A barred way

Last week I was in a dollar store picking up some hand sanitizer – now a regular item in our shopping baskets.  Behind me in line was an elderly lady, and while I was packing up, she set down a big stack of milk chocolate bars on the counter and then discovered she had forgotten her purse. She seemed disappointed and said she’d have to get them another time, as she wouldn’t have been able to manage the flight of stairs down to the store again. I felt bad and nearly offered to buy them for her. For some reason, I held back, feeling conflicted, and then the moment passed.

For quite some time after, I felt upset about my inability to help, and reflecting on my hesitancy, I came to the following realization. Other than the obvious expense of paying for all the bars, what stopped me from helping out was the fact that she was buying milk chocolate and, as a long-time vegan, I feel very strongly about not supporting dairy products in any way, especially not in purchasing them. If it was another item, I felt like I would have gone ahead and done it.

What this incident showed me is how common it is for us to have situations where we feel unsure how to act because the choices involve conflicting emotions and beliefs. One course of action feels partly right for one reason and partly wrong for another, creating an impossible situation. This can often be the scenario with family members – where whatever we decide will benefit one person but not the other.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, while these types of situations of uncertainty are bound to occur, what’s most important is feeling the need to do what’s right. I felt genuinely bad that I couldn’t help this woman, and it impacted me negatively because helping other people actually lifts my own spirits and helps me too. It’s not always possible to have clarity in such situations and naturally, the best scenario is where both parties are on par and feel mutually uplifted by a heartfelt exchange.

Service with a smile

Last week, I was working in the box office of an international film festival. As we were operating out of an existing cultural centre, we were relegated to the cloakroom to run our makeshift enterprise, though it functioned suitably well in our quest to procure patrons with tickets for the vast array of cinematic offerings.

Of course, there were hiccups in the procedures, as we navigated through the computer’s less than agile ticketing system. Glitches sometimes occurred, especially when we had lineups and multiple inquires. I had one particular incident, while I was still learning the ropes, which resulted in me taking a few missteps, coupled with computer and printer errors and one spilled coffee – at the customer end, not mine, thankfully, but we eventually got through it. Fortunately, the patron was incredibly patient and kind. He could so easily have blown a gasket, but remained calm and understanding throughout, for which I was very grateful.

It was a lesson I could have used when I was recently doing some banking for my elderly mom, as I often do. Usually, I use the bank machine, but this time, I wanted to check something with a teller. I was mentally hoping not to get served by a particular person, as she always questions my POA credentials and the interaction takes forever. I did, of course, get her, and had to re-explain my situation, followed by her meticulously going through everything, including me signing my name twice, as my signature didn’t sufficiently match the one on file. I gritted my teeth, silently wishing I had used the ATM machine.

But the truth is that no one is perfect, and while we hope people are all doing their jobs to the best of their abilities, some customer service will always be better than others. But we all need to live with human foibles and errors too, if we want to have this personal interaction with at all. Machines are rapidly replacing people in every facet of our society, and soon, face-to-face transactions will become even more a thing of the past.

Such erasure will further erode our communication skills, and more poignantly, our ability to be courteous, patient and kind. With our being accustomed to automated efficiency, we are already a lot less forgiving of each other’s imperfections and errors. But it’s really okay to make mistakes, as long as we acknowledge, apologize and try to rectify them. And being on the receiving end, we really need to try and exercise patience and understanding, as there may come a time when we will be asking for the same treatment in return.

 While we still can, let’s give people a chance in the workplace to serve and help one another, with imperfections, yes, but often with a lot of charm and individuality too.

Heard on the grapevine

I was once again considering what to write about when I decided to go line dancing. Why? Well, why not? There was a group that meets weekly in my local park and I decided to join them. The sun was shining and, in any case, I like to support community initiatives, especially those that are inclusive and accessible for everyone. And anyway, it’s actually kind of fun.

I know line dancing has a bit of a reputation for appealing to a certain age group, but really, it can be for everyone. The moves are simple steps – though surprisingly easy to mess up, and it’s great exercise and comes with a lot of laughs. So, it was an enjoyable way to spend an hour and I met some nice people too.

