Monthly Archives: May 2013

Good Gone Wrong

My friend Kim, who blogs about being blind, gave a classic example last week of how not to be kind. In her post “I Am Not Your Good Deed for the Day!”, she explained just how it felt to be manhandled into a chair by a coffee-shop patron who seemed bound and determined to score a few karma points. Kim wrote that the customer “…proceeded to grab me and push me towards the table. He shoved me into a chair and said, ‘I did my good deed for the day.’” (My confident and ever-eloquent pal Kim was quick to show him the error of his ways. Outbursts like “I am not an inanimate object!” and “I am not sitting at a table with someone who thinks like you!” were involved.)

Just days after I was captivated by Kim’s story, my daughter and I watched almost the same story unfold on a city bus as we headed home from a vocal lesson. It was rush hour, and consequently it was standing room only – that is, after my kid and I helped a very pregnant woman find the last vacant seat near the front of the bus.

A minute later, a woman with low vision and a white cane boarded the bus. Like anyone else of a young-enough age and with working legs, she was prepared to stay standing for the ride. But the man behind her was having none of that. “Excuse me, do you want a seat?” He asked her. “No thanks, I’m fine,” she replied. Did he listen to her? Rather, this man began wildly waving people out of their seats, announcing loudly to passengers: “She needs a seat! Give her a seat!” My daughter and I cringed on the lady’s behalf. Yet someone obediently jumped up, and the man grasped the lady’s arm and steered her towards the newly available bench. The woman was cornered. She quietly sat down.

I don’t think there’s any question that the man meant well. But as my daughter said (newly 14 and with a finely honed sense of fairness): “He treated her like an object! He thought he knew what was best for her!”

I’m all for kindnesses being extended to people with disabilities. I’ve written many times about total strangers and friends alike who have helped my husband out. By the same token, he has done many good turns for others. People with disabilities, like anyone, can excel at both performing and receiving good deeds.

But if you ask me, if both parties aren’t feeling fantastic by the end of the transaction, something has surely gone wrong in the process.

If you want to hear more disability perspectives from Kim, check out her new weekly radio show, “Welcome to My World,” on CKCU community radio at Carleton University. Listen to past episodes online at

Want to hear more disability perspectives from Kim? Check out her new weekly radio show, “Welcome to My World,” on CKCU community radio at Carleton University. Listen online at

Giveaways for Good

Does my basement make me look fat? Yes, I’m purging again. Bit by bit, we’re giving away a variety of toys, mismatched furniture and miscellany. The hard part is the sorting and cataloguing. It all takes time, and who has time?

The easy part is finding new homes for all the stuff. Batches of toys last week went to friends with young kids. Educational books and games went to classrooms. Over the weekend, I tallied my jigsaw puzzles, identified a pile I no longer wished to keep, and advertised them on a local Freecycle website.

The first person to email me was rather curt. But nevertheless the early bird gets the worm, so I sent her our address and we set up a pick-up time. At the door, she wasn’t much warmer.

Then, as she balanced the tall stack of puzzles in her arms and prepared to leave, she offhandedly mentioned why she was taking them. Turns out she has a friend coping with depression. He distracts himself with jigsaw puzzles. These were for him.

The lady at my door may not have been high-spirited or bubbly (off-topic, suddenly I’m craving champagne), but her actions certainly spoke for themselves.

Deepak Chopra said: “There are no extra pieces in the universe. Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill, and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle.”

I won’t use the phrase “puzzle obsession,” but you can see why I could afford to give a few away.

I won’t use the phrase “puzzle obsession,” but you can see why I could afford to give a few away.

On the Right Track, Again

Cameron Lyle, at age 22, may be just a young punk kid, but right now I think he’s got one of the biggest hearts in the world. Until a few weeks ago, Cameron, a graduating student at the University of New Hampshire, had a golden opportunity for a track-and-field championship. To put it into perspective: This was something he’d trained and competed for throughout his academic career, at both high school and college, with a string of medals to show for it. Cameron had an excellent chance at a coveted top prize… when he abruptly changed tracks. He gave up his once-in-a-lifetime shot – so that he could save a life instead.

