вторник, 31 декабря 2013 г.

Our Lucky Christmas

By Barbara L. Black

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.
~Roger Caras
It was Christmas Eve in the Kootenays, British Columbia, in a place called Nipika. The sky was white, and it was snowing, the fluffy flakes descending lazily like battalions of miniature parachutists. Inside, I was curled up on the couch by the fire, reading about that poor orphan, Oliver Twist, who starts life slaving in a workhouse and gets tossed from good fate to bad, the bad being particularly nasty and the good being marvellous. Before I could see what fate befalls Oliver, I was distracted by the sound of barking and sat up to look out the window.
There outside was an urchin of a dog, with crooked ears and a bushy tail like an electrified squirrel, charging about in the snow — a furrified firecracker.
He was a jolly dog, and since he seemed so hard up for company, I went outside to throw him sticks. He loved to be petted and talked to and was distraught at the many little ice balls clinging to his paws. As I helped him to remove them, I found friendship in his intelligent bark-brown eyes. My husband joined us, and an afternoon of doggie romping went by, until suddenly our new friend galloped off, probably to curl up beside his owner's wood stove.
We ate a quiet Christmas Eve dinner and afterwards headed to the Nipika lodge to share a glass of cheer with the owner, Lyle, and the other guests. The moment we stepped outside, our furry friend materialized and galumphed with us all the way to the lodge. Inside, as the fire blazed, we asked everyone, "Who owns that long-haired reddish-brown dog with the fluffy tail?" Silence. "We thought it was your dog," said the couple from New York. Nobody knew to whom he belonged, but he seemed to have a firm sense of belonging here. When we returned to our cabin, the dog had disappeared in the snowy night.
Next morning, Christmas Day, I glanced out the kitchen window to see the dog huddled under the only dry spot — a dirt patch underneath a tiny pine. He looked marooned on his winter desert island. When I opened the door and called to him he careered down the hill, ears flapping, paws flailing up and down, a steamroller of fur and enthusiasm. But when he reached the door, he came in politely, as if someone had taught him good manners, then plunked down on the mat like a sack of potatoes.
Since he belonged to nobody at the camp, we figured he hadn't eaten since at least the day before. So he got a Christmas supper fit for an orphan: ham, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, and gravy, which he promptly inhaled to my intonations of "You lucky dog!" That was when we started calling him Lucky. He was lucky to get lost in a place whose owners were dog lovers, and lucky to find the two big softies in the furthest cabin.
Yes, we were smitten by that pair of doleful eyes. We even thought — scandalously — about adopting him into our one-cat family. Lucky must have understood he had found his angel benefactors.
That night, Lucky slept near our bedroom door. Whenever we stirred, he stirred, his nails clicking on the wood floor. He heaved sleepy, contented sighs that kept me ever so slightly awake, like a mother with her new babe.
On Boxing Day morning, Lucky ate sour cream and chive noodles with... Brussels sprouts and ham. All day, he was our constant companion, accompanying us on a hike, waiting outside the sauna, or lying inside with his head on my feet as I followed the exploits of that other orphan, Oliver, whose brush with good fortune, alas, proved to be all too brief.
On the 27th, a pick-up truck pulled into camp. It was the security man from the mine twenty-five kilometers down the road. He was looking for a dog named Nuke, he said — our dog. Nuke was supposed to be at the mine, tied up, alone, doing his guard dog duties, but a few days ago he had escaped. Our Lucky was a fugitive. That explained the ice balls on his feet. I turned to look for Lucky but our orphan runaway was hiding. Clearly, this lonely mining job was not an apprenticeship that suited him at all. My heart broke for my poor brown-eyed friend.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!
With a special whistle, the security man located Lucky, lured him into his pick-up and drove away. Suddenly our beloved dog's name seemed utterly inappropriate.
I said to my partner, "If this was Dickens, Lucky would run away again from his evil captors, appear barking at our door, and I would embrace him saying, 'Oh, Lucky! You came back!'" But we knew that wouldn't happen. Some gifts are not for keeping. Lucky was gone.
Gloom settled over the household. When I went to bed I even cried. What kind of spell had Lucky — a dog — cast over us in so short a time? I lay in bed and spoke to him in my head. I told him if he wanted to come back, we were here waiting. Even if he didn't come, we would always love him.
All night I slept fitfully, missing his doggie sighs and clicking toenails. Then, at 2 a.m., I heard a thump, as if someone had stepped — or jumped — onto the porch. "Could it be?" I asked myself. "Don't be ridiculous! The mine is twenty-five kilometers away!" Still, I couldn't resist going downstairs to check.
At the side door I squinted out — that's where Lucky usually waited. Nothing but gaping blackness. With a dwindling sense of hope, I went to the front door, cupped my hands over the cold glass and peered into the night. A pair of soulful eyes stared back at me. Lucky! He had come back! The dog with the squirrelicious tail had run twenty-five kilometers in the middle of the night to be with us! I let him in and he burst into the cabin, exploding with doggie joy.
Now, this story has two endings. When we left Nipika two days later, Lucky, with his one ear up and his one ear down, was still there. Lyle, the resort owner, had also grown very fond of him but agreed that the mine — his rightful owners — had the last say. We said we would adopt Lucky, although our city house hardly seemed the place for him. Besides, what would the cat think? We left not knowing his fate.
A week passed, and our fondness for Lucky never faded. Then we received an e-mail from Lyle. He told us that through a marvellous stroke of luck, our Christmas orphan had been freed from the mine. Lucky now lives with his new family in doggie freedom in the wide-open spaces of Nipika Mountain Resort. It was truly a Christmas gift for all of us.

