Thursday, December 27, 2012

Kindness on a Snowy Day

Toronto received a rather large snowfall overnight, coating the roads and sidewalks with a deep fluffy white blanket.  I was trying to walk home early this morning from the Y along Bay Street.  Some of the buildings were fronted with cleared sidewalks but most were not.  Two men were clearing the sidewalk in front of a new block-long condo.  I heard one man tell the other to be especially careful to clear up to the kerb for the pedestrians because some of the trucks make turns without recognizing that there is a sidewalk there under the snow.  He pointed out the truck tire marks to his colleague on the sidewalk at the corner of the street.   They both then put their shoulders to the work and cleared their sidewalks with compassion for the pedestrians who might encounter a turning truck. 

Further down the street, I observed a woman using a walker slowly trying to navigate the snowy sidewalk.  Most of the pedestrians quickly passed her except for one younger woman whom I overheard saying to the struggling woman.  "I will walk beside you until you get there just in case the snow gets worse than this". 

I appreciate all the people who take the time and energy to make life easier fo the rest of us. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Good King Wenselas

Every Christmas season, I look forward to hearing the Christmas carol, Good King Wenselas because his character inspires kindness. The other carols focus on the miracles and hopes of this season or event lost loves for my Christian friends.  But this carol teaches me what it means to live the life of a good leader, a good Christian.  When I was a student, we studied the ancient stories about kings to figure out the values at that time.  Those naratives linked the fullness of the harvest to the king's bounty in fishing or the freedom and independence of the tribe to the king's ability to fight and prevail with monsters.  When I hear Good King Wenselas, I am reminded about the power of kindness as an inspiration to a society that cares for everyone who struggles. 

I have friends who volunteer in the Out of the Cold programs, in Habitat for Humanity, at St. Francis Table and Foodshare.  For me, they are modern examples of that medieval king.  May we each find a powerful example of kindness in our lives that we can follow.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The beautiful orange 4-day hat

I visited the One of a Kind craft show last week with a neighbour.  It was so inspiring to see creative work made by so many talented crafts people from chocolates to toys, from lamps to dresses.  A warm knitted wool tam, bright orange and oversized attracted my attention.  I tried it on and my friend and I thought it looked just super.

I wore it every day thereafter even when the weather was too warm.  On Sunday, when it was too warm in the car, I took the tam off and put it on my lap along with my husband's favourite hat.  I had to jump out ot the car quickly to pick up some supplies in a local store, forgot about the hats and they were gone from the sidewalk by the time I remembered.

This story about kindness is really about my husband.  I lost his hat too but he has not complained about my carelessness once.  He commiserated with me instead about my lost orange hat and agrees it was terrific to have such a wonderful hat if only for a few days.  I am so grateful for his kindness.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

More advice on growing while growing old

The advice below is from my friend, Bernie's mom, Kitty, who is well over 90 years and enjoying every minute:

When your back hurts, keep moving.
When your feet hurt, keep moving.
When you are dizzy and need a cane, grab it and keep moving.
If you are in a wheelchair, make the parts of your body that still work, keep moving.
Keep dancing.
A smile is so infectious that you can catch it like the flu.  When someone smiles at me, I start smiling too.

This advice, gleaned from other wise people, is from Shelia, my younger sister's best friend:

Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one's definition of your life: Define yourself.   Harevey Fierstein

Open your arms to change but don't let go of your values.  The Dalai Lama

Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.  Carl Bard

When the heart grieves over what it has lost, the spirit rejoices in what it has left.  Sufi saying.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Growing as we grow old

