Category Archives: Lisa’s Story

Vive la France

I’m back – or should I say, je suis revenue. This year, I spent my summer vacation in beautiful France. It was an epic journey for me and my daughter, as we don’t have the opportunity to travel nearly as often as we’d like. Plus both of us appreciate gorgeous landscapes, love good food, and can get along in passable French. (My accent is cringeworthy and I sometimes flub my grammar, but my vocabulary isn’t bad at all.)

If you’ve visited Paris, you know that in this international city a great many tourists and citizens alike speak English. We didn’t land in Paris until the last leg of our trip, however. Up to that point, most people we encountered spoke little or no English. Our lack of total fluency in French was a minor barrier when we needed help, but not a significant one. There are no language restrictions on acts of kindness.

And people were lovely. They really were. When we were trying to find an obscure museum building in a Lyon suburb, the middle-aged woman who noticed us wandering went out of her way to put us on the right path. When our train at Aix-en-Provence was en panne and we were forced to change routes and we suddenly weren’t sure just where we’d end up, every fellow passenger we spoke to was generous with their assistance. Every day, shopkeepers greeted us with warm welcomes, took time to describe heritage recipes or discuss their handicrafts. Tour guides patiently answered our questions, happy to explain customs and even talk politics. Hoteliers handed out as many maps and directions as we needed.

When your experience is made better by the courtesy of so many strangers in so many strange places, how do you give back to the community? My daughter easily answered that question by passing coins to homeless people everywhere we went. As for me, I’ve just packaged up a couple of Canadian souvenirs to put in the international mail.

There’s a funny story behind that. We were at a large train station with a few minutes to kill before our bus connection. We’d noticed the SOS Station office, but I’d assumed it was for lost children, or perhaps passengers who’d taken ill. That was until an older French woman came barrelling out of the office towards us. “You speak English,” she said. “Let me guess, you are American?” No, we said. “Oh, then British?” No. “Australian?” Nope. She finally pegged us as Canadians on her fourth try, and then entreated us to stay in her waiting room for a few minutes. Apparently, SOS is set up to save the souls of international travellers, a sort of comfort station for the non-French. There were seats, tourism brochures, a water cooler. We spent a few awkward minutes perched on chairs until it was time for us to go meet our bus. That’s when the French woman got to the point: She’d love it if we would mail her a Canadian pin for her collection. Perhaps two? She scribbled her name and address on a scrap of paper, helpfully adding “lady at SOS Station” in case we couldn’t remember, later, exactly why we were holding onto this stranger’s credentials.

So that’s why I’m now sending a padded envelope to France. It’s my small way of giving back to a country that welcomed us and shared with us its culture, its vast natural beauty and its fascinating history. Not to mention its astonishingly perfect cuisine.

Merci bien!

IMG_7587

Remind me again why I came back home?

Large as Life

Last week I was summoned to a government service office to replace my aging provincial health card with a brand-spanking-new photo ID card. (Funniest moment: When the guy taking my picture told me, in this order, to (1) remove my powerful glasses, and (2) stare at the small yellow dot six feet away.)

In this province at least, we’re getting more streamlined systems in place for making our organ donation wishes easily known. After we cash in our chips, there’s a limited time in which our tissues and organs can be actually put to good use. The new health cards have the information printed right on the back. Has a body recently expired? Flip card over. Read donation wishes. Save other lives.

Thus part of my renewal process last week involved filling out a form. The same government agent who asked me to stare at an impossibly small pale spot without my glasses was also amusingly judgy about the form. He nodded with approval at all the places where I ticked off “use anything,” “take whatever,” “party on.” Why wouldn’t anyone want to donate organs, he wondered aloud? Doesn’t everyone realize you can save seven or eight more lives?

Then he told me what had happened just a few days earlier. A woman walked in to renew her own health card, and when the same topic of conversation came up, she expressed her clear and unequivocal support for organ donation.

“I am here,” she explained to the agent, “because someone I don’t even know gave me their lungs.”