Cameron, who had signed up with a bone marrow registry a couple of years earlier, got a call. The Call. He was a match for a man with blood cancer. The patient was barely older than Cameron himself.

Cameron didn’t even have to think about it. “I admit it was kind of frightening for a few minutes,” he told a reporter. “But I had made up my mind when I did the mouth swab and joined the registry that if it happened, I would donate. Otherwise, why bother registering?”

In fact, he was more worried about letting down his coach, Jim Boulanger. “You know what I told him?” Boulanger says in the Boston Globe article. “Do it. Donate. Sport is not bigger than life. Sport is a part of life…. In the end, he contributed to our athletic programs as an athlete, and as a student, and now as a person.”

Cameron’s mom has weighed in as well: “You try to teach your kids certain things: Be kind. Don’t bully. Give. Take your manners out of your pocket and put ’em in your mouth. And you always wonder if it sinks in… When he told me what he was going to do, I could barely keep myself together, I was so proud of him.”

Not only did this young man put his manners in his mouth – he chewed ’em up and blew bubbles with ’em. Way to go, Cameron.

The Mail Must Go Through

Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor first long weekend of spring… I think the postal carriers’ motto goes something like that, doesn’t it? After doing the rounds on Friday, our local mailman found one last letter in his shoulder bag with my address on it. Sure, he technically could have finished off his route by tossing it into our mailbox and giving it not a second thought. After all, I’m sure there was a dock and a beer waiting for him somewhere.

Instead, he took note of the fact that I’d already scooped up the day’s mail, acknowledged that I wouldn’t be looking in the box again until four days hence, and took the time to ring the doorbell and personally hand-deliver the envelope. “I noticed you’d already grabbed the mail, so I just thought I’d give this to you,” he said.

I glanced at the envelope and suddenly felt a well of gratitude. It was a gift card from Auntie Sylvie – and it was addressed to my daughter, who would be celebrating her birthday before the long weekend was through.

I told him about the special occasion. “She wouldn’t have gotten this in time for her birthday. I really appreciate that,” I explained. Nice way to start off what was truly a glorious-weather, party-filled weekend – with an exuberant birthday girl who has a generous aunt… and a dedicated mailman. As it happens, a fortunate combination.

Happy birthday to you, you belong in a zoo… (don’t they all? They’re fourteen.)

Happy birthday to you, you belong in a zoo… (don’t they all? They’re fourteen.)

Another Kind of Duck Dynasty

Ducklings trapped down a storm drain? There’s an app for that.

And we can thank the quick thinking of Michael Williams, who lives in Windsor, Ontario, for the ensuing rescue of the pair of ducklings. The two baby birds had been following their mom down the street when they accidentally fell into the drain. They panicked, then paddled away from daylight, making their odds of being saved awfully dicey.

Williams immediately called the municipality for help. Then he searched for a Blackberry app for duck calls. Using his smartphone, Williams was able to entice the ducklings to return to the open reservoir, where a city worker could fish them out with a net.

Happy ending. And hopefully these two duck daredevils have learned that running away from home is not all it’s quacked up to be (with apologies).

Free Agent

Want to find a new job? Track down your biological father? Practise your stage hypnosis act? Get someone to exercise your dog? No need to shell out for employment counsellors, private detectives, private audiences or dog-walkers. There’s another option: Call the Free Help Guy. This anonymous but charity-minded man, who makes his home in London, England, set up a website offering complimentary assistance of all types when he found himself temporarily underemployed and had some time on his hands. And, yes, he’s been giving away his time and efforts to all those causes listed above… and more.

Why reach out this way? “I hope that projects, blogs, missions like this all do their bit in making this world a slightly nicer place to be a part of!” FHG says. And why, you may wonder, has our friend opted to remain incognito as he dishes out favours, gratis? He insists he has nothing to hide, but explains: “I felt I would be more accessible to people if I was anonymous… I think if people don’t have a name, face and identity to go by, then no preconceptions can cloud their judgment of my offer of free help.” He sincerely believes he makes a more open and honest connection with people without the pesky static of extra details – like names.

