking the “Staying Alive” earworm that follows. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

While We’re At It, Let’s Ban Ann

If you didn’t know political commentator Ann Coulter’s name before this week, maybe you’re hearing the news she’s making now as she defends her hideous habit of dropping R-bombs.

For the record, “retard” is a word that puts a nasty, nasty taste in my mouth. I’m talking vile, like crushed rotted grasshoppers. When the word is used as an insult, it demeans people with intellectual disabilities. It pummels them. Not to mention it wrenches the hearts out of their parents and other loved ones.

When Coulter tweeted the R-word during the latest presidential debate, it so infuriated John Franklin Stephens, a man with Down syndrome, that he posted an open letter on the Special Olympics website. (Love his confident comeback: “Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor.”)

Our unfriend Ann had already tweeted the R-word a few weeks previously in her criticism of President Obama. This too provoked appalled comments (from which she clearly pulled no tutorials).

When the devoted daddy of outrageously cute Ozzie spoke up in a TODAY Moms article, I so appreciated the eloquent way he explained his position that I posted the link on Facebook. Which, incidentally, is a place where more than one pal has been known to use the R-word inappropriately. With the link I wrote: “You know who you are.”

Here’s where it gets good. A friend of mine, who herself had used the R-word on Facebook just a few days before, reposted the link without a word. Right where all her cybervisitors could learn from it. In a separate post, she noted: “Good does conquer evil… it does take some time though…” I’m not at all sure if the two messages are connected, and I haven’t asked. The good-conquers-evil comment is typically Facebookily cryptic – perhaps she was referring to the triumph of aspirin over migraine, or the way Godzilla could take Bambi.

But part of me wonders if, maybe, she had scooped up a little lesson. After all, my friend is a compassionate individual, and a smart one, too. It’s just that sometimes it takes time to shrug off the schoolyard language of a less aware era. Once you understand something hurts, you generally stop doing it. Unless you’re Ann Coulter. (And you’re not, dear reader. Thankfully, you’re not.)

Polar Opposite

I frequently write about common courtesy, particularly those magical words “thank you.” But according to Peter Freuchen, a Danish explorer, anthropologist and writer who lived for a time with the Inuit people in Greenland, there are those who actually think it’s nicer not to say thanks.

As Freuchen explained it in Book of the Eskimos (1961), expressing gratitude was a no-no in his Greenland community because it would show you’re indebted to the do-gooder. If instead a generous transaction takes place without a thank you, then no one is overtly calculating who owes what. Neighbours simply step in as needed without expecting the favour to be returned.

It was seen as an immensely human way of doing someone a solid.

This was Freuchen’s lesson learned after his walrus-hunting trip failed miserably, his stomach was grumbling to beat the band, and another hunter shared with him his successful haul. When Freuchen tried to say thank you, the hunter stopped him in his tracks with this tirade:

“Up in our country we are human! And since we are human we help each other. We don’t like to hear anybody say thanks for that. What I get today you may get tomorrow. Up here we say that by gifts one makes slaves and by whips one makes dogs.”

According to David Graeber, author of Debt: The First 5,000 Years, this anecdote is often bandied about in anthropology circles. When folks downplay a favour, when they don’t treat it as anything special, it means they aren’t keeping score. There’s no tit for tat. And according to Freuchen’s Inuit friends in Greenland, that’s how it is to be a generous, evolved species.

Call me primitive. But personally, I still like a good old-fashioned gracias.

Book cover

It was a politically incorrect book title. But he couldn’t have been such a bad lad if his hunting buddies were willing to share their walrus.

More Good Buys

I’m hesitant to tell this story. On this blog, for obvious reasons, I try not to dwell often on deeds I do. But the way this tale aligns with my Tuesday post is too striking to let it go.

Earlier this week I wrote about my friend Kevin, who uses a wheelchair, unwittingly shopped without his wallet, and had his mind boggled by a stranger who paid for his basket of groceries. I was particularly walloped by Kevin’s comment: “That kind of thing just doesn’t happen any more… but it did!”

Fast-forward to Tuesday evening. I was preparing to exit an underground subway station. Typically, I was speed-walking while simultaneously checking my watch. My plans were to pick up my daughter from choir practice, buy her a dinner sandwich on the way, and squeeze in a quick errand at Sobey’s before that. (I’d say Sobey’s is getting a bit of free publicity this week, wouldn’t you?)

As I was about to climb the stairs, a man called out to me. He was young, sitting in a wheelchair, and clearly not the most rigourous performer of personal hygiene. He wanted to trade his subway tokens for a McDonald’s fish sandwich. The McDonald’s restaurant was upstairs, and the man claimed he was afraid to take the elevator himself because it might trigger a seizure.

I say “claimed” because I’m often dubious about the hard-luck stories we’re told on the streets of Toronto. Guess I’ve heard one too many “I’ve lost my wallet and I’m desperate to buy a bus ticket” tales. So I hemmed and hawed, kept my distance, told him I was on my way somewhere and didn’t know what I could do.

