End of the Year, Beginning of the Rest of the World

I’ll be on blog-holiday for the next couple of weeks, enjoying time with family, friends and feasts. But I plan to leave you with an abundance of rich, high-calorie stories. We don’t want you starving for good news.

First, there’s this tale about the new guy in town, who unexpectedly discovered that the next-door neighbours are alive only because he himself saved them 65 years ago. Ed Malone, known as Kip, ran into a burning house when he was 12 years old and pulled out two little girls. That was in St. John’s, Newfoundland. He never forgot, and always wondered what had happened to them. He had to wait until 2016 to find out. But the sisters living next door to his new house in the community of Conception Bay South were only too happy to fill him in – once they got over the shock of the coincidence – and thank him profusely, as they couldn’t have done when they were three and five years old. (They didn’t recognize each other, but they recognized each other’s life stories – and the rest fell into place.) “I feel so blessed,” said one of the sisters, Barbara Earle, in a news story. “If it wasn’t for Kip, I wouldn’t be here today and have the beautiful, wonderful life and family that I have.”

Next I have the story of a girls’ hockey team in Eabametoong First Nation. The whole team is all smiles because up to now, they hadn’t been able to afford hockey equipment – it’s expensive, isn’t stocked in the local general store, and must be flown in to their remote northern-Ontario community. Thanks to a grade-12 class assignment in Markham, Ontario, they’re now fully outfitted and ready to take to the ice. This happened because Emma Tworzyanski, 17, had to pick a project for her sports management class. A hockey player herself, she chose to collect donated equipment and ship it to the girls in Eabametoong, where her dad often travels to work as an engineer. “I thought it was the perfect opportunity to use my passion [for hockey] to help other people,” she said in a report. As for the excited girls, they can’t wait to take to the ice with their new equipment and show the world what they’re made of.

Got time for one more? Of course you do, it’s the holidays. Marc Carter, a dad in Devon, England, is counting as his hero a particular factory manager in China. Marc’s 14-year-old son, Ben, has autism, and will only drink from a very specific blue sippy cup. In fact, Ben will risk dehydration before he’ll drink from anything else. He’s had the cup since he was two, so naturally it’s falling apart. Problem is, the cup is no longer made. Marc put an appeal out to the cyberuniverse and it reached Li Jieying, an associate of the company that used to make the cup. She took it upon herself to search her factory for molds, materials and supplier information so that the cup could be remade to exact specifications. “We think it is very meaningful for us to help,” she told a reporter. The company manufactured a special run of 500 cups just for Ben. At 12 years per cup – heck, let’s even say 10 years, since he probably has more teeth now than he did when he was two – Ben has enough blue cups to last him to the ripe old age of 5,000. His grateful dad has now created a website, littlebluecup.org, where he hopes to help other families in need.

There’s a whole lot of goodness in a world that sometimes bludgeons us with bad news. We have to remember that. So keep your arms open, your hearts and minds too, and continue spreading the love. Happy New Year.

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See all you sweethearts in 2017. (Photo by graphixchon / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Someone’s up to Snow Good

The first snowstorm of the season is a bit like a semi-annual dental cleaning. You know it’s coming and you don’t necessarily look forward to it, but you gird yourself and get through it all the same.

Here in Toronto, our winter’s first storm started Sunday night, and by yesterday morning we had 15 cm of the stuff to clear away. Temperatures hovered around zero because, after all, this is The Six, where the snow that piles up is less often light and fluffy, and more often slushy, joyless and stone-heavy, such that the left side of your chest almost shrieks out loud with every shovelful. I struggled to clear our walkways, but the extra-wide driveway was out of the question.

Since no one has yet invented a snow plow that attaches to my husband’s power wheelchair – as far as he’s concerned, it would have to be one that comes with a domed, self-heated enclosure and a little cup holder for his hot tea, and perhaps the documentary channel on surround-sound while he’s at it – I am the one stuck with the shoveling. And by stuck, I mean that I reach a point where my shovel is left stuck in a snowbank, and I’m back in the house trying to catch my breath.