I think we often put labels on many things and dismiss them outright without giving them a chance. In our internet-obsessed world, where everything is on display, we urgently need to know the details of anything we get involved in – be that an event or even a person. We’ve become accustomed to pre-screening everything, even though the reality is often different. It’s like we’ve lost the art of taking a chance. And with so much on offer, we’re afraid of wasting time, or choosing badly, or do something that will make us look like a fool, or conversely, not be suitably Instagrammable.

I mean, life is for living. Let’s take a chance. The real world – not the one filtered online  –  is full of wonderous, as well as ridiculous and heartbreaking moments. But it’s there for us to take hold of. Isn’t one of the purposes of life to try things out and learn, even from our mistakes?

 The pandemic forced has many of us to do things in different ways than what we were used to and as the world opens up again, we should continue to exercise that muscle and try things out of our comfort zone. Who knows what may come out of it? You might meet some interesting people or learn a new skill, or just have a bit of fun. And now back to seeing what else I can hear on the grapevine…

Slow Down and See the Earth

The other day while out on my bike, I was hit by a car. Not badly, thank goodness, as it just clipped me, but yet another calamity on my bicycle, the third in as many months – third time unlucky? It occurred while I was crossing at a pedestrian light. I saw the car waiting to turn right, or so I thought, but the driver just kept going and plowed into me.

My bike actually saved me, as the car mainly hit my back wheel and I managed to remain upright, uninjured. I was so shocked I just froze, while the driver got out of the car to apologize. As I seemed to be alright – and I was standing in the middle of an intersection – I just carried on.

I was only two blocks from my mom’s place, but it was enough pedaling for me to realize that something wasn’t right with the back wheel. It turns out it was buckled and needed to be replaced – a hefty misfortune, indeed.

There are so many upsetting things about this episode, including my not pulling myself together enough to get the driver’s details. Of course, the whole incident could have been a lot worse, but it could have been better too – not having occurred in the first place.

The truth is that cycling has become even more dangerous in this city, as many drivers are in a rush and simply don’t look where they’re going. One of my main joys of cycling is the ability to go at a slower pace, to take in what’s around, to stop check out a Little Free Library on the sidewalk or to pet a dog.

It’s this slow-paced enjoyment of our environment that’s constantly being eroded, most notably in our car culture, with many drivers so wrapped in their own bubbles, that they’re dangerously detached from the world outside their cars. Pedestrians, cyclists and animals are the ones that suffer the adverse consequences when this disconnect leads to erratic driving.

With Earth Day around the corner, it’s a timely message that we should all be more mindful, more aware of our environment and to slow down, stop and take a look before proceeding further. Apart from the countless benefits of being more present in our surroundings, it can literally make the difference between life and death.

Taken for a ride

I was musing about what to write in this week’s blog when my bike was snatched. Perhaps not intentionally, but there was definitely some mal intent going on. Let me explain.

The public buses in this city allow you to place a bike on a rack at the front while you ride on board. This has been a real lifesaver for me, especially for uphill journeys or to travel to far-flung parks. I was headed to such a park last week, en-route to a hospital CT scan, in an attempt to assuage some of my anxiety about the procedure.

The trouble began at a stop where drivers were changing shifts. We had been there for some minutes, so with a sense of rising anxiety, I got off the bus to ask a couple of the drivers when we would be departing. One of them said the bus would leave when the driver arrived. I turned around to see that a different driver had got on the bus and shut the door. I banged on the door for him to let me in and he wouldn’t open it. He pointed to the bus stop, directly in front, so I scooted there, only to watch him drive off – with my bicycle in tow.

Although he probably didn’t know it was my bike, there’s really no excuse for him not letting me on the bus. Watching my bike disappear rendered me instantly apoplectic. My plans were in tatters and furthermore, I LOVE this bike.

After attempting many ways to find a solution, eventually, the driver of the next bus (who had witnessed the event) called his supervisor and it was arranged that he would drive me to a stop 20 minutes up the road, where I was to wait for the same bus to come back round again. Nearly an hour after it whizzed out of my sight, I was once again reunited with my beloved bike.

Unfortunately, upon my seeking an explanation for his actions, the driver was unrepentant and completely indifferent. I told him I was going to report him, which I did later that day. I’ve yet to see any results from my impassioned account, but I still feel it is important to report any kind of unacceptable behaviour like his to try and stop it happening to other people.

