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Beth’s really good excellent terrific day, and changing the world

It didn’t start well. I microwave my oatmeal in a Pyrex bowl, and that morning the bottom fell out. After many heatings, it just cracked and fell. I tried eating the porridge anyway, didn’t want to waste those blueberries, but thought better of it.

From there, things soared. I went to meet my son at Toronto Western Hospital for a consultation with a surgeon about the damaged right wrist that’s causing him a lot of pain. Was dreading a long, chaotic morning, since Premier Ford is smashing public healthcare with defunding and neglect. Hospitals are overrun; staff are quitting, drained.

But the professionals working there are heroes. We were whisked through – he had an x-ray in record time, saw the surgeon’s intern, then the surgeon himself, a forthright man, instantly trustworthy. The issue isn’t solved but it’s being dealt with. We were out in just over an hour, after thanking both of them profusely. Miraculous. Could we be more grateful for public healthcare? No. As always – thank you, Tommy Douglas.

On the way to the Y I stopped at Winners where in my large ungainly unpopular size there was for once a terrific pair of sneakers, half price.

My Y class is like a club, we know each other so well. Two classmates bought the books I’d brought in at their request. Cathy who bought it last week effused about how much she loved it. Art is reading it slowly and asks me questions each class. Best of all, a friend who was suicidal earlier this year is now recovered and full of energy and thanked me for standing by her. All I did, when she made clear she didn’t want cheery pep talks, was to email regularly to remind her she is loved.

At home, my editor Ellie had returned a 2000-word essay I’d sent for her sharp eye; I re-edited and submitted to a literary magazine. One of my own editing clients sent a 35-page manuscript for MY sharp eye. I practiced the piano a bit. Supper was delicious, because I’d actually cooked yesterday so for once there was good food in the fridge.

Two things were best of all. One, dearest Chris called. A few years ago, just after retiring from his very busy life, he had a nervous breakdown and has been suffering ever since with seizures and, often, lack of speech. My diagnosis was that once he was no longer filling his days with overwork, his childhood with two abusive adoptive parents, a past he’d never confronted or even admitted, had surfaced to haunt him. He refused to consider this, not wanting to seem weak, though I assured him, over and over, there’s nothing weak about having survived a terrible childhood.

Finally, on Sunday night, he had an astonishing breakthrough and acknowledged, at last, that his breakdown was linked to his childhood. He phoned to say that he now understands and that has made a huge difference; he feels light and happy. What joy. I sent him this:

Not necessarily true, but often, it is. Or at least, a lonely and thoughtful child.

At 9, Anna Facetimed; she got the boys into bed, and I read into the phone some chapters from The Eyes and the Impossible. I was sitting by my fire and they were lying in bed on the other side of town, listening to Dave Eggers’s marvellously vivid stories about Johannes the dog. Eli is eleven going on sixteen; Anna cried recently, “Mum, he has underarm hair!” Soon he won’t be up for bedtime stories. But he is now.

It was grey and cold outside, and the world is hurting in infinite ways. But that was the best day I’ve had in a very long time, and much of it, it turned out, involved being there for other people. Roger Rosenblatt, a favourite writer, had a beautiful op-ed in the NYT on Sunday to say he has resolved to change the world, one small step at a time. He writes:

“In “Leaves of Grass,” Walt Whitman writes: “This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone who asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy.”

So there. If you’re looking for a worthwhile resolution, Whitman is not a bad place to start. The task of improving the world may seem impossible, but it isn’t. All it takes is the proper sequence of correct discrete decisions.

An editor of mine told me a story from his childhood on his grandparents’ farm in Iowa. The little boy, looking out over acres and acres of corn, asked his grandfather, “How are we going to shuck all that corn?” His grandfather said, “One row at a time.”

This, too, is how to improve the world. And we can start small.

Personally, I vow that I will frequently visit a children’s hospital and try to distract kids with stories, the funnier the better. I vow that I will phone every lonely person I know — and there are plenty — at least twice a week, just to chat and make them feel part of the living world. I vow to give alms to everyone who asks, and to those who don’t, and to stand up for the stupid and crazy, the stupider and crazier, the better. I promise to keep an eye out for strays (cats, dogs and people) and bring them safety and comfort. I vow to see every wrong as a menace, every wound an opportunity.

What will you do — right now, this week, this month — to make a better world? Stage a protest. Send a letter to right a wrong, or to proffer friendship. (A thoughtful, sympathetic letter to a friend in sorrow or distress is a powerful thing.) Lend a hand. Offer a word of comfort or inspiration or support or love. Donate money or, most valuable of all, time. There are so many ways to move this world, right within reach.

The great beautiful irony of all this, of course, is that selflessness is not the opposite of self-improvement. Selflessness is self-improvement — the most meaningful and lasting kind.”

What Roger said.



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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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