But like I said, the temperature was rising, and by the time I took the dog out at midday, a quick glance towards the driveway as I left the house suggested to me that the snow had almost completely disappeared. Melted away, or so I thought. It wasn’t until I returned from the walk and grabbed a shovel to finish the clean-up that I realized the snow hadn’t melted at all. Rather, it had been vigorously cleared away, at some point in the morning, by some nameless neighbour.

Again.

It happens every year. The snow falls hard, I struggle to clear us out, someone comes along and lightens my load.

And here’s the thing. I don’t have a clue who to thank. There are so many kind souls around here that, in winter weather, I can’t even be sure who did what good deed. Which is probably why I write about this every year.

The weather is cold, but our hearts are warmed.

snowshovel

Chronic Care

Stephen Wheeler lived with lung cancer for five years before he died. The manufacturing specialist in Rochester, New York, was not known as an extrovert. On the contrary, he was considered shy. But when his family contacted the administrators of his online cancer forum and notified them of Stephen’s death, they got a surprise: 1,000 pages of printouts from his many online discussions, which the administrators prepared for them. As the family learned, Stephen in fact had a lot to say (although he said it as “Ex Rocker,” his forum username).

As Stephen’s wife and two daughters read through the transcripts, they began to realize just what an impact he’d had on other people coping with cancer. His words gave insights, advice and even inspiration. He reached people, and he touched them. He’d had over 100 followers on the forum, plus direct contact from members who sought his guidance – or simply to meet him in person.

One of his fans posted this comment on Stephen’s obituary page: “Some of your words of wisdom will stay with me forever. Sometimes we never know what a difference we make in other people’s lives. I felt moved to write this so that your family and loved ones would know how very far your influence spread, and how you had changed lives.”

Stephen’s daughters are grateful to have this legacy of printouts. They say their dad’s voice shines through. It must feel as though they’ve kept a part of him alive.

“He didn’t feel like he did as much for humanity as he might have liked,” his wife commented in a Stat Magazine article. “If he’d seen the outpouring from people after he died, it’d have bowled him over completely.” Stephen wanted to leave the world a better place. It certainly appears that he did that, in spades.

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The online follower ended his tribute with: “Rest in peace, Stephen Wheeler, Ex Rocker. And most of all, thank you.” (Freeimages.com / Marcin Farbotko)

Human Touch

Rock stars are probably at the receiving end of good deeds all the time.

Think about it. There’s all the fan art that gets mailed to you, those needlepoint portraits and balloon-sculpture likenesses. You score the most excellent swag at the Grammy Awards after-parties. Maître d’s are always giving you the best table in the house. Devoted groupies are always giving you… well, use your imagination.

Don’t you think an act of kindness is much more meaningful, though, when the do-gooder doesn’t actually realize he’s dealing with a famous singer-songwriter? That’s why I’m impressed with Dan Barkalow’s immediate response when he spotted a fellow motorcyclist stranded at the side of the road. He couldn’t tell who it was. But he didn’t hesitate to pull over and ask if the guy needed help.

It was only then that he realized “the guy” was actually The Boss.

As Dan and his biker buddies were already in rescue mode, they earnestly tried – but unfortunately failed – to repair the motorcycle. Plan B: beer. The buddies packed Bruce Springsteen onto the back of one of their own bikes, and everyone headed off to a nearby restaurant to have a couple of brews in comfort while the rock star waited for his ride. (Billy Joel later admitted during a live concert that he was the one who’d built the unreliable bike for his pal Bruce. Um, just because you can write timeless songs doesn’t mean you can tinker with engines, Billy.)

So how was the hang-out? “We just sat down and he was just one of the guys,” Dan told CBC Radio. Both men had been born and raised in the same town of Freehold, New Jersey. “We talked about some of the old days.”

Eventually, Springsteen’s ride arrived and he left, but not before picking up the tab for the table’s refreshments. “We offered. But he insisted,” Dan said. I agree that Dan deserves a free beer or two, because apparently this considerate man always makes a habit of checking on stranded motorists, famous or not. “We would stop for anybody,” he said.

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My friends and I were in grade 10 when The Boss got married. I still remember which of my classmates cried like babies. (You know who you are, girls.)