On September 20, 2012, I celebrated my 70th birthday.  I asked my friends and family for advice on continuing to grow as I grow old.  I did receive some wonderful advice, some personal, written by that friend and others, wisdom from others.  Over the next few days, I will be sharing some great advice on my blog.  If you have some wisdom to share too, please do so in the comment area below.
Elul 28
Tight Rope Walking by Emily Levine
In my early twenties, I read an interview with Lillian Hellman. Midway through, Hellman became irate, brandishing her cane in the interviewer’s face. I thought: “I can’t wait until I’m old.” As it turned out, I didn’t wait long. In my mid-forties, I began a slow but relentless decline, including brain fog, fatigue, a weakened immune system, and osteoarthritis. Absent a diagnosis, I could only think: “I’m catapulting into old age faster than anyone in recorded history.”
By the time things had advanced enough for me to have a cane – but no energy to brandish it - I was resigned to life as an old person. Then – miraculously – I was diagnosed with acromegaly. All the symptoms I’d associated with old age were in fact caused by a benign tumor in my pituitary gland. Not only that, but the doctors promised, curative surgery could reverse the symptoms. I’d get my mind back, my energy back and my wit back. My skin would be smooth again. My hair would regain its luster. I thought: “I’m going to be young again!”
Eagerly, I looked in the mirror every day expecting to see myself as I was when the tumor first began. What I’d forgotten was that I was now twenty years older. So although in some respects I was growing younger, I was still growing old. I was growing older and younger at the same time! That’s when I had my epiphany: “So are we all.”
Biologically, we are in a continual process of degeneration and regeneration. The balance shifts as we grow older, but we are still part of that process. Focusing only on one side of the equation throws us off-balance. It’s not Lillian Hellman I want to emulate now; it’s Kurt Wallenda: tightrope walking between living and dying, growing older and younger, denial and hope.

Emily Levine has recently upgraded herself from philosopher-comedian to oracle.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Offering Directions

I was hurrying to the transit stop when a tall man carrying a huge briefcase walked past me even faster so that I noticed him.  How could he keep that pace carrying such a heavy weight I wondered.  Another man was stopped in his path, looking at a map with a puzzled expression.  The fast man stopped suddenly and offered help with directions to the confused man .  I slowed down.  Patiently the fast man pointed out street signs and pointed to their place on the map.  The puzzled man looked like he "got it" and continued in a different direction.  The fast man watched, then started off again at a quick pace.  I ran down the stairs just as my train was pulling out of the station.  I saw the fast man standing in the last car of the subway train and I was so glad that he made it even after stopping to be helpful.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Travelling to Moose Factory with Marilyn Munroe

It was my heart's desire to see Hudson's Bay and James Bay in northern Ontario.  We took an Ontario Northland train for 10 hours to Cochrane last week, stayed overnight and picked up the Polar Bear Express for 6 hours to Moosenee, and from there we travelled by water taxi  to Moose Factory, a Cree village on an island in the Moose River.  When we alighted this water taxi, a local family came running down the dock after us to take the boat to Moose Factory.  A teen age boy got on last because he was carrying a four by six feet photo image of Marilyn Munroe which was slid onto the floor standing up because there was not much more room on this rowboat with an outboard motor.  I asked about this photo.   Here was a story of the boy's kindness.  A great uncle had admired this photo many years ago in a restaurant in North Bay.  The owner promised the photo to the uncle when he did not need it any more.  Well, that time had come to pick up the photo of Marilyn Munroe but the great uncle could not longer travel the 10 hours it takes to get to North Bay and 10 hours back.  The boy offered to do this for his great uncle.  This row boat ride was the last leg of the return trip.  We were all so pleased to witness the second last phase of the photo's trip.  He was going to take it on foot from the dock to the home of his great uncle.  We got off the boat at our lodge and the family continued on to the village. 

If you ever get  a chance to visit Moose Factory, take it.  The air was the freshest I ever breathed.  The sky was the bluest that I ever saw and the stars at night were so numerous and felt so close that I thought I was dancing in them.  I did see James Bay which was downriver just 8 km from Moose Factory and I did see the tree line, and I breathed in that fresh air and was very content.

Friday, August 3, 2012

In the Path of Abraham: A Jewish, Christian Muslim experience of the Holy Land September 4-11, 2011

Day 1.  We were less than 50 people, the first Canadian interfaith trip to religious sites in Israel and Palestine.  We have an opportunity to experience and observe the places holy to ourselves and others through their eyes too.  We only had 6 days and needed to crowd in as much as possible.  Everything we saw and experienced we understood in the context of everything else we saw and experienced.  To add even more richness to this trip, we were students and seniors and adults in their middle years.  We were urban and rural in Canada and we all professed one of the 4 faiths.  We were actively Protestant, Roman Catholic, Muslim or Jewish.  Our inspiring leaders were each clergy from one of these faiths.
Each day we were witnesses to the unexpected. 
On the first day, we landed near Tel Aviv and immediately boarded tour buses with our excellent guides.
We did a bus tour of Tel Aviv/Jaffa and hear Rabbi David Rosen give us some back ground on interfaith experiences of the other.  We learned that each group has many assumptions about the nature of the other faith communities which may or may not be valid.  We were sitting in an old building that was in the process of being rebuilt in south Tel Aviv.  The purpose of this building is to provide one space of many for neighbourhood dialogues.