“Everyone keeps saying they wish they could help,” he complained. “That’s all they say. People don’t help you. They never help.”

Well, he’d gotten my attention. “You know, my husband’s quadriplegic,” I told him. That got his attention. “He gets helped all the time,” I said. “There are good people out there.”

We spent a couple of minutes discussing life, and struggles, and feeling overwhelmed. It’s funny, but what broke my heart wasn’t so much that he was trying to cope with disabilities. It wasn’t even his uncertainty whether life was worth living. Rather, it was his complete conviction that there was no such thing as random kindness from strangers.

Finally, I said: “I don’t know what to tell you. I have to go, I have to pick up my daughter, and I’m rushing to get to Sobey’s before I meet her.”

“You’re going to Sobey’s?” Well. Didn’t it turn out that, even more than his hankering for a filet-o-fish, this young gentleman had a need for certain essential household items from the grocery store? “I can give you the money if you buy them for me, ma’am,” he said.

That I can do,” I said. I accepted the two crumpled five-dollar bills he fished out of his pocket. If the guy was willing to trust his meager cash to a stranger, he clearly wasn’t running a con. I memorized his shopping list. I promised to be back.

So I bought his things. (Naturally, I didn’t use his money – it wasn’t enough to cover it anyway.)

He was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs. I handed him his bag and his fives. “You didn’t spend it?” he said, astonished. “Thank you, ma’am.”

“I have to run,” I told him. “But you gotta promise to remember that there’s more good than bad.” He smiled. I dashed off. Did I vanquish all his problems? Hardly. Did I improve his resolve to live? Unknown. Did I convince him that people do, actually, help?

You can’t argue with the facts when they’re in front of your face.

Good Buy

My friend Kevin is still buzzing after an encounter at the grocery store left him gobsmacked – and his pantry a little better stocked.

He was at his neighbourhood Sobey’s in Halifax, picking up a few essential items. Kevin knows these aisles and he was making good time, even hoping to make it back home before the six o-clock news. “I was doing very well, I thought, in and out!” he says.

Once at checkout, Kevin qualified for the express lane and remained optimistic. He started chatting in line (as we all tend to do) with the woman ahead of him. My friend ascertained that the woman was from Vancouver, in town to visit her kid at Dalhousie University, and had stopped in at Sobey’s to “load up the larder” for said daughter and roommates.

As they talked, the lady helped him unpack his shopping basket (Kevin, incidentally, has a disability). But when it came time for my pal to pony up for his purchases, he was suddenly at a loss. Literally. With a sinking feeling, he realized his wallet was still at home.

You know where this is going, don’t you? Well, maybe you didn’t predict the part about Kevin’s involuntary cuss words and crimson blushes. But you probably guessed that the woman would come through. “Don’t worry,” she said, “I’ll get them for you!” Above Kevin’s protests, and with a complete calm, she shelled out for his grocery bill.

“I was completely blown away by her kindness. That kind of thing just doesn’t happen any more… but it did!” Kevin says. (Now, faithful reader, you and I know that this kind of thing happens exactly all the time, don’t we?)

“She made my day – indeed my week, especially since I’d had a horrible time the day before,” Kevin added.

“Here is another incidence of generosity prevailing in this cynical, tired old world!”

Man with bagpipes performing at microphone

…And here’s Kevin contributing in his own special way to the wedding day of my husband and me, many years ago. Kindness – and talent – abound.

What Goes Around…

Have you ever had one of those perpetual verbal exchanges of gratitude – you know, where you start off with “thank you,” and the other person says, “no, no, thank you,” and you insist, “no, thank you,” and she butts back in, ”really, thank you,” and there’s apparently no end in sight?

My husband’s place of work held an AGM recently. And when his colleague wrote to thank the caterer – the food, after all, was awfully tasty – the response was glowing.

“Thank you so much for your email!” wrote back Jane, the corporate functions manager at Pappas Grill in Toronto. Then she added: “I have to tell you that I was touched when I realized what your organization is all about.” (For those not in the know, hubby’s agency provides peer support, info and empowerment to people with disabilities.)

“I have a brother who is deaf,” Jane wrote. “…I know that without the services of organizations such as yours it would have made his life a whole lot more difficult. All of you are very special, and what you give to the community is immeasurable.”

When a thank you in response to a thank you makes you feverish with warm fuzzies, it’s the sort of letter that is sure to get forwarded all over the office. That’s in fact how I heard about it. And when I contacted Jane to ask if I might publicly share her kind words, she agreed, then confided that she had been moved to tears after meeting the folks at my husband’s workplace and learning what they do.

“We often lose sight of the things that we have to be grateful for in this life,” she told me. “We all have our own personal challenges, some more than others. It’s a blessing that there are people in this world who dedicate their lives to helping others in need.”

