Monthly Archives: February 2015

Let’s Just Plow Through

Winter’s still on, so I’m sharing another snow story. Please bear with me (or invite me to Florida – either way).

So, what would you do if you were fed up with complaints about snowplows versus driveways? For those of you who don’t live northward enough to understand, here’s how it works in Canadian cities. A winter storm dumps a whole lot of snow on us. We shovel out our driveways. And then, because we pay our taxes, a snowplow drives around and clears our roads for us for free.

The problem? Well, the snow pushed by the plow has to go somewhere, so you often end up with a driveway-ful. Your cars get blocked in all over again. You’re forced to go outside for what some folks are dubbing the dreaded “second shovel.” And because by this point you’re exhausted, your temper is short… and you’re more likely to grumble about those annoying (did I mention free?) snowplows that have caused you a whole lot of aggro.

If your compulsion to complain happens to take you to the City of Regina’s Facebook page for a venting, be warned. There’s a guy called Neil McDonald who also lives in Regina, Saskatchewan, and he has very little patience for such bellyaching.

In fact, just last week, Neil tracked down one of the complainants – “Internet-creeped their address [and] drove halfway across town,” as he phrases it – and actually cleared the snow away from their car for them. He wrote that he did it “to prove that it wasn’t anything more than a minor inconvenience.” Of course, once he reported all this in a follow-up comment on Facebook, the whole thing quickly and predictably went viral.

You could call Neil a good Samaritan – just not to his face. In an interview for CBC, he insists that although people are calling him a “yeti messiah” and “Batman with a shovel,” he’s not like that at all. He’s flattered, but says he’s no “winter-loving, goodwill ambassador.” He’s just tired of all the griping about snowplows. Neil hates everything about winter, but believes we should be helping each other get through it, not fixating on minor inconveniences like a snowed-in car.

Just keep in mind it’s not about liking winter, ever. Neil is a champion on that point. “By me suggesting online that people just get out there and dig each other out after a snowfall, the last thing that I wanted to suggest is that we enjoy it,” he says. “Winter sucks without a doubt, but just do it.”

Neil, you have nothing to worry about from me. I will never stop despising winter, no matter how many wintry good deeds are done.

But I will always love those wintry good deeds.

The view from my front door. I can’t even talk about it.

The view from my front door. I can’t even talk about it.

No Business Like Snow Business

When I first glanced at the name of Canadian Tire’s winter-themed kindness campaign, I honestly thought it was called “Shove It Forward.” This made a strange kind of sense to me: It could have been an emphatic message about assertively, maybe even quite forcefully, paying the good deed forward.

Of course, the campaign is really about shoveling snow, not shoving kindness down people’s throats.

Here in Canada, snow shoveling is one of our official winter sports (I think). We wear uniforms (usually wool toques, deeply treaded boots and 2010 Winter Olympics mittens, slightly pilly with wear). We use specialized equipment – preferably ergonomic shovels with easy-grip handles, although any old aluminum thing will do in a pinch. And with practice, we improve and refine our technique.

Snow shoveling is not a team sport per se. But you do often see interplay, in the form of jovial comments exchanged between two adjacent driveways (“What a winter!” “You said it!”). The language rarely gets out of hand, although you may hear one or two curses aimed at a particular groundhog of note.

There are no national championships, no trophies, no medals. Snow shovelers, no matter how accomplished, never get celebrated. They don’t stand on a podium or receive flower bouquets or get asked to appear in a Nike commercial. What they do is work diligently and thoroughly to clean the white stuff away from their driveways and walkways.

And then, because this is Canadian society we’re talking about, more often than not they go next door, and similarly clear out a path for their neighbour.

The “Shovel It Forward” campaign is all about warming people’s hearts when the weather is unbearably cold. Canadians who shovel driveways for others are encouraged to report the good deed on the campaign website, or talk about it on Twitter. Canadian Tire is even supplying a number of limited-edition shovels to do the job (true to the name, you’re supposed to leave the tool with the neighbour so they can help someone else and pass it on).

With or without this campaign, Canadians everywhere are constantly shoveling it forward. On a blizzardy day, there’s no sound I love more than the distinctive rumble of a generous neighbour’s snow blower in my driveway, coming to the rescue. And my daughter and I, in turn, often wield our shovels on other people’s properties.

(These days, we do skip helping the cranky elderly neighbour I reported on here. Funny story: The winter after that episode, when I offered to help him after yet another heavy snowfall, he growled, “I don’t need help! I told you that last year!” At least his memory’s not failing.)

The shovel is almost bigger than she is. But that’s not stopping her. (Photo courtesy of Andrew McCartney / Tribal Worldwide)

The shovel is almost bigger than she is. But that’s not stopping her. (Photo courtesy of Andrew McCartney / Tribal Worldwide)

How to Make Your Mark

Mark Henick was a young teen in Nova Scotia when he came within an inch of death.