Later, we visited a tiny Syrian Orthodox church in Nazareth, an Arab town near Tel Aviv.  It is a very old (4th century) building that is revered as the site that the parents of Jesus lived.  Afterwards, we visited a large Roman Catholic College where the parish priest told us about the small Christian community in Nazareth. He had attended this school as a boy.  The Druze minister of the Israel Department of Religious affairs entered the room laughing.  He came with his wife, a native of Nazareth and got lost and late anyway.  As a government minister, he stressed the multireligious freedom in Israel where all holy sites are protected and supported.  I will will continue this blog in the days to come.

Interfaith Journey to Israel #3

In the Path of Abraham: A Jewish, Christian, Muslim Experience of the Holy Land

September 5-11, 2011

Day 2

On this day, we followed experienced the land from a Christian point of view.  Kibbutz Lavi is near the Sea of Galilee.  After a very generous breakfast at the Kibbutz, our buses drove to Tiberius where we boarded a wooden boat for ride modelled on an experience of Jesus in the Bible.  We heard the biblical text with the soft wind blowing in our faces as we looked out on the pastoral hills surrounding the water.   Next, we bussed on to Capernaum, the location of St. Peter’s home where a modern Franciscan Church now stands.  One of our religious leaders, F. Damien McPherson is a Franciscan monk and we were greeted with great warmth.  We heard a reading of the Beatitudes, also known as the Sermon on the Mount.  Our next stop was a baptismal site called Yardenit where the Jordan River meets the Sea of Galilee.  Some Christians in our group chose to reaffirm their Baptism there and stood in a semi-circle in the shallow water.  Tiny fishes darted between their legs.  The Christian clergy both Roman Catholic and Protestant undertook the ceremony.  We sat in the dappled shade and watched.  The look of quiet happiness and joy on the faces of our Christian friends was very moving to see. 

In the afternoon, we visited the Christian site of Kfar Cana a village where Jesus performed the miracle of the wine.  The roads wound up and down steep hills and the views of the valleys were spectacular from the air-conditioned bus window.  How difficult it must have been for people in biblical times to walks these hills in the heat, carrying what they needed for the journey and hoping for the best!  You could understand the importance of hospitality at that time.

Later that afternoon, we had a bus tour of Haifa, a city that lies on the Carmel Mountain range and a narrow plain on the coast of Israel.  Where the small villages in Israel are often mostly Arab Christian and Muslim or Jewish, the cities are all mixed with people from all those communities plus others who are not affiliated with those communities.  We visited Beit Hagefen, the Centre for Arab-Jewish culture, youth and sports.  We heard some speeches and saw a film about the work of this centre and I bought some postcards as a memento.    This place and the dialogue centre in south Tel Aviv both gave me some hope that grass roots dialogues can continue while the political battles and inter-community confrontations rage on.

We returned to Kibbutz Lavi, ate dinner and fell asleep immediately on the pillow. Another early start is planned for tomorrow.  It feels to me like we have been touring for a week.

Generosity of Spirit

I do invite others to share their own stories of unexpected kindness.  Today, I am sharing a friend's story:

This morning I took a taxi to the Y because the Queen streetcar is sporatic at the moment. I got in the cab and noticed that the driver had some lovely music playing. Ended up it was chanting. He turned off the music when I got in, but I told him to keep it on if he wanted. So, he turned it back on. It was a recording, very beautifully done I might add!, of the text of the Koran. Each small verse was sung and then a reader came on (Oxford Englishy accent) and translated the text in English. The chanter reminded me of a cantor or of a cathedral choir chanter. Good chanting is just good stuff(;  So we drove from the Beaches to the Y with this on. I sat in the dark and enjoyed it while I could. It was a significantly peaceful ride. When we arrived at the Y I asked if we were listening to the radio or a CD. He immediately pulled out a CD from the dashboard and offered it to me. He insisted that I take it with me because I liked it so much and said he could get another. So now I have a cool CD of the Koran with translation.

