Getting It Write

I was drawn to a recent interview in The Guardian featuring American novelist Ann Patchett – and not just because I like her books (three for three, so far). It was because, according to the article, Ann Patchett dwells on doing good. As you all know, ideas like these get my antenna up. Apparently, when Ann is writing, she cogitates on the fundamental human drive to be nice to others, and incorporates that into her captivating plots.

“I have been shown so much kindness in my life, so for me to write books about good, kind people seems completely natural,” she told the journalist. She added: “When people say, ‘Oh it’s too nice, it’s naive,’ I just think: who killed your mother?”

So then, last week, when the local school offered up two tickets to hear Ann speak at our downtown library and read from her newest book… well, they had me at hello. I wasn’t disappointed. Of course, every event seems worthwhile when it includes a cash bar. But Ann’s presentation was also engaging and interesting, and surprisingly hilarious.

I particularly enjoyed her comments about passing the age of 50. She’d felt as though a giant switch had been flipped overnight, she told us joyously. Suddenly, you no longer care. What she meant was that you stop worrying about what others think of you. “I know I’m a good person,” she assured us. It sounds liberating, doesn’t it?

There weren’t many males in our audience of 500-plus. During the Q-and-A session, though, the first person to approach the mike was an earnest young man who attempted to clarify the point Ann had just raised. “My question for you is about aging,” he said. “I’m almost 30. Do you recommend I stop caring now?”

Like I said, it was entertaining.

Thank you, Ann, for reminding us that most of us are fundamentally good, and that that’s good enough.


Photo by Heidi Ross / courtesy of HarperCollins

Passing the Smell Test

If a guy pulling a pop can off the face of a skunk with his bare hands doesn’t attract attention, I don’t know what would. Sure enough, Ontario’s Mike MacMillan has been fielding dozens of media interviews since posting his skunk-rescue video, “The Bravest Thing I’ve Ever Done,” on YouTube last week. We all silently root for Mike as we watch him cautiously approach the poor skunk, murmuring, “Please don’t spray me… please don’t be upset,” filming with one hand while he reaches out with the other.

What you don’t know from watching the video is that he was smartly outfitted at the time. “I was on my way to meet the mayor of Barrie for a meeting,” says Mike, whose company makes secular, science-based animations and illustrations. “I was dressed in a suit, and not ready to wrestle a skunk!” But he couldn’t turn away, especially after he saw another car come close to running it over. “That’s not a dignified way to die,” says the animal lover. “I had to deal with it.”

Mike is scared of skunks – tell me, who isn’t? – but he valiantly crept close. Once he was able to grip the can, he and the animal worked together to pry it off. Then came the moment of truth. The skunk pulled free, and for a few seconds, he and Mike stared each other down. Would Mike get anointed for his efforts? When I pointed out that getting sprayed would have made it less of a feel-good story, Mike disagreed: “Actually, I think it would have been better! Either way, it was going to be entertaining.”

Was it awkward to assist a skunk and film a video at the same time? “A few people commented that I could have done a better job with a free hand,” Mike says, but confesses: “If I did have a free hand, I would have been using it to protect my face!”

It’s quite a story. But our stinky little friend is not the first of its kind to get its head caught in a can or a cup, nor is Mike the first person to film a rescue and put it up on YouTube. I found at least six more video clips, including a paramedic who puts on a biohazard suit before approaching the skunk, a man who hilariously plays instant frozen statue while the newly freed skunk sniffs his shoe, and a group of dauntless women who don’t give up even after the skunk sprays a little bit. You all have my deep respect. If you want, you can also have my soap.


This is the face of a brave man. (Photo courtesy of Mike MacMillan)


…And this is the face of a skunk: unobstructed, the way nature intended. ( Roberts)

That’s Like 83 Cups of Coffee

I love these pay-it-forward stories, whereby someone buys a cup of coffee for the next customer in line. Imagine, though, if the tab included not just your java, but a few more coffees for your co-workers, plus a full tank of diesel… and totaled $110. And still the other guy covered it.

It was a pretty spontaneous act of kindness, in that the recipient, Tyson Crawley, had fully intended to make the transaction himself at service station in Australia. It was only after he realized he’d left his new bank card at home, and couldn’t remember the PIN number for his other one, that he started to sweat. He’d already pumped the fuel, he was in a rush to get to work, and now his dog was yapping impatiently outside.

That’s when another customer, John, stepped up and insisted on looking after the bill. It took some convincing – $110 is a lot of lettuce, after all – but Tyson just didn’t know what else to do.

Finally he agreed to take the money. But he asked John to write his contact information on the store receipt, so he could pay him back later. John scribbled on the paper, folded it, passed it back, and wished Tyson a good day.

He was long gone when Tyson unfolded the receipt to find that the only thing John had written, besides his first name, was: “Pass it on.”


“So many people have said it has restored their faith in humanity,” Tyson commented in a later news report. He’s talking about the reaction he got after posting the story on Facebook. Tyson wanted to encourage other people to do good. Perhaps he also thought he might track down John, who’d consented to a selfie – that’s him on the right – before leaving the store.

Tyson added, “It’s what I always try to teach the world: Be kind, look after each other and don’t compete.”

And pass it on.


Have you seen this man? You’ll know him by his cute smile and titanic heart. (Facebook photo)

Finders, Keepers? Not This Time

There’s a bad case of butterfingers going around my neighbourhood.

First, someone lost their set of keys. I know this, because a helpful person found them – most likely in an area of long grass where we all walk our dogs – and displayed them prominently on a boulder by the road, where they caught my eye as I walked by.

