Category Archives: Lisa’s Story

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)

The Heat is On

For almost a decade, I have spent part of every summer at a certain magical place. It’s fully described in this earlier post, so I won’t go into detail again now. Suffice it to say that, this year, we happily enjoyed the usual fun, food and frolic. Each day brought us remarkably perfect weather – save one. On our second-last day, the temperature dropped, the sky turned grey and a dismal rain fell all day, stopping just long enough for my daughter to take out a sailboat, fall into the water, and soak the four layers of clothes she was wearing.

Apart from the sailing, this particular vacation day was mostly made for sitting around: relaxing, reading and chatting, instead of the usual swimming, windsurfing and kayaking. So by early evening, the combination of low activity and abundant cuisine had us feeling antsy. My daughter and I decided to burn a few calories by speed-marching through one of the buildings, up stairs and down hallways, up hallways and down stairs.

It was thus on our travels that we almost ran over Grace, an eightysomething woman staying here for a family reunion. When we met her, she was pushing a walker slowly down the hall to her room, delicately balancing two cups of tea on her mobility device.

“Can we help you carry those?” I asked her.

“No, but you can help me with something else,” she said. “Do you know how to work the heat in these rooms?”

“Actually, we do!” I replied. I explained that we’d just worked it out for ourselves, as my daughter’s dunk in the lake had necessitated a drying out of various garments.

Grace, who’d thought I was a staff person, exclaimed, “Oh, you’re a guest here! You don’t even have to help me!”

As you know, it’s my personal policy that we all certainly do have to help each other, and I freely told her so. The three of us walked at a slug’s pace together, introducing ourselves and chatting. Once we reached her room, I showed her how to adjust the heat.

Grace promptly put it up to 90, the extreme upper limit. “That’s going to feel like a hot summer day,” I warned her. “That’s just the way I like it,” she countered cheerfully.

“Well, enjoy your sauna,” I joked as we turned to leave.

“You’ve been so kind,” Grace remarked. Then she added with a grin: “I hope someone is as kind to you, when you’re as old and stupid as I am.”

For the record: When I am indeed old and stupid (a case could be made that I’m already nearly both), I’m counting on all you younger whippersnappers to be kind to me.

And please remember, always, to book my annual summer vacation.

We had lake, we had dock, we had Muskoka chairs. It was all the makings of a quintessential Ontario summer getaway.

We had lake, we had dock, we had Adirondack chairs. It was all the makings of a quintessential Ontario summer getaway.

Garden-Variety Good Deeds

Anyone who shops at garden nurseries on a regular basis knows that the bill adds up faster than you can say “variegated sedge.” That’s one reason why gardeners get so much joy out of dividing and sharing their own perennials. All those flowers, ferns and other freebies can save you a pile of cabbage.

Another reason is more fundamental. It seems to me that gardeners like finding new places for our plants because it means we’re spreading a little bit of beauty to one or two more corners of the world.

Last week my hubby and I visited a private garden where the homeowner and resident cultivator invited us to browse through her flowerbeds, point at perennials that caught our eye, and bring parts of them home to start a new life. She’d never met us before – we were introduced by a mutual friend. She may never see us again (although I did promise we could return the favour, anytime she wanted!). But thanks to her, new patches of sweet woodruff, tall woodland sunflower and green lady’s mantle are now taking hold in our own back yard.

I could go on and on about the good deeds that constantly crop up (hee hee, “crop”) among gardeners. In fact, I’ve discussed this in other blog posts, here and here. But for now I’ll just share this woman’s parting words, as we loaded up our van with pots large and small:

“Gardening is a lesson in generosity.”

It certainly all felt very generous to me.

P.S. If anyone knows the name of the mystery silver perennial that's front-and-centre in this pictue, we'd love to hear from you...

P.S. If anyone knows the name of the mystery silver perennial that’s front-and-centre in this pictue, we’d love to hear from you…

What’s Good Enough for the Goose…

Baby-bird rescue stories are ubiquitous at this time of year. (Here’s one I posted on almost exactly this same date, two years ago.) Last week, staff at the University of Calgary saved a half-dozen baby geese that had just left the nest for the first time… only to discover they were stranded on a rooftop, five metres above an asphalt parking lot. (Why their parents felt compelled to build a nest here is a topic to be explored in future therapy sessions, I’m sure.)

Lucky for this feathery family, the rooftop in question covered the university’s Outdoor Centre, which happened to be well stocked with gym mats. Once the university folks grasped the problem, they hauled out the mats and placed them strategically around the building, enabling the bird babies to jump off the roof safely. Happily, all five goslings survived the drop and the family soon left for greener ponds.

In my quiet Toronto suburb, we too are occasionally captivated by baby-bird cuteness. On my morning walk a few days ago, I encountered a family of seven – Mrs. Goose, Mr. Gander, and their five fuzzy children – waddling down the middle of the street without an apparent avian care in the world. I stopped to take photos, as did a kid who came out of a nearby house.

Then a car approached. Fortunately, by that point the fowl family had safely reached the sidewalk. Nevertheless, the person behind the wheel carefully slowed right down to a crawl, so as not to startle or separate the adult geese and their goslings. It was sweet to see the driver taking such care.

Now a message to the person who piped in the quirky music for this University of Calgary video of leaping goslings: You put a grin on my face. So, thank you for that.

“But John, I still don’t see any sign of a lake. For heaven’s sake, WHY won’t you stop and ask for directions?”

“But John, I still don’t see any sign of a lake. For heaven’s sake, WHY won’t you stop and ask for directions?”