Speaking of behaviour, while I confess that I didn’t conceal my distress very well and was crying and wailing a fair bit, on no occasion, – on either bus, or waiting endlessly at the bus stop, did any of the passengers approach or ask what was wrong. I mean, really? I know that this is a big city and people are mistrustful of anything out of ordinary, but I was clearly not dangerous, just upset.

 Maybe it was harder to look away before we had phones to disappear into, but consider what will happen the next time the person who needs help is you. Random acts of kindness should not be noteworthy, they should be the norm. Let’s all step up and try and show that bit of extra care and consideration for one another, whether in our jobs or in our everyday lives.

Meeting the energy

I consider myself to be a good judge of character, and most people give off an energy when you first meet them, so that you can usually tell from initial impressions if you’re likely to get on or not. However, I had a few incidents this week which gave me pause for thought.

The first was while I was walking in the woods. I encountered a man who, like me, was looking for birds, but, unlike most birders, seemed very taciturn and self-contained. Usually, I exchange greetings with fellow bird enthusiasts, but as he was very much keeping to himself, I didn’t approach him. Later on, I saw him further down the path, and without preamble, he came up to me, pointed to a tree and said, quite pleasantly, ‘if you look there, you’ll see a screech owl.’ Wow, how wonderful was that! He mentioned spotting it on the way in and promptly departed, leaving me to enjoy it on my own.

Another encounter I had was at a social group outing. There was someone I had met before who was often crude and made inappropriate comments. I cringed when he sat next to me, but to my surprise, that afternoon he was very pleasant, witty, and all of his comments were PG.

There is usually more to people than the packages they come in – like onions, with layers that get peeled over time. It’s easy to make judgments about people because it’s a kind of a short cut. The problem is that our expectations of someone can get in the way of our real-life encounter and often let us down. For example, at another group outing recently, I saw some people I had chatted with many times before and they essentially blanked me. So until you have built a stronger relationship with someone, it’s probably best to shelve any preconceived expectations and just meet them where they’re at upon your next encounter.

It means that we can be open to the energy and possibilities that arise in the situation. Of course, I’m not suggested to plunge head first into scenarios that have shown themselves to be harmful or toxic. But in other settings, it can be helpful to give people a chance or to just face an experience it comes. At very least, there are always opportunities to learn something from others which can help you in your life. At best, we can have an enjoyable and maybe surprising interaction, and even the possibility of it developing into something more.

Seeing the light

Last week I had a power outage. The lights went out briefly a couple of times and then boom – they were out completely. I had no idea if it was just our building or if the neighbourhood had been affected too. A knock on my upstairs neighbour’s door yielded no response, so, rather than sit in the muted light, unable to access Wi-Fi , I ventured out into the shivery, grey day, to see what I could discover.

A few streets down, a woman confirmed that her power was out too, so I walked further south and did some grocery shopping on a street seemingly unaffected. When I returned home and there was still no power, I decided the best thing for it was to hop on the bike and go to the park to hang out with the birds. When I returned an hour later, the power had been restored.

I think what surprised me most about this incident was how anxious being without electricity made me feel, even in the middle of the day, especially not knowing how and when the outage would be addressed. We are so reliant on electricity, that we don’t even give it much thought until something goes wrong.

It’s interesting that Earth Hour last weekend, which asked people to turn their lights off for an hour in the evening, is observed as an event – so unusual is the idea of being without electricity, even for a short time. Even in our pandemic world, many people carried on unabated in lockdown through being connected virtually.

When the lights go out – especially during the day – we become more aware of the physical world which exists independent of our individually-created bubbles. It is an opportunity for us to slow down, unplug, and reconnect outside, and to function as people did for centuries in greater harmony with the cyclical rhythms of day and night.

We would all benefit from reducing our consumption and dependency on electricity. And it shouldn’t take a crisis – like a pandemic or a power outage, to be able to see the natural world as somewhere we can actively participate in and be a part of – for us to see the light of what is real and eternal all around us.

Cultivating care

My dear friend in England called me this week in a state. Earlier that day, while waiting for a train in an outdoor suburban station, he saw a teenage girl sitting with her feet dangling over the edge of the platform, clearly distressed. When he tried to talk her into moving back from the edge, instead, she jumped onto the tracks. A couple of women, alerted as to what was going on, leapt in and wrestled her back to the platform, while my friend and another man – most fortuitously wearing Hi-Vis pants – waved frantically at the train, which was now visibly arriving in the distance. Fortunately, the conductor became aware of the spectacle and slowed down, while the girl was brought back to safety.

