“Homeless, please help.”

Let me tell you a story that I hope will make you smile and inspire you to do the same.  It’s a random-act-of-kindness story, and I haven’t stopped thinking about how it all played out, more than three weeks ago…..

My family and I had been out running errands on foot, while getting in a nice long dog walk and chilly fresh air on a Saturday afternoon.  We had mailed some Christmas packages, stopped at a bakery for a treat, and zipped into the pet store for some dog supplies.  As we walked past our local grocery store, we noticed a man perched on his knees, bundled in blankets, holding a cardboard sign that read “Homeless, please help.”  A dirty, worn coffee cup sat in front of him, revealing a small amount of change, and a plastic shopping bag sat behind him, well-worn and stuffed with belongings.

When we spotted him, my kids asked for money to give, and walked over to place it into his cup.  We walked on, and talked about his situation further.  The day was cold, but the plaza was busy, and we stood further down the sidewalk and watched as dozens of people walked past without a glance.

It broke our collective hearts.

“I’m going to get him a gift card at Tim Horton’s,” my husband said, and he and my daughter headed down the street.  My son and I went into the dollar store to see what we could find.  We found warm socks and hand warmers, and bought lots of them.  We assembled our care package of sorts, and walked back towards the shivering figure.  My husband knelt down and offered him the bag full of items, “I hope this will help you to keep warm,” he said.  The man smiled, and reached a cold glove out of his blanket pile to shake my husband’s hand.

The four of us walked away in silence, and I began to cry.  I looked to my husband, who also had a tear in his eye, and to my children, who always cry when I cry.  We were quite the sight, the four of us crying and walking, the dog trailing close behind.

I was crying about the handshake.

I was crying about the fact that he just wanted someone to see him for what he was; someone down on their luck who needed a helping hand.  I was crying about the pride he would’ve had to swallow to ask for money in the first place.  I was crying about the people who walked by, not even acknowledging his presence.  I was crying about the generosity of my children.  I was crying about this tough lesson taught.  I was crying for him.

That day opened up the floodgates for our Christmas giving;  it has inspired us to give more than ever before, and we’ve found some wonderful local organizations to put our dollars behind.  We made a difference in that man’s life, if only for that one day, and it proved to us that random-acts-of-kindness help those on both sides of the transaction.

Give.  Spread the word.  Repeat.

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91, each with a story.

My family got our Christmas tree on the weekend.  It’s a bit earlier than we usually do, as December is not yet upon us, but the kids were asking and we had a free weekend afternoon with mild weather, so we took full advantage.  We get a real tree, and we do as city-people do, and trek to one of the local rural Christmas tree farms for the full urban Instagram experience.  Gone are the days of my Albertan prairie childhood, when we would drive country roads and walk through waist-deep snow in search of “the one.”  The opening scene of Chevy Chase’s ‘Christmas Vacation’ comes to mind.  These days, my husband and I do our best to give our kids a new version of that experience, and it’s definitely a Christmas tradition that we all look forward to.

We borrowed my father-in-law’s saw, again part of the tradition, as my husband remembers his childhood Christmas trees being cut down with that particular saw.  I marvel at the changes in our children each year, and remember the early years of babies in carriers and blankets, sneaking in tree-cutting between naps and feeds, worried about the cold and the little legs that couldn’t hike very far.  Now our kids are involved in the whole process, from cutting to carrying, unloading to decorating.  My daughter’s choice of tree got the nod this year, a point of pride for her, and my son placed the star on top.  In fact, once we got it home and in the tree stand, the kids decorated the whole tree by themselves while my husband and I sat on the couch, acutely aware of the fact that we’re in the midst of a wonderful stage of parenting, sandwiched between the emotions of toddlers and the moods of teenagers.

We carefully unwrapped the ornaments from their newspaper homes and laid them on the coffee table one by one.  And as the table filled, we counted: 91, each with a story.

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Each year, I get a family photo made into an ornament.

Many come from my parents, as they give both of my children an ornament based upon their current interests- we’ve got everything from Thomas the Train to Elsa, Captain Phasma to Dora, Harry Potter to the Toronto BlueJays.  When my kids move out, they’ll take their ornaments with them and have a head start on filling a tree of their own.  Many come from my husband’s childhood, the most precious being a tiny stocking from the year he was born.  Some come from gifts from friends, some from Winter weddings, some from school crafts.  But consistently, year after year, the most magical part for me is not the ornaments themselves, but the stories they tell.

We’ve got 91 stories on display;  91 feelings of nostalgia, 91 tokens of gratitude, 91 memories of happiness, 91 reasons to give thanks.

Merry Christmas.

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Sundays, puppies, baseball, and books.

I had a moment on Sunday.  Life is moments strung together, isn’t it?  And this one was a moment for the top of the string.

Sunday was a beautiful Fall day, one of those crisp air days, with blue sky and sunshine and the crunch of Ontario maples beneath my feet.  It was the second day of an atypical under-scheduled weekend, two full days in which my family of four spent no more than a couple of waking hours apart.  Just how I like it.  After an early Sunday dinner, we decided to wander over towards the library to return some books and play some baseball.  We grabbed the bat and the ball, the books and the bag, the pup and the dog treats, and away we went.

It’s a short ten-minute walk from my house to Burlington’s Central library, located on a huge urban greenspace with ball diamonds, soccer fields, and a playground just outside the library doors.  As we wandered along, the sky began to shift towards an early sunset, another reminder that Winter is on its way.  We entered the park, and my daughter and I headed towards the book drop bin, while my husband, son, and puppy headed for the baseball diamond.  We called the dog back and forth, a few hundred metres separating ourselves, practicing her recall command, marvelling at her temperament, and showering her with praise and treats.  At the book drop bin, I passed pile after pile of Berenstain Bears books, as my daughter happily loaded them into the drawer, waiting for the thump of a book deposit success.  Job done, we headed back across the expanse of grass, towards the baseball diamond and our family game.

And that’s when the moment happened.

“Mom,” she said, her six-year-old hand in mine.  “I……. I……. I,” she stammered, searching for her words.  I could hear the emotion in her voice and see the depth of her feelings splayed across her face.  “I love you Mom,” she said as she turned towards me and reached her arms up, her unspoken signal to be picked up.  At fifty pounds and four feet tall, she’s not a toddler anymore, but she’s still my baby, and I’ll happily take a wrap-around hug anytime she’s giving them out.

I picked her up, breathed her in, squeezed her tight.  And as her little cheek pressed up against mine, I felt the moment overwhelm me too.

Bliss.  Gratitude.  Joy.  Presence.  Whatever you want to call it, we felt it.

Green grass under our feet, pink sky above our heads, a puppy at our side, a baseball in our hands.  It all came together on Sunday night.

A moment, that’s all.

But a big moment for us.

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