But what struck me most was the happy smile on the guy's face as he gave it to me. The whole episode was just so unexpected - and delightful.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Just a regular at Union Station

We are finally going to take the Polar Bear Express to Moose Factory this summer.  I would love to see northern Ontario.  In order to reach that train, I had to buy tickets on the Ontario Northland train to Cochrane.  I confidently took the subway to Union Station and then was not sure where to go next.  An older gentleman was chatting with the TTC ticket taker so I waited my turn to ask where to go next.  The older gentleman stepped aside so that I could talk to the ticket taker.  When he heard my question, he told me that he was going that way and would lead me to the right wicket. I folllowed him into the crowded train station all the way to the empty Ontario Northland wicket.  The helpful gentleman assured me that the clerk was on a 20 minute coffee break.  We had just missed her.  He invited me to sit down while he saved my place in the inevitable line-up which would develop.  I pulled out my cell phone to return some calls and looked up and there he was at the front of the line, and there was the Ontario Northland clerk, just back from her break.  When I came up to thank him, he turned and left me to buy my train tickets.  I asked the clerk who the helpful gentleman was and her reply: "just a regular". 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Welcoming a newcomer is a kindness

My husband does not usually do acquafit exercise classes at the Y.  But his broken leg is healing now and he wants to get back to exercise gradually.  This morning, he tried a class in the pool.  The class leader called him out my name and welcomed him personally to the group.  A few others who knew him, grinned at my husband.  Joining the others in this class became easy.  The road back to full recovery begins with a small kindness.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Going out of your way

My husband and I chose to take a cruise across the Atlantic from Fort Lauderdale Florida to Barcelona Spain.  Cruise ships move from Caribbean routes to Mediteranean routes each spring and we thought that seeing the Atlantic ocean from a ship would be relaxing.  The ocean was calm and the trip was uneventful until we reached Tenerife in the Canary Islands.  My husband tried to take a great picture from a somewhat precarious vantage point when we were were visiting a dormant volcano on Tenerife in the national park. He fell and broke his leg.  The ship's doctor stablized his leg and advised us to return home as soon as the boat docked in Barcelona.
He had to stay off his leg for the rest of the cruise.  They lent us a wheelchair so he could move about when necessary.  Some people saw the fresh cast and wanted to know the story for their own sake.  A few people went out of their way to help.  Our stateroom steward was one such person.  He kept asking us what more he could do to make the situation more comfortable.  The porter that helped us off the ship when we docked was another.  Usually, the porter hands off the traveller to the dock worker when someone needs help with their bags.  He not only help me with the bags too all the way to the taxi stand, but he also asked the taxi co-ordinator to get us a taxi asap to avoid the 200 person line-up.  When we arrived at the Barcelona airport, I had to find a wheelchair and left my husband at the curb with the bags.   The airport was crowded. 
A woman in an official looking vest passed by and on hearing my nervous Spanish, this woman replied in English, led me to the wheelchair booth at the other end of the terminal.  These folks at the booth told me that all the chairs were already booked.  This same woman who was working with a new tour group, came back to see how I was doing and took over to get me help from the airline.  My husband was really tired, managing on his own, on crutches, for too long when I finally returned with a wheelchair and a porter. 
We had to change planes in Porto Portugal.  Again, kind people stepped up to help.  I did not have a seat assignment for the next leg of the journey and I speak no Portuguese.  The receptionist who had been working since 6:00 am and was just getting off work at that point, offered to take me around to the right people to assure my husband a seat with lots of legroom.  I said to each of these people who went out of their way to help us, that I hope that when they may need help, that they too would be blessed by people just like them to help them. 
Bless all people who go out of their way for others!

Monday, April 9, 2012

My Passover Seder

We live in a small condo apartment downtown, not one that could accomodate a big family dinner for 22 people.  We decided the rent the party room for our Passover seder/family dinner.  To make it easier for me, I decided to cook some of the food and order the bulk of it from a kosher caterer.  I did not anticipate how challenging it would be to set up the room, get all my dishes, pots and pans and food there and then clean it up quickly for another rental the next day.

The staff in my condo building were very helpful, moving heavy furniture so that the tables and chairs could sit in the middle of the room, and moving it back again, allowing me to use the room over 3 days prior to the dinner to move all the dishes and cooked foods into the kitchen, and finally wishing me well as the hour approached. 