My friend, probably still in shock, was concerned about whether he had done the right thing, or indeed had done enough, not having been the one to leap in to save the girl. Of course, I reassured him that his actions were extremely helpful, especially as they alerted others as to what was going on.

I had my own similar reservations this week, when, in less dramatic circumstances, I discovered a set of keys in the parking lot of a shopping plaza. I was in two minds as to whether to leave them for the owners to retrace their steps and find them, or to give them in at the supermarket, in the hope that they would have gone there or would think to ask inside. Another shopper reinforced this option, so I left the keys at the customer service and returned with a note, which I placed on the windshield of what I hoped was the right car.

I later agonized over whether I had done the right thing, and the truth is that sometimes you can never know, you can only try to do what you feel is right at the time. In some ways, the bigger issue is in harbouring the desire to do the right thing in the first place. We should all not only strive to do what’s right in any given scenario, but to also feel a powerful need to do so.

While we may not have innate superpowers to sweep in and rescue a person or bad situation, when we cultivate a deep sense of responsibility to one another, we can harness the energy to be ready and willing to act when the need arises. Our decisive actions can sometimes have life-changing, if not life-saving outcomes, and this is what makes us truly superhuman.

Universal help

I think we have all been moved by the heart-breaking scenes of the war in Ukraine, particularly of the legions of refugees fleeing their homes and sheltering in makeshift accommodation, their futures uncertain.

The outpouring of support from the world has been immediate and all widespread, with many different initiatives and ways of providing aid. It is truly admirable how we, as human beings, respond to crises with heartfelt love and support. I am always impressed by how locals drop everything and rally to help those in need – providing accommodation, transport and essential supplies.

 It is truly at the grassroots level that we can make a difference, which is why, in the midst of our attention concentrated on Ukraine, I would urge people to continue looking closer to home. There is suffering all around us – poverty in our communities, isolation amongst our neighbours. There are so many vulnerable people – homeless, or hungry or lonely or in need of a listening ear or particular types of assistance. Can we refocus our desire to help to hone in on those among us? There are so many ways we can give – with our time and skills through volunteering or by donating money to organizations that really do improve the lives of those around us.

I feel encouraged that we feel and connect with the suffering of others throughout the world and respond when their basic human needs are threatened or taken away. I think there are valid and valuable ways to help in these situations, but the world in our backyard needs us too. We are all prone to be vulnerable and thrown into a crisis in these very difficult times. Let’s be there for each other and looking out for one another, not just through heightened events, but in our everyday lives.

Homing in

Finding an apartment to rent is notoriously stressful and exhausting, especially with a deadline of moving out a previous place. Mercifully, there seem to be a lot of short-term furnished rentals on offer at the moment, but the properties vary wildly in appearance, condition and price. Then there’s all the schlepping to viewings, alongside the wearying ping-pong matches, pairing up the suitability of the place with your eligibility as a tenant.

Every time I rent a place – which is often, given my current transient lifestyle, I learn new things. As I’ve gotten especially good at making lists, here are the three main takeaways I’ve learned from my most recent rental venture:

First off, decide on two or three things that are non-negotiable and stick to them. No accommodation is ever likely to be perfect or tick every box, so choose what is essential – be it parking, or location or natural light, and make sure the apartment has them all. Worry about the other stuff later. Many structural or cosmetic issues can, within reason, be improved upon or personalized once the place is yours.

With your priorities in mind, be up front and transparent about your needs and expectations. I nearly didn’t take the place I’m in now until the issue of bike storage got sorted out. Matters can often be negotiated and agreed upon, especially if the landlord wants to take you on as a tenant.

Which leads me to my third point – be honest, mindful and pledge to look after the place to the best of your ability. After all, it’s going to be your home, for however, long. Honesty and sincerity will go a long way towards helping you to find and secure a place that’s right for you.

And while renting an apartment is, for all intents and purposes, a business transaction, it still involves a relationship between people, engendering trust. Let’s not commodify it on either side to ‘what can be got out of the deal’, but instead, let’s humanize the process through open and empathetic discussion and interactions. Shelter is a basic human need and we should all strive to help one another to acquire it with dignity, respect and understanding. Now, I’d best go unearth some more treasured belongings from my boxes. Good thing my computer was near the top of one. 😊