Monthly Archives: August 2013

Dear Kijiji Lady…

Yes, that’s right – I’m talking to the dear woman who posted this Kijiji ad in Saint John, New Brunswick.

What a wonderful tribute you’ve shared to the person who offered you help you last week.

You turned down her favour. True, you were struggling with a load of groceries and a fussy preschooler after an exhaustingly long day. But by this point you were a block from home, so you didn’t need the lift in her car.

Yet, still, you gave her a grateful shout-out on this mother-of-all-message-boards. You took the time to point out that even though you didn’t actually get into her red station wagon, you witnessed the ripple effect of her kindness. You confessed that her good intentions melted your heart. You observed that the two young boys with her are learning from her example.

And when you went home and wept because you can no longer afford a car and feel you’re letting down your son – and then your little four-year-old angel embraced you and cheered you on and told you how much he loved you – you honestly felt that this incredibly special moment might never have happened if the woman in the red station wagon had not offered you both a ride.

No wonder you felt compelled to post this, in the hopes that station-wagon-mom will find and read it and know much her generosity meant to you.

You don’t mind if other people read your message, too. “If you aren’t the Mom from the red station wagon,” you have written, “please take a moment when you see someone in need and offer to help, offer a kind word or even just a smile. You never know what an impact you can have on someone’s day or how that moment of kindness can be the catalyst for something greater.”

Lovely, Kijiji lady. Wishing you all the best.


Don’t Judge a Book (or a Biker)

Last week I wrote about a tough-looking guy who spoke really sweetly to me. On this same theme, I’d like to talk about a friend of mine we’ll call Rocky. His real name doesn’t actually sound all that hardened, but I’ve picked Rocky (other contenders were Conan and Thor) to go with the image he believes he projects to the world.

I say “believes,” because personally I’ve never known this guy to be intimidating. Let’s be clear: This is a soft-hearted, middle-aged man who has fixed a leaking water pipe in our basement, helped us with a broken table and gone out of his way to give me a ride to the train station. Rocky is one of those guys who’s constantly on-call for any friend who needs a hand, ever.

But he does ride a motorcycle. He has tattoos. He is neither short in stature, nor a beanpole in build. His email handle is “Blue Harley” (and he uses said email account to circulate some rather racy jokes). Sometimes, he is judged harshly.

Still, he writes eloquently. So when, last Friday, he had a disappointing encounter with a woman and her daughter in the coffee-shop parking lot, Rocky was moved to share the story with his friends. It’s touching, and with Rocky’s permission, I reproduce it here:

“To the family in the red SUV at Tim Horton’s today. Yes, I am a big, 230-pound guy with motorcycles and full of tattoos. I am loud, I drink Coke … and I look like I would eat your soul if you stare at me wrong.

“What you don’t know is that I have been happily married and my 30-year-old kids call me Dad. I am a college graduate, my mother is proud of me and tells everyone how lucky she is to have such a wonderful son.

“My nieces and nephews are always happy to see their Uncle Rocky. When my boys broke their bones, I cried more than they did.

“I read books, I help people, I go out of my way to thank war veterans and I even cried at Armageddon and Schindler’s List.

“So next time I smile and say hi to your little girl and you grab her and tell her ‘No, no, dear, we don’t talk to dirty bikers,’ remember that even though you hurt my feelings, this ‘dirty biker’ would be the first person to run into your burning house to save your little girl – and her goldfish, so she wouldn’t be sad!!!!”

Rocky adds at the end:

“By the way, I’m a plumber… and the fellow I was riding with was a police officer.”

Tats? Yes. Tough? Not on your life.

Tats? Yes. Tough? Not on your life.

Not as Powerless as You Might Think

This past Wednesday was a significant anniversary, at least it was for anyone who lives along the northeast seaboard of North America. That’s because August 14 marked ten years since a historic, sweeping power failure blacked out big cities and small communities alike, affecting 50 million people for up to four days.

On Wednesday, many of us reflected back on the experience (while others, apparently, partied like it was 2003).

Ten years ago, on August 14, my family and I had just moved into a new house in a new neighbourhood. We hadn’t yet met anyone – more on that later – and our bungalow was a mess with the dust and debris of renos.

When the lights went out on the afternoon of August 14, my husband and I were downtown at work. We were both in office buildings with elevators. Right after the power loss, my colleagues and I carried a co-worker in a wheelchair down the stairs, in the dark – unbeknownst to me, my husband’s colleagues were simultaneously doing the same for him. Hence the good deed marathon had already begun.

I then walked over to my young daughter’s daycare. I mentioned to another parent that I couldn’t reach my husband to find out if he was trapped, and she promptly packed both our kids in the back of her car, scooting us off in the direction of his workplace. (“I know a back route,” she bragged, zipping through side streets to avoid the jammed intersections with failed traffic lights.)

My little family eventually reunited and made it home. In an inspiring feat of resourcefulness, my husband’s personal care attendant made it to our home for the evening shift after first prying himself out of an elevator that had stalled between floors. He did his work by candlelight.

And so on.

I have two favourite memories from that week. The first was stepping outside after dark that first night to look at the stars, an impossible treat for an urban dweller. It was a rare, breathtaking view.