It was late at night. Mark was depressed and had run out of hope. He was on the wrong side of an overpass railing, barely holding on. Worse, in fact – he was ready to jump.

Then a miracle happened. A man pulled his car over, got out, and began to speak gently. Not to talk Mark out of it. Just to listen.

His name was Mike Richey. This may have nothing to do with anything, or everything to do with everything: Mike had recently started working in youth care. In fact, he was on his way to a shift at a residential centre.

Police and paramedics arrived, bystanders gathered. All kept their distance. But Mike asked Mark if he might move a little closer, just so they could talk more easily. He took a peek over the edge – and felt sick to his stomach as he shared Mark’s view of the asphalt 50 feet below.

And then the boy let go. But just as his body began to topple off the bridge, Mike reached out and gripped him around the chest. Mike and a police officer hauled him away from the edge. An ambulance swiftly took Mark away.

Neither man saw each other again, but neither man ever forgot. It’s been 12 years.

Today, Mark is a professional advocate with the Canadian Mental Health Association in Toronto. Mike works for a province-wide youth crisis centre.

Their brief meeting haunted both of them for years. Mike yearned to know if Mark had found peace, even thrived. Mark constantly wondered about the man who had saved his life.

Both men talked about the life-altering experience to their family and friends. Actually, Mark went one step further than that, sharing it as part of a TED talk about suicide. And then, though social media, he finally expressed his wish to find the man who’d saved his life.

A couple of Mike’s friends recognized the story when they heard it. (Mike admitted later that he cried when he learned that Mark Henick in 2015 is a confident, successful young man, ardently using his personal experience to help others.) And when he found out Mark was ready to hear from him, Mike wrote a very long, heartfelt email. He shared his detailed memories of that pivotal night, and revealed that the experience has never, ever left him. (Mark reads the email for the first time here, in an emotional YouTube video.)

Mike was gratified to know that the young boy he saved had gone on to make a giant-sized difference to others. “I never knew you could feel so proud of someone you spent such a brief moment of time with,” he wrote to Mark.

As for Mark, he felt happy – perhaps closure – after reading the letter, and has now expressed an interest in meeting Mike in person.

And he continues to share his story publicly for those who are struggling. “If this story can help somebody and show them that in fact people do care about them, like this stranger seemed to care about me – a kid on the edge of a bridge – then I hope that makes it worth it.”

Mark writes on YouTube: “I’ve always modelled myself on the idea that any stranger can save a life.”

Mark writes on YouTube: “I’ve always modelled myself on the idea that any stranger can save a life.”

Together Through Thick and Thinner

I’m going to take it on faith that you love the one you’re with. So I’m fairly confident that, if you could, you’d extend your partner’s life. That’s a pretty radical sort of good deed, isn’t it? If you’re thinking kidney donation or four-alarm-fire rescue, you’ll be possibly relieved to know that there’s an even easier way to do add years to your beloved one’s life. And you’ll end up helping yourself in the process.

Here’s how: Quit a bad habit – or develop a healthy one – the same time your partner does.

Researchers at University College London recently investigated the lifestyle behaviours of men and women in long-term relationships, and reported some positive findings. They found that if one partner tried to quit smoking, get more exercise or shed a few pounds, they were much more likely to succeed if their mate made the attempt right along with them.

And I mean much more likely. For instance: Women who tried to quit smoking had a low success rate (8%) if their cig-addicted partners kept on smoking. If, on the other hand, their men quit with them, their success shot up to 50%. Compare that to a 17% percent success rate in relationships where the partners never smoked to begin with. That suggests it’s the actual joint effort to break this habit that makes the biggest difference.

Similarly, men and women were more likely to get fit or shed weight if their partner tried to do it with them.

Why does it help? Encouragement and moral support can do wonders, say the researchers. (And maybe a little healthy competition doesn’t hurt, says I.) This CBC report suggests it’s simply a lot more fun to run laps or swim lengths when you’re with a loved one.

If you’re single, don’t despair. Anyone can be your workout buddy, even a neighbour or a co-worker. The point is to have a cheering section.

As for all you supportive partners who are exercising, dieting or slapping on a nicotine patch for your significant other, give yourself a pat on the back. You’re performing an act of kindness that will ensure your better half has a long, healthy future ahead of them. And there’s kickback for you, ’cause you’ll end up improving your own physical condition. Plus, you know that by doing a good deed, you get an emotional lift. It’s not just a win-win situation, it’s a win-win-win-win-win-win…

Photo courtesy of gameanna /

Photo courtesy of gameanna /