Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: kindness

Taking Care Of Our Vulnerable Ones Is A Matter Of Importance

(Initially published as a column in the AM News)

giftsBetween 1998 and 2002 when my oldest son was born, I spent every Saturday morning practising social skills with a boy who had autism. He had a very sweet face and big brown eyes, and, just like any other six-year-old, he was happy to have people visit. Because of his condition, he had a couple of visits every week and his parents were relieved to have the help and also that extra bit of time off.

I was a volunteer, part of a buddy program that the Autism Society of BC had to put an end to in 2000, regretfully (sad to imagine that a program that used free community resources of the best kind – willing people, could not be saved). I opted to keep working with the boy, despite the program being terminated until my son was born and my days underwent a new baby reform and time to spare became a dream.

The boy’s family had many concerns about the future because they knew that one day their little boy with autism will become an adult with autism and the somewhat limited resources will be even more limited. They were right. He is now 21 and part of the group of adults with developmental disabilities who have access to limited care and resources, if any, outside their home.

A ‘then what?’ situation that I have come to hear of more than one time, and not just autism-related.

The son of some of my close friends has Duchenne muscular dystrophy and their journey, challenging by default one could say, has been, at times, even more challenging due to closed doors and a rather undignifying message of ‘No, we cannot help you with that.’

The community they live in stepped up and organized fundraisers to help out. It meant the world to my friends, but the fact remains that their expectations to have an ‘official’ hand get them out of the murky waters of increasing financial burdens and a quagmire of worries regarding the future are being put to test too often.

It is hard to imagine that kind of anguish. It is shameful that there is not enough funding to support those most vulnerable in our society. An ever-growing group, by all accounts and unfortunately so, that includes many people, young and old, with different issues; from developmental disabilities, to genetic conditions to cancer and mental issues, we hear of waiting lists and dwindling resources, and at the same time we hear of willing staff trying to help but becoming equally frustrated at the limited amount of funds that provincial and federal governments allocate to those in need.

In our own part of the woods here in Kamloops, we have but one oncologist at RIH, which means new patients who need one are directed to Kelowna. Cancer treatments and traveling do not mix well but what to do if you have no choice? The local discussion forums have been rife with arguments over the allocation of (lots of) money for the new Performing Arts Center when matters such as lack of specialized clinics are more needed in our midst. Steamy pros and cons matches aside, those who have been under threat, or their loved ones, know that available care is vital.

In caring for the most vulnerable, a country shows its true colours one could say. Budgets are never easy to figure out and issues keep piling up. Yet at the same time, those of us who are most at risk and their caregivers cannot be pushed to the side and told to wait until resources, be it money or people, are available. Some simply cannot wait; they do not have the luxury to do so.

It is heartwarming to see that at an individual or community level many people care and are willing to help out, but that is not enough to get those who need help through the thick of it. With elections approaching, we need to ask those who want to take the lead to care for our vulnerable ones. Together with a much needed solid education agenda, a plan to revive services and set aside funds for those in need should be a must-do for our soon to be elected government. We will all be better for it.

As I already said, it is hard to imagine the anguish of those who desperately need help, yet we have to do it. Our humanity obliges us to.


Why Every Community Needs A Diner

(Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on November 30, 2013)

The one thing I remember about the diner that night is that it smelled like a home rather than a restaurant. Also, the invitation to sit wherever we wanted and being addressed with “dear.”

When you’re new in a place, “dear” sounds right.

An elderly couple smiled from across the room and nodded welcome — a remnant from the days when looking at someone you didn’t know was not rude but rather a greeting that meant just that, ‘welcome.’

We spent a tired first night in the attached inn and late morning found us in the diner again, for breakfast. In less than 24 hours, the diner had become a familiar place with familiar faces and “dear” was tucked motherly into every other sentence. Breakfast was good and warm.

Life rolled on and we moved into our house a few blocks away from the diner. Nightly walks had us by its red-lit OPEN sign often, and every time I looked inside I was reminded of our first night in Kamloops.

A sign outside the door says ‘Coffee and pie, all day, $2.95’ and you see it every time you walk by.

The first time we tried it we had just dropped off the boys at school. Coffee and pie sounded like an invitation and we said why not.

We sat by the window and got engrossed in talking.

The second time, we took the boys there after school and we each got different pies and a big blob of whipped cream on the side.

Someone sitting at another table waved at us, then walked over to say hi. It was one of the paramedics who helped during my youngest son’s asthma attack. He remembered us, my son’s name and the fact that we all have the same kind of boots.