My other favourite moment involves yet another act of benevolence. In the morning, I walked on our new street with my daughter and discovered, to my surprise, a makeshift coffee stand. A couple across the street had rolled out their barbecue and put on an old-fashioned percolator, and were now grandly brewing coffee for any neighbours who gathered. I was delighted to stop for a cuppa, and even more pleased to receive introductions to a wonderful new community of people.

That kindness of spirit we first experienced on our street that morning has endured for a decade. Ten years later, I still think of the 2003 blackout not as the time our air-conditioning failed in the heat of summer, or the time we drove around looking for batteries… but as the way by which we first met our new neighbours.

Were you affected by the blackout of 2003? Did you witness moments of grace and generosity? I’d love to hear from you.

Recent moving truck on our street: Let’s assume Joe is happy with the free publicity…

Recent moving truck on our street: Let’s assume Joe is happy with the free publicity…

Planes, Trains, Automobiles, etc., etc., etc…

Whew! We’re back to the regular routine this week after a good deal of lovely time off. Much of our summer vacation involved day trips, but we also travelled out of town. Returning home yesterday involved no fewer than seven modes of transportation – we know this, because we counted: car, plane, ferry, streetcar, subway train, bus and trusty little feet. Nevertheless, the trip was straightforward and included few surprises.

It did, however, remind me of how frequently I witness good deeds on or around public transportation. (I’ve touched on this before – here, here and here are a few examples.)

So, here goes another account of a moment of kindness that didn’t happen yesterday, but did happen recently. I’ve been saving this story to share with you because it made me grin. And because it’s the little things that sometimes perk us up the most, don’t you think?

It happened when a heavily tattooed, muscle-bound, shaved-headed guy came close to running right into me. He was barrelling towards the same subway station entrance that I was just about to walk through. But instead of colliding with me, the man came to a sudden stop and backed up to let me in the door. And as he did so, he gifted me with both a big, lovely smile and a sweeping arm gesture to wave me past him – saying sheepishly: “Sorry, sweetheart!”

Unexpected overwhelming decency. Yup, I think it’s wonderful.

Here’s where I was yesterday. Remind me again why I came back home?

Here’s where I was yesterday. Remind me again why I came back home?

Lawn Care

A month ago, I wrote about the Foundling Museum’s EXCHANGE exhibition in London, the one that’s using teacups to trigger over a thousand acts of kindness. I mentioned there’s an online version of the exhibition that’s been set up to allow for 10,000 additional good deeds. Anyone can suggest a good deed idea, and anyone can accept one.

Now I’ve learned that someone has agreed to do the good deed I submitted. I proposed mowing a next-door neighbour’s lawn. Someone’s going to do it. What a kick.

The person who’s taking this on could be anywhere on earth – this is the world wide web, after all. But from his name, I’m guessing he’s Irish. So perhaps someone’s grass in the Emerald Isle will be a little more carefully manicured this week, all thanks to this online (and rather entertaining) EXCHANGE of good deeds.

An act of kindness any neighbour will appreciate? You bet your grass.

An act of kindness any neighbour will appreciate? You bet your grass.

Above-Average Joe

Maybe it’s because I’m writing this early in the morning, but a free cup of coffee sounds awfully good right now. Yet according to a psychology professor who comments on the recent “pour it forward” phenom that’s sweeping Canada – over 10,000 Tim Hortons coffees have been given to strangers at this point – I’d be happier buying coffee for someone else than getting one bought for me. Who knew?

I’m kidding, of course. We all knew. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve already heard there are research findings to show we get a bigger kick out of giving than receiving. That may explain why one person alone has spent eight hundred smackeroos on other people’s brews in this coffee campaign.

Still, it’s a bit of a thrill to get, too. As one of my friends said on Facebook, after the Timmies story proved to have legs: “I remember once, when I was going through the drive-through, I let a driver merge in front of me… and to my surprise he paid for my coffee! That was a great way to start my morning.”

Hasta la java, baby.

Last Words

If you have to go, then go good. This is a tragic story – a police officer in San Diego, California, was shot in an unprovoked attack while sitting in his car in traffic. He died the next morning. Not only was Jeremy Henwood serving his public at home, but he’d also served in Iraq. His sister described him as “a great man and a hero to our country.”

What makes Jeremy stand out a little more than other heroes, maybe, is the remarkable footage of those last few minutes before his ordinary day took a terrible turn. A security camera happened to catch Jeremy inside a local McDonald’s restaurant. Thus we know that the last thing he ever did in his life was buy food for a child he’d never met before.

It happened like this: Thirteen-year-old Davian Tinsley asked Jeremy for ten cents, because he didn’t have enough cash for the three cookies he wanted. Jeremy’s response? “He said, ‘Well, I can buy the three cookies for you,’” Davian recalled in a television interview. Jeremy asked Davian what he wanted to be when he grew up. When Davian told him he aspired to be an NBA star, the man passed on fatherly advice: “He said, ‘Well, you gotta work hard for that,” and I said, ‘Thank you.’”

They were Jeremy’s last words.

Davien was stunned to find out that the “good guy” who behaved kindly toward him is now gone forever. But this 13-year-old boy will likely draw on the lessons he learned. As for Jeremy Henwood, he may have left a gaping hole in the lives of his loved ones, but it’s also clear he left a legacy.