When it’s real and right in front of you, it hits home harder.

I’m on vacation for the next three weeks, lovely people. While I’m gone, please take a break, have some fun, spend time with the folks you adore most. I look forward to reconnecting with you again later in the month.

IMG_20160623_124757

Oh, and take time to smell the flowers.

Here’s to the Doorbuilders

Do you ever have one of those moments when you’re utterly humbled by the unselfish acts of others?

Yeah, me too.

Last Friday, I gave up part of my afternoon to collect information on wheelchair access and legislation. This was unpaid work. I’m helping an administrator to comply with the law. Full disclosure: My husband, a wheelchair user, stands to benefit from increased accessibility at this venue.

Here in Ontario, we’re in a years-long process of phasing in legislation that will strengthen the rights protection of people with disabilities. It’s a funny sort of situation, because these rights are already protected – have been for decades, in fact, under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

It’s just that no one seems to know about it.

When people with disabilities go shopping, eat at restaurants, go to the theatre, their rights are routinely violated. They can’t browse in a store, say, because a huge promotional display for maxipads is blocking the aisle. Only people who can stand up can squeeze past. Or they’re told they can’t have a table inside a café, even though there are empty tables available, because their wheelchair would be in the way. Or they’re told they can’t sit anywhere but in the very back row of the theatre. Think this never happens in the 21st century? In fact, all these things have happened to our family in recent memory.

Most of the time, it’s unintentional. And by that I mean that the shopkeepers or eatery owners who don’t treat all their patrons equally are completely clueless that they’re breaking the law.

That’s where the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) comes in. While human rights legislation gives a sort of general guideline – “hey, it’s uncool to discriminate and stuff” – the AODA explains exactly how one must go about providing fair and equitable service to people with disabilities.

This was all very useful in my research last Friday. If I’ve done the job right, the next time my husband patronizes this facility, he will (fingers crossed) be treated fairly. But hopefully this work  will also benefit the many others who come after him. And that’s the critical part. Why should these future customers have to experience the humiliation we did, just because they happen to have a disability?

This wasn’t a brief exercise by any means. I got a bit antsy. The other work I’d hoped to complete that day went on hold. Plus I had friends coming over in a few hours, and there was still vacuuming to be done, laundry to be folded, dinner to be started.

In fact, by the time I hit the Send button and looked at the clock, I admit I was mildly resentful of the time I’d devoted to this.

But then I did a reality check. And I was instantly humbled.

How can I complain about giving up an hour or two of my time to look up some laws? The only reason we have rights legislation and landmark court decisions in the first place is because other people, much more tenacious and persistent than me, have devoted hours, days, even years of their time. Not to mention sweat and tears. Possibly even blood. I can’t rule that out.

So, shut my mouth.

Every time we refer to legislation to prove our right to participate in Canadian society, it’s because steadfast advocates have dedicated themselves to fighting for these laws. They’ve fought for enforcement, too, and for awareness.

They’ve done it not just for themselves, but for all those who come after.

We owe them immense gratitude. And the least I can do is blog about it. So for all the David Lepofskys and the Barbara Turnbulls, and all the others who have made sacrifices to make a difference, we’re indebted to you.

And as for all those who don’t consider themselves longtime accessibility advocates… you know what? If you’ve ever made an effort to make a person with a disability feel welcome at your place of business, your restaurant or your theatre, then that matters a whole lot, too.

Milton Berle said: “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” I’m grateful to everyone who makes that first cut into the wall.

WelcomeMat

Photo by John Kawasa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Good Will Driving

It was a Friday afternoon, I was headed downtown for an event, and I was standing at the bus stop silently cursing myself for leaving the house at 3:00 p.m. instead of 2:55.

See, in my neighbourhood, those five little minutes make a very big difference. At 2:55, you can count on a bus to stop for you. You can trust you’ll be accommodated fairly comfortably while riding said bus.