When he left, saying “see you around,” we said the same because we knew it was true. It happens all the time.

The boys pointed at the black-and-white historic photos on the walls, of cars parked outside the same diner, of the inn, of people smiling. I wondered how many of them were still stopping by for meals and conversations. I wondered if the diner will still be when the boys have grown up.

Somehow I know it will. Many diners have been around for a long time and they have the best social-media platform there is: face to face conversations, people from the next table asking how your day has been and actually waiting for an answer.

But not all diners are like this. I remember one in Fort Langley where the old charm is all there but the young waiters who take your order and give you the correct change never ask about your day or whether you live close by.

Another diner near Kootenay Lake had a cold feel to it, literally and otherwise. People there did not connect the dots between visitors and food and you felt isolated.

So we ate and went on our way. It was a freezing sunny day in March, but the outside felt warmer.

Neighbourhood diners where people smile and say “hope to see you again” are a sign of a healthy community and a reminder of the good old feeling of never being far from a friendly face. Locals come and lean back on chairs as if at home, which is somewhat accurate, and travelers feel welcome.

The ladies who bring you coffee and pie and meals call you “dear” and “honey” and you’re tickled pink every time just because. They address children the way an aunt would, they carry smiles from table to table and they laugh with old customers over this or that with a familiarity that you want to be part of because it feels warm and good.

So I want diners like this to stay. Not because I cannot find coffee and pie or a good meal elsewhere, but because of that warm space that connects people to food, to other people and to the community they all live in, for a night, a few years or a lifetime.

After all, a place is a place. It’s the people that make it special.

The Pursuit of Kindness

We bought the pink shirts a while ago. I still don’t fully understand how a T-shirt will prevent or stop bullying but I bought the T-shirts so that the boys won’t stand out as non-wearers.

It made me think of that Seinfeld episode when Kramer gets bullied for not wearing the pink ribbon that everyone was wearing during an AIDS march. “Who, who doesn’t wanna wear the ribbon?…” Remember that one? A well placed sarcasm if I’ve ever seen one.

That Thursday morning was a noisy one. Sasha had yet another night of interrupted sleep and he was in a bad mood when he woke up. By the time we flew out the door, moods were bruised and we did not remember to take the pink T-shirts.

So I drove back to get the T-shirts. Tony that he’ll pass since he might face being laughed at if mom shows up with the forgotten item. The irony of that happening on anti-bullying day was striking.

Sasha wore his, Tony didn’t. Later when I picked them up he told me how a kid walked by him and swore at him. Some nasty words; aside from my sadness that he knows them, it’s even sadder to know that he was addressed as such.

What about going to the principal with it? Nah, he says. The worst of what a kid would face should someone inform the teachers or principal would be “You are not allowed to…” or “Don’t do it again…” Right. Like that would curb it.

I could not necessarily call it bullying. It’s a mean put-down remark, it’s swearing, it’s bad. But then Tony told me the kid is known to swear at people. Other kids do it too sometimes. They’re being told not to do it, if someone hears them, that is.

But then again, Tony tells me of adult supervisors who appear bitter and punitive for reason that elude him. They yell and get mad at kids for not playing their notes well during music class, for not wiping their feet when they come back. Often threats are used too. We’re all human you could say. We all make mistakes.

Where do we draw the line then? How do teach the kids what’s acceptable and what’s not? Who is responsible for setting and example and how should they do it? Help children be kind not out of fear of punishment but because they are aware they could hurt someone’s feelings, that sounds good and noble but that could only happen if we do it first.

Pink T-shirts or not, children should know that being kind is not a one day event. They should be able to trust the adults in their lives to help them deal with swearing or aggression of any kind. Yet in some of my darkest moments I fear that that’s simply not the case.

Kids are living the same rushed lives we are, they are bitter and angry at times, they forget to be kind. Most, if not all, do not know any better until later on, if then. But what excuse do adults have? If they choose to work with children they should set an example. No excuse and no exception.

Kindness is not the same with weakness just like discipline is not the same with meanness. As a parent, I can say that when I behave in a mean way the last thing my boys learn or feel is to be kind to each other. Would they trust me to solve any aggression that might occur between them if I handle myself poorly? I hope not.

I think no matter how many T-shirts we pile on children, pink or not, they will only learn to be kind to others when they see it happening. The whole teaching by example thing. It applies, it really does.

Your thoughts on this? Thank you for sharing should you decide to do so.


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