Monthly Archives: February 2013

Embrace Me, You Irreplaceable You

Some inventors spend their time working on a better mousetrap. My friend Ryan wants to perfect a better way to hug.

It’s not that Ryan has a problem with the conventional, tried-and-true method of hugging. It’s just that his arms don’t happen to work that way. Ryan was born with a muscular disorder called nemaline myopathy. He uses a wheelchair, among other aids. “My disability affects me in many ways,” he writes. “But in this case, I’m unable to independently raise my arms, wrap them around someone, and have them stay in place.”

Ryan is no stranger to intimate relationships – his last one lasted almost nine years – but he would like to offer something new to his next sweetheart: a full embrace.

“To me, getting a hug is like a longer-lasting kiss.” Ryan says. “After the hug, you can keep holding them, kiss them, look into their eyes. It’s a way of saying that you’re there for them and always will be.”

Ryan enjoys receiving hugs. And he hugs friends and family members with his legs. But he wants help to design a device that will somehow suspend his upper limbs in the air so that he can, for the first time in his life, squeeze them around a special someone without losing his grip.

To that end, Ryan has reached out to a non-profit organization of volunteers who create one-of-a-kind assistive devices for people with disabilities. “I realize that this project could be timely, and possibly expensive, but to me it’s worth it,” Ryan notes. “I’d love to be able to give someone that I care about a real hug, and experience another form of intimacy and closeness.” A hugging machine, he feels, will allow him to do that.

Plus, of course, hugs are good for the health. My friend Ryan is all about giving back.

Arms open wide… Ryan is going for it.

Arms open wide… Ryan is going for it.

Waste Not, Want Not

What can you do when you’re knee-deep in detritus? If you’re Jason Sylvester or Nissa Marion or their pals – they’re all ex-pat Canadians living in Hong Kong – you challenge the folks around you to do roll up their sleeves and take on a dirty job. This year, just like the five years before that, a team of Canadians has combed the beach to collect as much rubbish as they can. It’s part of the Hong Kong Cleanup event organized by Ecovision Asia, involving over 39,000 people. The members of Team Canada currently number over 100. According to a news story, coordinators originally lured Canadian volunteers with the promise of free beer, but that’s no longer necessary. (I’ll bet they still drink the beer).

The news report goes on to criticize the high volume of trash and food waste piling up in Hong Kong. But by no means are they the only country struggling under this problem. In fact, we Canadians are managing to generate 31 million tons of garbage a year. And that includes $27.7-billion in wasted food.

Maybe action groups like Ecovision Asia will spur more of us to reconsider the environment – and eat up our leftovers? It’s not a bad start. I, for one, quite enjoy it when eating and good deeds go hand in hand. Hand me a spoon.

Think Happy Thoughts

Want to beef up your brain power in your old age? Try thinking positive. Researchers at Ohio State University have found that when seniors are in a good mood, they’re more likely to perform well on memory and decision-making tasks. Earlier studies have shown similar effects in younger adults. And it doesn’t take much to get happy: In the Ohio State experiment, test subjects were given candy and thank-you cards, and were set up on computers with smiley-sun wallpaper. That was enough to give them a lift… and an edge in cognitive testing.

So next time you see grandma, give her a reason to smile, whether it’s a big hug, or one of those molasses cookies she likes. You’ll be doing her mental faculties a favour.

Hearts of Gold

It’s a day late, but here’s a happy Valentine’s Day story. Nancy Kleinberg performed the good deed of her life in 1945 when she saved a young man from certain death at a German concentration camp. She spent three weeks caring for him, but they were separated. Months later, Howard tracked Nancy down in Toronto to say thank you.

That’s when the rest of their lives began. This year the Kleinbergs are celebrating 63 years of marriage. They’ve got four kids, plus a passel of grandkids and great-grandkids. And they still make each other sparkle. Click here for the whole story, and prepare to smile. We call that coming full circle.

Storm Watch

Blowing snow, vicious winds, icy cold… what’s kind about that? But for me, last Friday’s winter storm in Toronto wasn’t without its standout moments. The city bus I was riding on, blocked by stuck vehicles, was prevented from entering the subway station. We passengers were compelled to exit the bus on the sidewalk, then faced a snowbank between us and the subway station’s front doors.

A slightly-older-than-middle-aged woman on the other side of the snowbank called out to a woman, of a similar age, who had gotten off the bus with me. “Grab my hand, grab my hand!” she called out. The lady next to me reached out and took hold. What happened next was comical: Each woman struggled valiantly to haul the other over the mound of snow, each one convinced she was giving the other a much-needed helping hand. It was a stalemate, with both women tugging at each other, before they both realized that neither actually wished to climb the snowbank. They tittered with laughter then.

Their misunderstanding may have been cleared up, but the piles of snow still aren’t. Nice to know that even in the midst of a fierce blizzard, we can bear witness to small and random acts of kindness.

Weather alert: Deep snow may cause individuals to lose track of the lower half of their bodies.

Weather alert: Deep snow may cause individuals to lose track of the lower half of their bodies.

Bye-Bye, Bermuda

Home sweet home to Canada! And it is sweet, although being away was not exactly a hardship. What was meant to be a long-weekend getaway was extended into a five-day vacation when our return flight Sunday was abruptly cancelled. Weather was blamed. No matter. We were stranded in Bermuda, a haven where winter is about as harsh as a hibiscus. For us, the contrast against Toronto’s frigid February was welcome. (“You know how we can tell the Canadians?” a Bermudian driver said to me, laughing. “They’re the ones swimming in wintertime!”) Can you blame us? It was balmy and we were giddy with sunshine, palm trees and stunning blue waters.

The other thing that stood out for us in Bermuda was its colossal sense of civility. It wasn’t just the friendliness – although we witnessed that in spades – but the common courtesy. And by common, I mean it was everywhere. When you caught eyes with a passing stranger on the sidewalk, they asked how you’re doing. When a granny climbed the bus steps and announced a general “Good morning, everyone,” the entire ridership responded: “Good morning.” The words “thank you” were rampant. And they call us Canadians polite?

Maybe it’s because, with less than 65,000 people, Bermuda is more like a small town than an entire country. Or maybe it’s because these people wake up every morning with a view of the ocean, instead of an urgent need to apply an ice scraper to their windshields. Either way, it was a pleasant place to be, and pleasant people to be there with. Just think of it… an island paradise, where everyone minds their p’s and q’s.

Breathtaking Bermuda beauty: Often even nature does us a good deed.

Breathtaking Bermuda beauty: Often even nature does us a good deed.