With This Soup Pot, I Thee Wed

If you have any experience with weddings, you know about all those pesky little details that need attending to. Is the groom’s pocket square the exact right shade of chartreuse? Will the ice swan centrepiece arrive on time? How fresh is the duck pate? Does the distance between Uncle Stan’s table and the open bar comply with his court order?

Imagine if your most pressing question was this: Is there going to be enough food for 4,000 desperate refugees?

Fethullah Uzumcuoglu and Esra Polat, a betrothed couple living in Turkey, recently made the decision to skip a celebratory banquet for their wedding. Instead, they spent the money on food for thousands of Syrian refugees in Kilis, a Turkish border town. Still wearing their wedding clothes, the newly married couple served up meals to 4,000 of the millions of Syrians who have fled violence in their home country.

Suddenly, the question of whether the reception-room lighting is amber enough to complement the pink décor seems rather minor. I’m in awe of the huge hearts of these newlyweds. Talk about starting your couplehood with compassion.

Fethullah and Esra’s wedding photo album may turn out less traditional than most. But I predict this pair will always find it heartwarming to relive their special day.

What, they delivered the organza chair sashes instead of the taffeta? Could this day get any more stressful? Oh, wait, that’s right. We could be facing mortal peril in a war-torn country… (Photo courtesy of artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

What, they delivered the organza chair sashes instead of the taffeta? Could this day get any more stressful? Oh, wait, we could be facing mortal peril in a war-torn country… (Photo courtesy of artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

A Light in the Heart

Meet Amber. She’s a reader here at 50 Good Deeds. Amber started paying attention to this blog because, in her words, “I wanted to hear about the good in this world, not just the bad that we gather from every news broadcast.” As we all know, there’s oodles of good to talk about. And now this young woman, a psychiatric nurse in Kitchener, Ontario, has her own story of kindness to share.

Amber was bustling between haircut appointment and social appointment, when she stopped to fuel up at a fast-food restaurant. She chatted and joked with the middle-aged server, a woman named Amelia, who eventually remarked: “I like how you are comfortable with who you are.” And Amelia proceeded to put sugar where her mouth was: she augmented Amber’s lunch with a cookie, on the house. Was that because she liked the new haircut, Amber wanted to know – it had come up in conversation, after all. “No,” Amelia responded. “It’s because I like your personality.”

That comment resonated with Amber, who received it as high praise. “I have never had a stranger give me such a warm, genuine compliment,” she told me. “It has stuck with me all week. Not just the compliment itself, but how she placed such value on the things that really matter in this world.”

Amber truly believes that recognizing a woman’s inner character is much more meaningful than any comment about her looks. She said as much in the letter she dropped off to Amelia a few days later, along with a gift to thank her for the “personality cookie,” as she calls it. “In a world that is constantly trying to convince women that the most important thing, the only important thing, is our outer appearance, it is so refreshing and meaningful that you appreciated my personality – ultimately, my sense of self,” she wrote in her note to Amelia. “Thank you again for being so friendly, warm, generous, and open with a stranger. Thank you even more for encouraging me to be the best version of myself and for giving me a sincerely genuine compliment.”

I’ve been thinking about Amber’s reaction and how much this interaction meant to her. I confess there’s not a lot I remember from my university days, but I do remember which dates called me “interesting” instead of pretty. They stood out. Clearly, it’s because what they said meant more to me. So I see Amber’s point. As Khalil Gibran wrote: “Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.” A light in the heart is a very fine thing to strive for.

Want some help coming up with compliments that have nothing to do with the way someone looks? Check out this post by journalist Rachel Hills, author of the new book The Sex Myth, with 27 different ideas to get you started.

Amber, you have exceptionally readable handwriting. That’s a true compliment.

Amber, you have exceptionally readable handwriting. That’s a true compliment.

Road Test

All good deeds are important, and necessary, and celebrated. But saving a life is surely an act that ranks slightly above all the rest, sort of like the exquisite steam that rises above a really fine cup of coffee.

Lexi Shymanski saved two lives this summer. The tiny girl in Prince George, British Columbia, is only five years old, but here’s how it played out: Her mother got drowsy behind the wheel of the family’s SUV – that’s a road hazard associated with playing lullabies on the car stereo system – and their vehicle went suddenly off the road, down a long embankment and into a tree.