“If my journey can be inspiring to anyone,” FHG adds, “then I want that inspiration to come from the act of giving, rather than the person behind it.” He’s doing something right. Our pal is currently working on project number 15… not bad, considering he started in February.

Hey, anyone whose tagline is “for the next six months I’m going to make your life better” has got my support.

I have the strangest feeling I’ve seen this guy somewhere before…

I have the strangest feeling I’ve seen this guy somewhere before…

Money for Nothing

The latest secret to happiness? Give away your cash. That’s according to professors at the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School. They compiled data from studies around the world showing that spending money on other people gives us a bigger kick than spending it on ourselves. What’s even neater: Donating your dough is equally rewarding whether you’re living off chickenfeed, or swimming in the big bucks. The professors, who have co-written a book called Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, refer to this discovery as “a psychologically universal human trait.”

Does the size of emotional reward depend on the value of the cash you’re giving away? If so, here’s the equivalent to a cheap high.

Does the size of emotional reward depend on the value of the cash you’re giving away? If so, here’s the equivalent to a cheap high.

Home is where the Heart is

I met a mom the other day who has truly opened her heart and her home. She’s an oncology nurse in a busy hospital. Three years ago, when a Nigerian refugee came to her ward seeking treatment for cancer, medical care wasn’t the only kind she needed. The young woman was also desperate for a safe place to live. She’d been assaulted at the home where she and her four-year-old daughter had been staying.

The nurse took her in. She must have thought, Why not? Her adult daughter was moving back home with a newborn baby boy, so any concept of empty-nesting had already, well, flown the coop.

Sadly, the Nigerian mom’s cancer proved incurable. But as her health declined over the next two years, the nurse only became closer to this tiny family, until any boundaries between her blood and theirs pretty much melted away.

By the time the young refugee was on her deathbed, there was no question in the nurse’s mind. She formally asked if she could adopt the little girl, now six, and raise her as her own after her biological mother was gone. Legal experts were brought in, a will was prepared, papers were signed. Then, a year ago, this little girl from Nigeria became the nurse’s very own child to raise.

Today the girl is seven years old, beautiful and thriving. She calls the nurse “Mommy”; she and her adoptive-mom’s-biological-daughter’s-toddler-son are as thick as thieves. And she fits right into her new life. She’s backed by the entire department of oncology at the hospital, where doctors and nurses have pooled their money to pay for clothes and lessons.

So much can change in a small span of time. For this nurse, it began as a workplace encounter with a young woman who’d crossed the ocean with a tragic history. Now she has a daughter for life. I only spent a few minutes with this lady, but I have a feeling I’ll reflect on her story for a long time to come.

Do these beautiful flowers have anything to do with today’s post? I’m sure there’s a metaphor somewhere. I do love spring.

Do these beautiful flowers have anything to do with today’s post? I’m sure there’s a metaphor somewhere. I do love spring.

Grumpy Old Men… And Women

You’ve all met them… those folks who try to get away with blunt-bordering-on-rude remarks by implying it’s a positive character trait: “Hey, I just tell it like it is.” But honesty, as I teach my kid, is not always the best policy.

Of course I want my daughter to grow up to be a truthful person, one who is fair and forthright, who lives and works with integrity. I’m not suggesting she go out of her way to be disingenuous.

But there are occasions when honesty is not necessarily the advised course of action. Certainly not when someone asks prying questions, like your age or your income. You have a right to silence on these issues. But there are also times when a small white lie is the kindest course of action you could take in the moment: “I like your haircut.” Right? Or, “No need to apologize – I’d forgotten all about it.” You know what I’m talking about.

According to Queendom, a website run by a psychologist in Montreal, people who blurt out whatever’s on their mind tend to be less sensitive to others’ feelings, more impulsive, and faster to fall into a rage. Surprise, surprise, they’re also less popular in their social circles. If you find you’re offending other folks whenever you open your mouth, not to worry. staff have helpfully listed suggestions on how to be a little more tactful when you talk.