Kindness on the Canadian Commute

You’re late for a job interview, you’ve got a killer of a headache, and you’re battling nerves and a bad hair day. Could it get any worse?

Of course not. It gets better. A fellow passenger on your subway train expresses concern and asks if you’re all right. Another commuter gives you an Advil for your head pain. Someone else passes you a juice box to help you swallow it. Several subway riders start prepping you for your interview, giving you advice on making a good impression. A teenager hands over a hair elastic so you can tie back your unruly hair.

This short sequence of events epitomizes what it is to be Canadian, at least according to witness Salma Hamidi, who posted a quick-to-go-viral note about it. (She’s the subway passenger who donated the headache pill to the man in need.) According to Salma, the individuals committing the various acts of kindness were a beautiful and benevolent mix of men and women of different ages, colours and religions.

And as far as she’s concerned, that’s typical of this country. “If this isn’t the ultimate Canadian experience, short of a beaver walking into a bar holding a jar of maple syrup, I don’t know what is!” she wrote in her jubilant note on Facebook.

That’s our true north, strong and free. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

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With glowing hearts we see thee get the job… here’s hoping, anyway. (Freeimages.com/Kryzsztof (Kriss) Szkurlatowski)

We Want It Lighter

As if the state of American politics hadn’t already inflicted enough stress on the world, we got the painful news last week that our beloved singer-songwriter and artist Leonard Cohen, poetic and angelic of heart, had died at the age of 82.

This kind of sorrow is unavoidable. We are destined to lose our favourite lyricists and musicians because time inexorably marches forward. Recently we also grieved for David Bowie and Prince. And the losses hurt, sure. It’s the difficult price we pay for the joy of their music.

But this occasion was markedly different. When the Leonard Cohen stories inevitably poured forth – you know the kind, they start out “I once met Mr. Cohen at a laundromat…” and get printed on the editorial page or related on radio call-in shows – we heard a recurring theme of kindness in all its forms: generosity, warmth, humility, grace and love. By all accounts, Leonard Cohen was a benevolent person with an open, unselfish character.

In fact his biographer, Liel Leibovitz, writing in Tablet magazine, went so far as to suggest that, moving forward, we should all make an effort to “do unto others as Leonard Cohen has done unto us and find an appetite for kindness that is only sated when everyone around us is feeling their best.”

It’s a worthy legacy. We are certainly in need of uplift this month.

If that’s not comfort enough for the distressed and the despairing, I’ll share one other quotation. This optimistic reminder was written and sung by the bard himself, in his 1992 song, “Anthem”:

“There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”

Leonard Cohen’s final studio album, You Want It Darker, was released a mere 17 days before his death. On it he declares, unabashedly: “If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game.” Well played, Leonard Cohen, so well played.

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News Hound

First we were distressed to hear that an elderly Toronto man with dementia had lost his beloved dog, Kimbo, and that the people who had adopted him through the Humane Society had no interest at all in returning the pet to his rightful owner.

Then, we were overjoyed to learn that a local man, after hearing this story on the news, successfully bribed the adoptive family with lots of money – and got the dog back for 80-year-old Karl Daniels, his daughter and his two grandsons. (If you don’t cry when you see this reunion video, you need to get your tear ducts checked by a medical professional.) “There’s not even a word for such a man. I like to call him my angel,” said Daniels’s daughter, Michelle. Their saviour, Lawrence Dalle Vedov, told reporters he had to do it. Even though it meant spending the $5,000 he’d saved for a vacation to Australia. See, Dalle Vedov had firsthand experience with losing a dog, thinking he was gone forever, and miraculously finding him again. He also remembered how much comfort a dog had brought to his father when he was in declining health.

And finally, we were absolutely stoked to find out that Expedia Canada had donated a free airline ticket for Dalle Vedov to reach his dream destination, and that a crowdfunding campaign had raised over $6,000 to pay him back for his generosity.

Such is the roller-coaster ride of real life as it unfolds, toying with our emotions, pulling us down, only to buoy us up to level 11. Speaking of which, it’s election day in the U.S., and my fingernails, despite their Canadian roots, are going to get bitten tonight…

Love your neighbours. Love your dogs.

kimbo

(Gofundme.com photo)