How a walking stick brought kindness


Constantly monitoring the news is a necessity of writing a regular column and as anyone who makes a habit of reading the daily papers and following news reports on television knows, much of it is grim stuff. There is no shortage of stories describing how much trouble we make for ourselves since murder and mayhem are the bread and butter of the news business. If a person is not careful he or she may lose sight of the day-to-day truth of our immediate world.

This observation comes because throughout this summer I have been given the dubious gift of a sprained knee. It was a fairly serious sprain, which meant that for a considerable period in recovery I had to depend on using a cane, and this for the first time in my life. I call the sprain a ‘gift’ because every new difficulty has the potential within it to teach something, if each of us is willing to let it.

One gift of the sprain and the subsequent use of the cane was how I was reminded of the spirit of kindness that remains present in this large urban centre, a quality in direct contrast with the kind of news we are barraged with each day. Time and again, as I boarded public transportation vehicles, people seeing the cane would offer their seat, some even insisting. Sometimes, there would be two or three people at the same time offering to let me sit. This array even included people much older.

Then there were the conversations. How did it happen, some asked, to which they received a mumbled explanation; something about getting off a streetcar while reading a book and not paying attention. Other conversations were about their own sprains; how they treated it and how long it took then to recover. The general consensus was that such a sprain might need a three-month recovery period.

Even now, still wearing a knee support but minus the cane, one bus driver took one look at my temporary disability and launched into the story of his ghastly knee sprain during a soccer game. It’s been over a year and he still has to be careful, he says. With our sprains as common ground, we’ve been keeping up regular chats about mutual recoveries.

I also encounter the lady on my bus route who keeps reminding me to do the exercises that will further the recovery. She also had a bad sprain and wished she had heeded her doctor’s advice regarding her own physiotherapy. She doesn’t want me to make the same mistake she did.

The sprain still has some healing to do, however the cane has not had a road trip for a few days as the recovery progresses. But it really has been a vehicle for the common consideration many people have for each other.

Something about a cane immediately elicits some measure of compassion and empathy.

Take a look at the film clips of Jack Layton that have been running since the announcement of his passing earlier this week. In just about every one that shows his last campaign, the cane is present. With ill-health dogging him, Layton, who took the federal New Democratic Party all the way to becoming the Opposition, and whose death from cancer earlier this week is being mourned, took on the challenge of the last federal election campaign with the use of a cane. The night that the NDP earned their greatest number of seats in Parliament, Layton jubilantly held that cane aloft before a celebrating throng of supporters. The cane might have signaled his failing health but it certainly did not drive any voters away; in fact Layton took the NDP to a record showing, winning a historic 102 seats.

One thing is certain, having to rely on a cane will connect you with others if you let it, and the use of it also brings with it a reminder of one’s own mortality.

A note on giving aid…

A small group of young Somali Canadians raised their voices in the Eglinton subway station last week, calling to commuters to give something, anything, no matter how small to help people in East Africa facing starvation due to famine. They are doing what they can. While we mourn those already lost to the famine, there is still time to do what we can for more than 3.5 million waiting for help.

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