I know people have a job to do, but when each person does their job with kindness and consideration for the client, they spread joy and that joy is contagious.  It was a great seder!

Monday, March 19, 2012

An unfortunate alligator affects the course of a holiday

The other evening, at a dinner party, I met a woman who just returned from Florida.  Her good friend is still there waiting for his car to be repaired.  They drove to Florida because this woman has fear of flying. As they were approaching their destination on a quiet two-land road, the driver was temporarily blinded by the brights of an approaching car and did not see an alligator that was crossing the road at the same time.  "It was like going over a big speed bump" she said, but the engine light came on and the car broke down a few miles after this encounter.  The Canadian insurance company was reluctant to fix the car.  After a week of back and forthing, and renting another car, the woman had to return to work.  Her friend drove her all the way home and then drove all the way back to Florida to pick up his "finally" repaired car.  I think this man deserves special recognition for kindness.  If I were goning design a medal, it would have to include the unfortuate alligator.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Helpful Ryerson students on a rainy day

A group of six older women decided to lunch together after a class at Open University.  They hurried through the halls, crowded with younger students to exit the building.  At the double doorway near the exit, a student on the other side opened the door to let the older women through first.  A few straglers in the group hurried toward the door.  The student kept the door open for them too as the other students piled up behind her, waiting patiently to enter the door.
They entered a popular restaurant near a university.  There were only a few open tables.  As they wandered from one to the other looking for a suitable spot, the largest table was taken by a group of male students.  When the women turned to take that particular table, the students gave it over with a smile and took another table. 

"It's my grey hair" one women said to me.  "People are nicer to you when you are older."

Just outside the restaurant, a young student dug into her bag looking for her transit card before she entered the subway.  Her change splattered on the rainy sidewalk.  Another young student paused and bent down to help pick up the change, passed it to her and then both went on their way.

I think that many students at Ryerson University practice kindness with others.  It could be part of the University culture, I hope.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Getting rescued at a car wash

It was a sunny winter day, a good time, I thought, to wash our car.  I drove into a self-service car wash and tried to get so close to the post where I had to enter my proof of payment that I did not realize that I overshot the slot and ended outside it.  I looked over my difficult situation in the big rear view mirror provided by the car wash.  Another driver pulled up.  She got out of her car and started shouting at me.  She was in a hurry and I was slowing her down.  "Move your car now" she demanded.  I knew I had to move the car but I was not sure how to do it. 

Parked nearby were two airport limosines.  The drivers were having a coffee.  One man, a turbaned Sikh gentleman,  put his coffee away and came over and offered to help me in a soft voice that I could hardly hear over the woman's continued shouting.  He even assisted me out of the car because there was a post next to my door.   He got into the driver's seat, and with quiet confidence, put the car in reverse and steered it up and over the track so that the car could fit in for a car wash.  I was so grateful.  He brushed away my thanks and simply returned to his limo and his coffee . 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Learning Aloha in Maui

We visited Maui on a winter holiday this year.  Maui is the next island to Hawaii (the big island) in that chain of volcanic islands in the mid Pacific region.  Of course, it was warm and beautiful as described.  Many of the people whom we met greeted us with "alohah", a Hawaiian-language expression which some people explained as a loving hello, a word of compassion, an expression of personal interest in the other. 

We were greeted with alohah by workers in the hotel, by staff in stores, by people in the streets.  You might be thinking that most people don't mean all the richness in the word any more than people want a true answer when they say "how are you?" in our culture.  Maybe.

Maui receives alot of tourists from the mainland USA and from western Canada.  Maybe, using aloha as a greeting to visitors is just another way to create a special tourist identity for the place.

There are no adverstising billboards in Maui or even big signs on box stores to attract customers.  It is considered too disturbing for people who deserve to see their environment as it is.  When plastic bags were picked up by the wind and found all over the island, the government forbade the use of them.  People volunteered to clean up these bags everywhere and beauty was restored.

When we drove slowly up an unfamiliar mountain with many switchbacks, with sky on one side and mountain on the other, no one in the line of cars behind us beeped for us to get moving.  They just waited for us to pull over when a siding appeared.

I came home refreshed in patience, wondering if I can also practice the aloha spirit here in Canada.