Defining Moments

Lance Miller, keynote speaker at the 2017 District 42 Toastmasters Fall Conference, spoke about defining moments: little actions that can completely change the trajectory of our lives or result in outcomes we could have never imagined.

Let me tell you about the amazing consequences of a small act of kindness:

Last spring a Cowboy Poetry colleague, Jenn, whom I barely knew, lost her husband. When I saw her at the next festival, she was quite distraught. She and Harry had sung together. She was determined that his passing would not inhibit her playing and singing but she found it extremely difficult to be a solo act.

I suggested we sing together. We did, had tons of fun and it helped Jenn get through the weekend.

When we met up at the next festival two weeks later, my guitar player couldn’t come so I taught Jenn my song in the morning and we performed it in the evening to favourable reviews. We had so much fun we agreed to meet again to sing.

The Toastmasters conference was in her city, Medicine Hat, a month later. I invited her to come to part of it and take in the banquet with me.

She did. My fellow Toastmasters welcomed her. One helped her with glam make-up for the banquet. She even won a door prize. And here’s what she sent me today:

Shelley: I had a such a good time Saturday. And again on Sunday when I went to a jam that lasted all afternoon and evening. Last night I felt like I could explode with happiness!

Thanks again for inviting me. I truly felt privileged and honoured to be with someone as accomplished as you and to meet some of your colleagues.

And what a ripple effect one ‘small’ gesture can make! (Your invite was not small, thus the marking.)

When a cousin’s son texted me on Saturday, I said we’d converse later: I was at the Toastmaster’s convention.

That led to lots of questions on his part and an opportunity to promote the benefits Toastmasters would have for him as a young man.

This made me smile.

One small gesture of friendship resulted in a non-Toastmaster spreading the good news about the benefits of the program.

Who knows? These two may end up helping the Medicine Hat Toastmasters clubs grow and touch more lives!

And I had a small part in healing Jenn’s broken heart.

My advice?

If you get the chance to say a kind word, give someone a hug or invite someone to your meeting, do it.

You never know what a difference you will make and whose lives will be touched.

Happy Birthday, Betty!

Betty's 90th Birthday

Betty’s 90th Birthday

A new old friend, Betty recently celebrated her 90th Birthday by inviting 20 people to a buffet dinner in a local hotel. There were representatives from almost every decade in the last century, literally from 9 to 90!

Betty has endured so many hip surgeries over the years that she has only one hip. As a result she is unable to walk or do much for herself. Caregivers come to her home three times a day to get her meals and help her in and out of bed.

You might think Betty is sad or depressed. You might think she would feel sorry for herself. But not Betty! She may not be able to walk but she is a walking example of how to enjoy life.

Betty has lived in her inner city home for 50 years.  Her oldest neighbour, Mary was taken to a nursing home on the day of the party. That was sad for Betty. Part of her purpose lately has been watching out for Mary, who has steadily deteriorated over the past few years. First her hearing; now her, mind. She’s been showing up at Betty’s at 10:30 at night, thinking it’s morning and scaring the Dickens out of Betty.

After five decades as neighbours, Betty and Mary are more like sisters than friends. Sadly Mary’s mental decline is ending their relationship. When Betty and Mary are both gone, their old homes will be dozed to make way for duplexes or mansions. Their decades of memories will be wiped out.

Betty’s kitchen is like Grand Central Station. I pop in to water her flowers or bring Divot, our 14-yr-old Golden Retriever, whom Betty loves, for a visit. Invariably I meet a different person every time, having tea with Betty!

Betty is determined to stay in her home until she dies. I hope she makes it. No matter how well meaning the “homes” are, they’re not the same as Home. The parade of visitors will slow to a trickle and eventually dry up. The staff is so harried and thinly spread, they have little time to interact on a human level. And the food is dreadful, almost completely void of nutrition and therefore, taste. No wonder people are dying to get out of there!

At her party the guests inquire with each other about our connection to Betty. One woman said her parents lived two doors down the street. For years Betty drove them to the grocery store. “Knowing my parents,” she laughed, “they didn’t buy one drop of Betty’s gas, so this is payback for me!” In her tone, shone love for Betty and the honour she has in paying back Betty’s kindnesses.

I know why Betty came into my life a few years ago: since my grandma’s been gone, I need old ladies in my life. They help connect me to “the good old days”, when I was eight and Grandma was my best friend. Much of what I learned from Grandma, I see again in Betty. They’re both tenacious old birds with a love for their people. I continue learning from Betty:

Have friends of all ages. And celebrate with them. Friendships take effort. It isn’t called “cultivating” friendships for nothing! I doubt Betty was thinking about being 90 when she was driving her old neighbours to the grocery store. Pay it forward is not just a cute slogan. It really works. One day when I’m old I hope to have younger friends who are willing to lend me a hand or an ear from time to time. I’m counting on good deeds being like stocks, paying me dividends in the future.

Happy Birthday, and thank you, Betty, for your friendship, for your never-give-in spirit and for reminding me that longevity depends on friends.

Great Full

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Our Thanksgiving after dinner activities included an exercise in gratitude where we wrote why we are grateful for the members of our family on small pictures our granddaughters had painted.

My youngest granddaughter, J_____  generally sees the world from a different perspective than most of us. Perhaps it’s her red hair. Or maybe it’s her free spirit.

She wrote: I am great full for Grandma because…

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Great full.

That gave me pause.

Because if you think about it, being grateful actually does make us “great full”.

We feel good inside. Others feel good. The step from good to great is not a huge leap.

Giving thanks is that: an act of giving.  Giving is good. In fact science has proven repeatedly that any act of kindness performed improves the health of the giver, the receiver, and incredibly, even the health of those who witness the act of kindness.

By being grateful to others we build bridges, give hope and encouragement, and sow the seeds of more good deeds coming our way. People are less apt to help next time if they don’t receive thanks.

Sadly, “thanks” is not common in the modern lexicon. Strangely, some people believe “thanks” takes away their power, positions them lower than others.

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If only they understood that by giving thanks they GET power.

I truly think that’s what J_____ meant by great full.

Today, I am great full to J_____ for opening my mind to the great state of great-fullness.