The Unlikely Gift

By Valerie Fletcher Adolph

The manner of giving is worth more than the gift.
~Pierre Corneille, Le Menteur
All my life I had wanted a pet. So when I got married and set up my own first household, a kitten was at the top of my agenda. Luckily, I learned that another teacher at school had a litter of Siamese kittens born a few weeks earlier. Perfect! When my husband carried me over the threshold, the kitten trotted ahead of us.
After a serious, long discussion — our budget was settled more quickly and easily — the kitten was given the name Tico. Tico the tyke. She was also given everything else a kitten might possibly want. Not just food, but special treats. Not just a comfy bed, but our bed. If we were working on something she had to have the best vantage point. If my husband was painting the door, she was on his shoulder. If I was marking essays, she supervised the allocation of marks. If she wanted to play with the blue pen, I wrote with the red one.
She matured into a cat — but stayed as small as many kittens and just as playful. She knew she was the heart of the household. One tiny, plaintive meow could bring all kinds of good things. We doted on her, probably to excess. Whatever she wanted, it was our pleasure to give her.
Then came our first Christmas. We bought a turkey and I crossed my fingers that I could cook it. We prepared it the night before, all ready to pop into the oven. Tico surveyed every move, nose twitching, ready to assist. It looked as if our first Christmas dinner might be perfect. But overnight I came down with a violent flu. Tossing and feverish, I moved onto the chesterfield under blankets that were alternately too hot and not warm enough.
"You'll have to cook the turkey," I croaked. My husband tentatively got to work in the kitchen. Slowly the aroma of cooking turkey began to permeate the apartment. For me, it only made matters worse.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: I Can't Believe My Cat Did That!
I had expected that Tico would be in the kitchen investigating and supervising, close to the source of the wonderful aroma and ready to be first to help with taste testing. But she was with me, cuddled into my neck. I would toss and turn over every few minutes. She would quietly move, wait till I settled for the next few minutes and then curl back into my neck. I would turn again, and again she would wait and settle back. It went on all morning.
My husband, meanwhile, checked the cooking. He added water to the turkey innards and boiled them for flavoring for the gravy. The additional aroma added to my woes. I ran to the bathroom yet again. Tico ignored the smells and settled back with me after each bathroom break.
Somehow in the middle of all this I managed to fall asleep. Not much of a sleep — I have vague memories of Tico climbing back and forth across my pillow to keep track of my thrashing. Then I awoke with a strong smell of cooked turkey liver in my nostrils. Tico was sitting up straight, about a foot from my nose. Right beside my mouth was a large piece of cooked turkey liver — her treat from the turkey that my husband had put in her dish.
"Eat it!" her posture said. "It will do you good. You'll like it."
Okay, I was in a weakened state, but the tears flowed. How generous. How giving. The most delicious morsel saved for me when I was ill.
I had sensed that a kitten would bring an emotional richness into my life. I just didn't know she would return our giving with practical giving of her own. I managed to choke back the turkey liver — just. Accepting gifts, even unlikely gifts, is important too.