Then, a guy dropped an important piece of identification inside our local subway station. I’m in the loop on this, too. That’s because my friend picked it up, and contacted me for help tracking him down.

Thanks to technology, it’s not as challenging as it used to be to reunite lost items with their owners. In the old days, you’d post flyers on all the telephone poles in the area, or you’d even pay for a classified ad (remember those?) to run in a newspaper (remember those?). It took considerable time and effort.

Now, you simply go online and Google the name on the identification card. Or you take a quick phone pic of the lost keys, and post it on a community Facebook page.

In the case of the lost ID card, my friend and I did manage to find the guy’s work number. (In the course of doing so, we also learned where he lives, what he does for a living, and exactly when the bid to relocate his home’s air conditioning unit was rejected by the city’s committee of adjustment.) Happily, the card was returned. The owner was grateful.

As for the keys? Not such a perfect ending. After I posted the photo online, someone in the neighbourhood did contact me to say she thought they were hers. She was temporarily out of town, but I offered to go back and scoop them up for safekeeping.

The key ring sat on my desk for a week. That’s how long it took for my neighbour to check with her various family members and domestic employees. And that’s how long it took for her to ascertain that this generic-looking set of keys did not, in fact, belong to her household.

Dejected, I was forced to walk back and return the keys to the roadside rock where I’d first found them. I sincerely hoped that, in the intervening week, the rightful owner hadn’t come back, done a thorough search of the area, and consequently scratched this corner of the neighbourhood off the list of All the Different Places I Went the Day I Absentmindedly Dropped My Keys.

Last time I checked, the keys were still there.


As noted by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “The waiting is the hardest part…”

He’ll Help You Reach for the Stars

If you’re headed for Nova Scotia anytime soon, take a side trip to the tiny eastern Canada village of Quinan. There, you can visit this community’s newest landmark: the Deep Sky Eye Observatory. It’s owned by Tim Doucette, a man with superhuman powers.

Tim, who is blind, had corrective surgery as a child to remove his lenses and achieve some useable sight. During the daytime, he works with 10 percent vision. When night falls and the stars come out, it’s a game changer.

Without his natural lenses, Tim can see ultraviolet light that’s filtered out by most other people’s eyes. So when Tim looks through a telescope, he can spot incredible stellar phenomena that are normally invisible to inexperienced astronomers.

Tim has long had a fascination for the starry night sky. Now, he wants to share his passion with others.

It took Tim and his family two years to construct a domed observatory, built from reclaimed wood. They’ve installed a high-definition telescope and opened their site to the public. It’s in the perfect spot, remote enough from urban areas that the skies are dark and inviting. There’s a fee, but it’s not exorbitant, and kids eight and under age are free.

Already, more than 150 people have stopped at the Deep Sky Eye Observatory to check it out. When tourists show up, even unannounced, Tim will drop everything to teach them about the beauty of the starry night. Apparently, he never puts out a closed sign.

“I’ve always relied on other people, but now, other people are relying on me to help them view the night sky,” he recently told a reporter. “So that’s kind of a great feeling, to show somebody something else that makes them excited.”


All together, everyone: “Road trip!” (tungphoto /


Stem Cell Saviour

File this under A for Adorable. Not long ago, two new friends got together – he from Germany, she from Kingston, Ontario, both of them youthful, attractive individuals – and hung out for a couple of weeks in our nation’s capital. We’re guessing they dined with family and friends, did a little sight-seeing. Nothing too remarkable, it seems (except maybe for the part where they got introduced to the prime minister of Canada).

Oh, and there’s the minor fact that the German lad once saved the life of the young Canadian.

That was a couple of years ago, long before the two met face to face or had even heard each other’s names. Mackenzie Curran was 16 and seriously ill. She was in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant, acutely aware that fewer than half of people in her situation actually get one.

She also understood that despite the campaign organized in her community to encourage more people to join the stem cell registry, odds were that not a single one of those new donors would be a match for her. Much more likely, they’d be kept in the registry for a future person in need.

That brings us to Alexander Türk of Germany. He’d originally signed up with the international bone marrow registry seven years ago, to support a woman near his own town who needed a lifesaving transplant. He wasn’t a match for his neighbour. But years later, he turned out to be perfect for a teenager across the ocean.

So he saved her life.

Mackenzie and Alexander finally got to meet each other a short while ago and, judging by the news footage, could not seem to stop with the side-hugs. You’d have thought they were long-lost cousins. In a way, I suppose they are.

Right now there are over 25 million potential donors on the international registry. Does that sound like a lot of people? In actual fact, it’s about a third of one percent of the world’s population.

No wonder finding a stem cell match is still considered a miracle.

Want to make a miracle happen? All it takes from you is a cheek swab.


See what I mean? Absolutely adorbs. (Photo courtesy of the Curran family)

Happy Hours

Do the people in your workplace tend to be a negative, non-do-gooder bunch? Do they shirk their duties, badmouth you to the boss and steal your paper clips? Tell management they ought to try piping in some happy tunes.

Researchers at Cornell University experimented with different kinds of music to see how it affected the behaviours of groups of people. They found that cheerful, upbeat music – Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” was one of the songs used – made the study participants happier and more likely to perform tasks that would benefit the group. In other words, they worked well together. “Happy music has the power to make the workplace more cooperative and supportive,” one of the co-authors says in a press release.

Sounds promising. Now if I could only get “Brown-Eyed Girl” to stop running on repeat in my brain…