At 3:00, however, you enter the twilight zone. Instantly, you’re competing for bus real estate with hordes of students freshly dismissed from four area schools. At this point, there’s no guarantee that any of the passing buses will stop or have room for you. If a sympathetic driver does let you squeeze on, you’re resigned to standing as thinly as possible amid a crush of loudly gossiping adolescents, each one wearing a school backpack the approximate size and weight of a Toyota Corolla.

The truth is, I like teenagers. I happen to have one and I used to be one. I enjoy their enthusiasm, and I admire their energy. One can only hope that the driver who is forced to transport a busload of tightly packed teens feels the same way, instead of dreading the portion of her route that takes her past hundreds of waiting students, and resenting the part of her job that compels her to pick them up. One can only hope she sees their charm.

On this day, though, it was the driver who was charming. As the bus ride came to an end she got on the loudspeaker and made this unexpected but endearing announcement: “Okay, folks, we’re just pulling into the subway station. You’ve been a great bunch. So enjoy your day, and have great weekend.”

How did the kids respond? These are enthusiastic people, don’t forget. Naturally, they rewarded the driver with a round of applause.

Positivity all around. I love those kinds of rides.

BusCrowded

By comparison, this bus is practically deserted.

Prejudice, Pooh

I have something to confess. I’m a poopist. Yes, I am guilty of discrimination against poops.

Doggy poops, that is. Specifically, I am prejudiced when it comes to choosing when and where I pick them up.

It goes without saying that I pick up after my own dog. But, you know, not everyone picks up after theirs. And therein lies the opportunity to do a good deed, as I’ve written in previous blog posts.

Because I’m a poopist, and also kind of squeamish, I don’t collect every neglected steamer that I see. I take a lot of walks, and trust me, I see plenty. Especially since I got my prescription glasses updated.

But I’m selective. When the dog droppings are far from my house, when they’re on the properties of people I’ve never met, when they’re not close to garbage bins (hence extending the length of time I’ll be required to hold onto the malodorous collection bag), most of the time the über-ick factor seems to outweigh any urge to do good.

But when I notice a poop pile near my house, when I personally know the neighbour who lives there (and let’s face it, we also know which neighbour is the one who’s not picking up), I don’t hesitate. I clean that nasty stuff off my friend’s front lawn faster than you can say, “Sit, Ubu, sit!”

I feel guilty for disregarding so much of life’s waste. But we all have our limits. And we probably shouldn’t be measuring our self-worth in terms of what we aren’t doing, but by what we are doing. I’m sometimes picking up neighbourhood poops. I’m sometimes doing people favours. I’m sometimes donating to charity. And sometimes I’m absorbed instead by a good book, a great glass of wine and my favourite spot on the couch.

Can you relate?

DogGuilty

I didn’t do it…”  (Photo by Photostock/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

A Touch of Magic

Everyone loves a good mystery. Years ago, my husband and I booked tickets to see a well-reputed magician. It’s not that I’m a huge aficionado of this entertainment genre, but the event happened to be bundled with a fabulous lunch – and for that, I will fall hard.

Now dear hubs, as many of you know, uses a wheelchair. And one of the mostly weird and occasionally wonderful ways in which this detail impacts on our social life has to do with theatre seating. We don’t sit where we choose; we sit where we’re put. Once in a while, the designated wheelchair seating area turns out to be prime real estate. That’s a party. More often, though, it’s in the fringes. Off-off-off Broadway, if you will. On this particular occasion, we were made to sit up front but on the extreme periphery of spectators – at such an awkward angle relative to the stage, in fact, that we were able to discern all the magic behind the magic. We saw through all the smoke, mirrors and sleights of hand whose success depended on a very specific audience viewing angle.

Sure, it was interesting. Mystery solved. But it also spoiled the magic.