Boys into Bear Cubs

By Deborah Kinsinger

A friend is a brother who was once a bother.
~Author Unknown
It had been a very long year parenting my two teenage sons. A single mom, I often felt the weight of the day-to-day burden of guiding, helping, disciplining, and raising two boys in a town of 80,000 in central Ontario. In many ways my boys were oil and water, each one's needs seeming to grate upon the very soul of the other. For a number of years I wondered if they would ever be friends the way my siblings and I are. The older one was doing the obnoxious teenage things we all worry about, and the younger one passed up no opportunity to tell his brother what he thought of him.
"This is the only brother you have," I would remind them. "You will have each other for your whole lives. You guys need to be friends."
"No way," one of them would say. "He's a creep."
Then came the Christmas holidays. Eager to try anything that might ease the tension and offer a fresh perspective for our family, I booked us into a resort near Horseshoe Valley. On Boxing Day I loaded the boys and their gear into my car and we drove north to ski country, staying near the slopes. After a day of racing down double-black-diamond hills, the frost between the two brothers had almost begun to thaw.
The next day I said, "Okay, we're going out to play in the snow and take a hike. Put on your snow clothes."
"I'm too tired," complained one.
"I don't want to," whined the other.
So out we went anyway.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: O Canada the Wonders of Winter
Deep snow, sunshine through the trees, rocks to climb, snow piles to dig into surrounded us. Within twenty minutes, my sophisticated, worldly-wise, moody teenage boys became bear cubs: jumping, running, falling, climbing, and digging. One slid down a steep bank, the other found a branch and extended it to pull him back up. My heart melted as I watched my young men playing like they had when they were little. Afraid to break the magic, I did not say a word. I watched them play, and my heart rejoiced. Snowballs, snow caves, playing tag in hip-deep snow. They were having fun with one another!
The miracle had happened. Away from suburban life, away from the distractions of computers and friends, my sons began to relate in a healthy, playful, and loving way again. We stayed out in the snow and cold until the boys were rosy-cheeked and soaked through. Then we headed in for hot chocolate and a roaring fire. Gone were the enemies they had become. The picture of them tromping back to our room through the snow, arms around each other's shoulders, still brings tears to my eyes. Who knew it could be this simple?
My boys are young men now, and still working at their friendship. They don't always see eye to eye, although more and more they enjoy one another's company. But I give thanks for the gift of healing brought by a Canadian winter's day, the romp in the snow that gave my sons back the gift of a brother.