It’s true. We’re lucky to have folks devoted to helping us. And I think that’s true whether or not we have disabilities, or enough to eat, or a roof over our heads. As I mentioned just this week, I have friends who make sure my family gets a Thanksgiving dinner invitation. I have another neighbour committed to keeping my lawn from getting overgrown. I have other pals who pitch in without waiting to be asked. I have colleagues who are generous with their time and support. I have family members who are dedicated to easing my burdens in whatever way they can.

So to all you people in this world who spend time and energy assisting those in need, thank you. No, thank you. Really, I insist, thank you.

You get the idea.

Restaurant scene

Table for four… who’s with me?

Thanks for Sharing

Our little family of three used to have a Thanksgiving tradition of sorts. While one half of our greater-Toronto-area relatives spent the long weekend in the Kawarthas closing up a seasonal cottage, another cluster collected almost an hour north of T-dot to demolish a perfectly roasted turkey.

That changed three years ago, when my husband’s longtime disabilities kicked up a couple of notches. Suddenly the long drive was more daunting than it had been. And we were compelled to celebrate Thanksgiving closer to home.

But the great thing about traditions is that there’s nothing to stop you from starting new ones. And thanks to a generous friend in my neighbourhood, our new family tradition for the past few years has been to spend Thanksgiving (and Easter) at her house, along with her extended family, all and sundry. We do just as respectable a job demolishing the turkey, but without the long-distance driving.

When we left their house this past Sunday night, my friend’s mother handed me a packet of leftovers, embraced me and said: “You know, you’re like another daughter to me.” Breaking bread with kind-hearted people, being treated as family. For this weekend at least, feeling sorry for what we no longer can do – well, it’s not on the menu.

Crazy Little Sing Called Love

What can you do with a beautiful voice and a heart of gold? Give the gift of song, that’s what. That’s how one young musician, Anya Parker Lentz of Short Hills, New Jersey, makes her mark.

Anya, 16, is unquestionably a rising star. Check out her song samples and you’ll agree. But as she makes a name for herself, she isn’t forgetting her friends. When close pal Jake was diagnosed with dystonia, a neurological movement disorder, Anya was so moved that she wrote a song called “Mission Possible.” And when Jake and his family started an annual fundraiser to support research and awareness of the condition, “Mission Possible” became the unofficial theme song. True-blue Anya performs, of course, at Jake’s fundraising event.

Now this caring young teen is carrying on the kindness throughout the month of October with an online giveaway. Commit a random act of generosity, go to Anya’s Facebook fan page and post a comment or photo describing the deed you did. Each week, Anya’s planning to award one participant a signed CD and a print of original lyric art.

Why make the effort? “I know I’m not going to reach every single person that reads my posts or hears me talk about paying it forward, but you never know who you do reach, who you do truly inspire,” Anya says. “A simple act of kindness can make the biggest difference in someone’s life, so I take every opportunity I have. If I make even a tiny difference in someone’s day, it could turn into a huge act of giving if people just pay forward the small good deed.”

How did a 16-year-old get so smart? In many ways she’s an ordinary kid. Her hobbies include yoga and sewing, and her website attests that she’s “prone to giggle fits with her closest friends.” But Anya also stands out, with her musical talent and her sincere wish to reach out.

“I just want to make a difference,” Anya says. “It’s my goal to make my own lifestyle one of giving and being kind, and doing everything I can to make people smile.”

Her new album, not surprisingly, is called The Giving.

Photo of Anya Parker Lentz

That sing you do… it really is making a difference.

Comedy of Errors

If ABC had asked me, instead of asking a million anonymous Americans, to name the best comedy television show ever, I wouldn’t have pointed to I Love Lucy. Nothing against the clownish antics of beloved Lucille Ball. But I’ve always been much more likely to laugh out loud watching Friends. Could be a Gen-X thing, I guess.

And maybe it’s thanks to my influence, but my 13-year-old daughter has also become a big Friends fan. When she craves down time and some cuddling on the couch with her mom, she’s often liable to want a half hour of snappy dialogue between six Manhattan twentysomethings with good hair.

This week, we watched “The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS.” (Just why Phoebe hates PBS isn’t all that important here, but I can tell you it has to do with a traumatized adolescence and an unexpected snub from Big Bird.)

During this episode, Joey argues that there’s no such thing as a totally selfless good deed. Phoebe doesn’t agree. And she sets out to prove Joey wrong. But every one of her attempts (raking her neighbour’s leaves, making a charitable donation) ends up backfiring, since they make her feel great every time.

Spoiler alert: By the end of the episode, it looks like Joey’s won the debate. Phoebe’s frustrated because she can’t help but get joy from her acts of kindness.

But I’m not making a fuss over it. As scientific research has shown us again and again, we derive pleasure from doing good deeds. It’s part of our make-up. And, yes, we get lots of tangible benefits from our benevolence, like better health and greater self-esteem.

So is that selfish? Does it matter? When the helper and the helpee both come out on top, I call that a win-win situation.

Photo of Lisa Kudrow in role of Phoebe

Oh, Pheebs, you mustn’t let it get to you. You carried your brother’s triplets out of the goodness of your heart.