In a way, that’s how I felt last week when I finally discovered the identity of one considerate, yet perpetually mysterious, neighbour. Long-time readers of this blog may remember “The Case of Citizen Stealth.” This story centered on a certain unknown, unnamed individual in my community who regularly retrieved our garbage bins from the curb for us after they’d been emptied on pick-up day. From my seat at the computer I’d hear the big plastic bins being shuffled and moved, but I never saw anything, never caught anyone in the act. And I always wondered which of my countless kind neighbours could take the credit for this good deed.

Then suddenly, mystery solved. Last week I spotted her walking past my office window, and seconds later the bins were rolled up the driveway. I hadn’t guessed it was her. I suppose I could have or even should have, because she’s the type who does many favours, and frequently. But she doesn’t even live on my street, although she walks along it, so her name hadn’t crossed my mind.

Is the magic spoiled? In a way it was nice not knowing. It left all possibilities open. It could have been the grumpy guy across the street. It could have been the reclusive pair nearby. They could have all been taking turns. Until last week, the potential was there.

But nothing has changed, really, has it? The potential is always there. And almost every person possesses a drive to do good. This week, especially, we have to remember that. This week, especially, I am thinking about the words of Mohandas Gandhi: “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

It’s called dilution, and it’s not magic. It’s a basic law of chemistry.

I’m grateful for the ocean. And my neighbours.

GarbageBin

I like big bins, and I cannot lie…

Screen Test

I’ve been out to the movies a few times this summer. (The Gift: Really good. Inside Out: Really good. Trainwreck: Really good. Thanks, online review aggregator, for making sure I never waste my money at the theatre… notwithstanding, of course, the twenty-dollar drop for the popcorn combo.)

I guess I like getting the most out of my entertainment buck, because I’m one of those individuals who enjoys the preshow and the previews before the main feature. If you pay attention to those, you might have seen the Cineplex Cinemas ads with theatre courtesy tips, namely: turn off your phone (“Don’t be a Tommy Texter”), refrain from kicking the chair in front of you (“Don’t be a Suzie Seatkicker”) and go for economy when you’re saving seats for friends (“Don’t be a Harvey Hogger”).

Last week, a Suzie Seatkicker actually sat behind me at the movies. I couldn’t see her, but I could feel her. Tap, tap, kick, kick, bump-bump-bump. There’s a reason why you shouldn’t do it. It’s distracting. It’s irritating. I admit that initially I harboured mean-spirited thoughts towards Miss Suzie. Why couldn’t she keep her lousy feet to her lousy self?

But partway through the film, somewhere between the comedy and the tragedy, I changed my perspective. Sending Suzie mental ill-will certainly wasn’t enhancing my movie experience. And wasn’t it possible Suzie wasn’t doing it on purpose? That perhaps she had unfeasibly oversized legs, that maybe she was cramped and just really, really uncomfortable? I decided Suzie might have a legitimate reason to seatkick. So I let it go. And from there, my movie concentration skills improved.

Once the credits were rolling, I naturally couldn’t resist turning around to get a look at Miss Suzie. Or rather Mister Suzie, as it turns out he wasn’t a woman but a thin, tall young man. And as such, he was endowed with very long – hey, get your mind out of the gutter, readers – legs.

Coincidentally, two days later a friend posted a message on social media: “The true mark of maturity is when somebody hurts you and you try to understand their situation instead of trying to hurt them back.”

Was it maturity that compelled me to try putting myself in Mister Suzie’s (size 13) shoes, instead of turning around to throw popcorn at his head? I don’t know about that. I just know that adopting a more understanding perspective did help me enjoy the movie. It was a win-win. I got to focus on the big screen, and Mister Suzie didn’t have to fish corn kernels out of his ear.

I’m not always quite so charitable when I try to understand someone else’s position. Like when another driver behaves badly on the road, and I decide he’s acting like a big shot because he does NOT have very long… uh… legs. (Photo courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

I’m not always quite so charitable when I try to understand someone else’s position. Like when another driver behaves badly on the road, and I decide he’s acting like a big shot because he does NOT have very long… uh… legs. (Photo courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)