An Unlikely Pair

By Vallory Jones

What I need to live has been given to me by the earth. Why I need to live has been given to me by you.
~Author Unknown
Jack is clever. And creative. And that's how we came to have dinner together three years ago. For months, we'd been Facebooking back and forth — just as friends — so naturally, when he contacted me about joining everyone for a happy hour, I accepted. It seemed perfectly legit because by "everyone," he meant many of our hometown classmates.
You see, Jack and I grew up together in a small Texas town, albeit from different sides of the track. He was a wild and reckless boy, and well, I was the proverbial good girl. I was responsible, walked the straight and narrow, and did things by the book. Jack, on the other hand, got himself into lots of trouble and as often as possible. It wasn't unusual to hear that he'd been in a car accident, a four-wheeling collision, a bloody brawl, or suspended from school. Quite frankly, he intimidated me, and I avoided him at all costs. Likewise, he didn't think he had much in common with me either, so for the duration of middle and high school, we frequented the same places and passed each other in the hallway, but I never looked his way. And we certainly never uttered a single word to one another.
That night, at a local Mexican restaurant, I wasn't sure what to make of my meeting with little Jacky Bryant who was all grown up now and sitting before me. So far, it was just the two of us, and I was secretly hoping someone else would show up soon because, well, I felt a little awkward. Sure, we knew each other from childhood, but that was over twenty years ago, and like I said, we weren't really catching up as much as we were forging a new friendship. Before our meal arrived, I hurried to the restroom to text my best friend, another classmate of ours. "Please come to happy hour, Tonia. It's just me and Jacky!"
My phone buzzed. "What happy hour?" she replied. And at that moment, I realized there never really was one. That sneak! I wrestled with my emotions. On the one hand I was sort of freaked out by his ingenious plan to hang out with me, and on the other, I was intensely flattered. Like I said, Jack is clever. And creative.
"What the heck," I thought as I returned to our table. "I am kinda hungry." I sat down with Jack and we both plowed through our fried avocados, rice and beans. Although you wouldn't know it from my size, I'm actually known for my freakish ability to suck food down like an NFL linebacker — along with any of my companion's leftovers if they'll let me. With a raised eyebrow, Jack leaned in and pointed to my empty plate. "How do you eat like that and stay looking like that?"
"Oh, I don't always eat like this," I replied, embarrassed, "and I work out at the gym with a trainer."
Jack, who'd been struggling with his weight, alcohol, and an addiction to cigarettes, looked me in the eyes and said, "I'm going to do that."
"Sure you are," I thought.
We went on to talk about the last twenty years, marriages, divorces, relationships, fitness, and pet peeves that night. Tonia never rescued me, by the way, but by the next time I glanced at my phone, much to my surprise, four hours had passed. And even though our lifestyles were still very different, I found myself sort of liking little Jacky Bryant. To be quite honest, though, I didn't really put much stock in his fitness announcement that night. Judging from his Facebook page, I knew he still partied a lot, and much like I felt in our youth, I just didn't think I could keep up, nor did I want to. I dismissed our dinner as friendly, and I didn't give him a romantic second thought.
A couple of days later, he posted on Facebook that he'd prepared his last unhealthy meal because he'd joined a gym. "Hmmm," I thought, but fitness resolutions can be a dime a dozen, and again, I really doubted he could change the routine he'd had for the last twenty years overnight. Boy, was I wrong!
I saw Jack a few weeks later, but by this time, he'd sweated his way to a twelve-pound weight loss. At over 250 pounds, and no taller than me, it was just a small dent in the work he'd planned to do, but for the first time, I caught a glimpse of his determination. This man was serious.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game
Jack quit smoking and drinking, and he followed a food plan. He went to the gym religiously, and then he made an appointment with Todd, my trainer. Jack likes to joke about the first time we worked out together because when Todd put us through the exercise mill, he almost puked while I was still going strong. Jack, who lived about two hours from me, returned home and continued with Todd's workouts. One day, months later, and after we'd been dating for a while, he shared his motivation for change.
"I wanted to get healthy for a long time," he confided, "but it's hard when you're stuck in that cycle day in and day out. I didn't know anyone who worked out, didn't hang out at a bar, and didn't smoke cigarettes. When we met that night for dinner, I went home and poured all the beer out of my cooler. I printed out a picture of you from Facebook, put it in a frame by my bed, and every morning when I woke up, I looked at you and thought, 'To get a quality girl, I have to be a quality guy.' You're the kind of person I've wanted to be with my whole life. That's what motivated me to get my life straight. You didn't know it at the time, but when I met you for dinner, I was still hungover from the night before. You were my inspiration, and you saved me."
My mouth fell open. That is probably the most special compliment any man has ever paid me. Over the next year, Jack lost seventy-five pounds, gained some serious muscle mass, sobered up, and kicked nicotine. He says that I inspired him, but truly, I find him to be inspirational.
They say opposites attract, but those two teenagers from opposite sides of the tracks had a lot more in common than either of them thought. What I didn't know back then is that wild and reckless troublemaker Jacky Bryant was really just a big teddy bear underneath his rough exterior. What he didn't know is that goody-goody Vallory Jones was outgoing and adventurous underneath all that studying and good behavior. Today, almost three years after that make-believe happy hour, once an unlikely pair, we are now soul mates. Jack and I lift weights together, mountain bike, camp, cook, and a whole host of other things. We like the same music, the same foods, and we share the same thirst for life. We've faced my cancer diagnosis, his career change, and lots of other ups and downs, but his unwavering support and adoration have gotten me through the toughest of times.
Some say people can't change, but Jack has proven that people do. He insists that I came along at just the right time — a time when he'd been praying for his own transformation. We often laugh that it took us almost forty years to find each other when we ran in the same social circles for most of our lives. Sometimes I wish we could have known each other better when we were kids, but I realize now that reckless Jacky and goody-goody Vallory weren't ready to combine forces until they'd gone through twenty years of preparation for one another.