Lexi’s mom, Angela, was knocked out. Baby Peter was crying, and Lexi woke up from her nap wondering what the heck had just happened. She assessed the situation, figured out how to get out of her car seat (only the second time she’d ever performed that particular trick), and climbed 12 metres up to the main road to wave down a driver.

Angela is now recovering from multiple spinal fractures. Baby Peter had a small brain bleed, but luckily he’ll be fine. Lexi is struggling with nightmares. But the little girl is secure in the knowledge she was able to rescue her own family.

Her mom told CBC news that she asked Lexi how she’d known what to do. Lexi’s response: “I thought, what would Mommy say if she was awake… Mommy would say, go get help.”

Angela has always emphasized “teaching her independence and teaching her the difference between bad strangers and good people, good strangers.” I wonder if this mom ever had any inkling that her own life, and that of her children, might depend on these very lessons.

By the way, both parents have been off work as the family recovers. If you feel moved to support them, their fundraising page is here.

(Photo courtesy of seaskylab / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

(Photo courtesy of seaskylab / 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.

Sports Superstar

Imagine you’ve worked your tailfeathers off to prepare for a national track and field event. You’ve put in months of training, made major sacrifices, possibly said no to pie on more than one occasion. And then you arrive at the host city only to discover the airline has ripped your shoes. Not just any shoes, but custom-made racing shoes that precisely fit your feet and no others, shoes that cost you over $5,000, shoes you’d carefully wrapped in bubble wrap to prevent damage during the flight… shoes that can’t be replaced in time for the big event.

Wow, that would suck.

That’s the equivalent of what happened to Ryan Shay of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. He came to Edmonton for the Canadian Track and Field Championships, planning to race his personal best in several events, hoping to qualify for the Parapan Am Games later this month.

Shay is an accomplished wheelchair athlete. The “shoes” the airline destroyed were actually the front fork and steering bar of his racing chair. Without this custom equipment, Shay was out of the races.

Luckily, Shay’s athletic rival (and pal, it should be said) Ben Brown was not going to watch his friend miss this hard-earned opportunity. He called mom and dad back home in Nova Scotia, and arranged for some of his own spare parts to be shipped to Edmonton. They were adapted and fitted in time for Shay’s competitions. They weren’t a perfect match, but they got him in.

And, happily, both Brown and Shay performed well enough to qualify for Toronto’s Parapan Am Games in August (the final Canadian team has not yet been named).

Shay had only glowing words for his friend’s good deed. “I just expect that from Ben,” he said in this news story. “Not just because we’re buddies, just because he’s a kind soul. He’s a great, great person.”

The men’s trainer didn’t seem surprised either. “We live in Canada, so it’s just our second nature to help a friend out in need. And… they both want the best for each other.” Let’s hope we see them both in Toronto.

You won’t see me for the next little while, though. I’ll be on summer vacation. (Hear that? It’s the gentle sound of a paddle being dipped into the water. By paddle, of course, I mean ice cubes. And when I say water, I actually mean a lime margarita.) Let the holidays begin.

Photo courtesy of ponsulak / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of ponsulak / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What Could Have Been a Cat-astrophe…

Meet Tara. She lives in Los Angeles. Tara is a feline, but she’s not afraid to release her inner canine when it’s called for.

That was obvious after a recent report that Tara fought and chased off a vicious dog to defend her human pal, six-year-old Jeremy Triantafilo.

The dog had escaped from a neighbouring yard, and pounced on Jeremy while he played on his bike in the driveway. The ferocious attack came out of nowhere. Fortunately, so did protective Tara, as can be seen in the security camera footage Jeremy’s dad posted on YouTube. The cat threw herself into the melee, putting an abrupt stop to the attack, and pursued the dog as he fled, determined as she was to send him packing.

Poor Jeremy needed eight stitches for the dog bites on his leg. But his dad acknowledged that it could have been so much worse without Tara to the rescue.

In a progressive move, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles has publicly recognized Tara with its annual Hero Dog award – the first time the award has been bestowed on a cat.

It’s something shiny for the mantle. But I don’t think Tara really cares. She just wants to be accepted for who she is, inner canine and all.

In the Triantafilo family, that’s really not a problem right now. “She is my hero,” Jeremy said of his beloved pet.

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…