A Great Grandma Forever

By Tyann Sheldon Rouw

A grandmother is a little bit parent, a little bit teacher, and a little bit best friend.
~Author Unknown
There was nothing better than spending the night with my Great-Grandma Mead on New Year's Eve. I'm not sure who was more excited about the annual sleepover. Even though she was in her eighties, Grandma loved being around kids. My brother and I stayed up later than usual, playing card games for hours after we had eaten homemade fried chicken, mashed potatoes with milk gravy, bowls of fruit, and gingersnap cookies that Grandma stored in the cupboard behind her tiny kitchen table. She never allowed us to drink soda because she didn't want our teeth to decay. She was my great-grandma, but I always referred to her as Grandma.
Our eyes were wide as saucers when she told us the story of The Three Little Pigs. We begged her to tell the tale, and I loved hearing her say, "Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin." She loved to watch repeats of The Lawrence Welk Show on PBS, and she did so as she instructed us to take a shower or at the very least, wash our feet. We ate grapefruit (we never had this at our house) and toast the next morning before my mom came to pick us up. It was the best way to start the New Year. After each visit she hugged us goodbye and said, "God bless you." Then tears welled up in her eyes.
Grandma had endured tremendous loss during her life: her oldest child died in a tragic fire, her left hand was amputated after it became infected, and her husband died at an early age. She never made excuses. She raised four children by herself, including one with significant hearing loss, during the Great Depression. She earned money by cleaning houses and helping others with their children. She was proud and never received financial assistance.
A plaque hanging in her kitchen said, "Today is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." She never shared how much she leaned on her faith or how she made the conscious choice to be positive each day. Grandma fed the birds and admired the red poppies in her yard. When she gave thanks for God's gifts, she said, "Wonderful, wonderful." Her response was the same when we told her about our accomplishments. She said the same thing when she looked at a sunset or when family appeared at her door.
She passed away a few days after my husband and I returned from our honeymoon. I felt as though she had been waiting for us. At ninety-nine years old, she had her positive attitude, her mind, and her teeth. (She was proud of having her own teeth. She wanted us to have our own teeth, too, which is why she didn't allow us to drink soda.) It was hard to believe she was gone.
After Grandma's passing, my parents' doorbell began ringing at odd times. On more than one occasion, my mom sprang out of bed in a panic, wondering who might be at the door. Nobody was ever there. We decided it was Grandma saying hello.
The day my husband and I learned we were expecting twins, we laughed. On the drive home from the doctor's office, I realized it was Grandma Mead's birthday. I felt it was a sign she was there with me. The twins were born exactly six months later and were very difficult babies. They seemed to cry often and were not easily settled. They seldom slept. Two years later they both received an autism diagnosis, which explained some of their difficult behaviors. I missed her and wished she could meet my boys. It was a demanding full-time job caring for the twins. Sometimes I spoke to her aloud. I hoped she was guiding me.
When the twins were three and a half years old, my son Henry was born. He was quite vocal at an early age, which was music to my ears since my twins were receiving speech therapy. Isaac didn't speak at all, while Noah repeated words again and again. Henry, on the other hand, was speaking in full sentences before he was two years old. He loved to talk.
One afternoon, after Henry's nap, he was sitting at the table eating a snack. "Grandma Mead played with me today," he stated, matter-of-factly. I tried not to act surprised because I wanted him to tell me more about the experience. I had talked to him about Grandma Mead, but he only knew she was a special grandma.
"What happened?" I asked. "Was she in your room?"
"She told me stories," he said, as he took a few bites of his banana.
"Was it The Three Little Pigs?" I asked.
"No," he said. The conversation was over.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miraculous Messages from Heaven
I had read about children having the ability to see those who had passed. Could Henry have interacted with Grandma Mead? Over the course of several months, he consistently reported her visits when he was in his room for a nap.
One afternoon he said to me, "Grandma Mead likes to ring doorbells."
"Yes," I answered, a bit in shock. "She likes to ring doorbells. What else did she say?"
"She lives in a house."
"Henry, she lives in heaven now, but she used to live in a house," I explained.
"Her house is red and white," he said.
I almost fell off my chair. He couldn't have possibly known any of that information. The red and white house was the one where my brother and I stayed each New Year's Eve.
When Henry was two and a half years old, he and I were outside one summer morning while the twins were at preschool. I was watching him toddle around our back patio area. As he was running, his sneaker hit an uneven patch of cement. I was too far away and knew I wouldn't be able to get there in time. I felt helpless.
As he was falling forward, he shouted, "Grandma Mead!" I was surprised by his exclamation. He landed face down on the cement. I remember thinking his injuries could be pretty severe because he hadn't put his arms out to brace his fall. I felt sick to my stomach. I picked him up and held him as he cried. I expected his shirt to be torn or his face to be bloody. I took him inside and tried to calm him down while I examined him. He didn't have a scratch on his body anywhere! It appeared as though someone had cushioned his fall.
I rocked with Henry in the glider for a long time while tears ran down my cheeks. I looked down at my little boy, nestled in my protective arms. Wonderful, wonderful, I thought. Thank you, Grandma Mead, for keeping him safe. I imagined her putting her arms around me and whispering, "God bless you."

Penguins and Polar Bears

By Stefano Mazzega

A lot of funny stuff happens in Canada!
~Samantha Bee
In the Vancouver area, as in a number of other areas, where cold air and colder water are a natural part of winter, a New Year's Day tradition has emerged that baffles even the most open-minded logician. It's called The Polar Bear Swim. Swim is actually a misnomer, because no one is really in the water long enough to swim; however people do don bathing attire and occasionally more bizarre costumes, and plunge into English Bay for a few microseconds. Then they return to dry land and celebrate their survival with a quick shot of something warming that they may have been drinking the night before as well.
As a keen observer of questionable human behaviour, I am drawn to understanding this odd phenomenon. My initial thoughts about the impetus behind this strange tradition center on the excessive use of alcohol the night before which, we can agree, is an even more established tradition. There are many theories. The first simply postulates that those who participate are still in advanced stages of inebriation and therefore do not have any clue as to what they are doing. They just attach themselves to some screaming herd of equally inebriated persons, and en masse head in a random direction, which ends up at the low tide mark of the local beach. However, evidence does not support this, for if it were true, we would expect to see other random herds of drunken people doing equally stupid things like cramming into busses naked or riding the baggage carousels at the airport. We don't see those, or at least not often, so clearly the New Year's dip is not a random drunken event, especially since we see it repeated reliably each and every year.
Another possible explanation is cold water as counter-irritant therapy to a severe hangover. However, this does not make a lot of sense either. I liken this to sitting on a soldering iron to distract from the pain of a toothache. In the most severe cases of post partying pain, attempting suicide by drowning might seem plausible but if one's mood were that low, one would not likely wear a Spandex Grinch costume to one's demise.
There could, perhaps, be a more spiritual explanation. The New Year symbolizes a new beginning, re-birth, starting over etc. This could provide a plausible explanation, with the ocean being the metaphoric baptismal font — a celebration of life. The fact that a number of emergency vehicles, with resuscitation equipment, are present might cloud that theory. However, it might also be supported by the fact that most men's private parts have already begun to shrink down toward neonatal proportions just by thinking of the cold water ahead.
All of this questioning and considering has now led me here, on the beach in my neighbourhood of Port Moody, where a smaller clone of the English Bay event is being celebrated. It is called the Penguin Plunge. Against my better judgment I am here with my Nightmare Before Christmas T-shirt, and my red Santa booties.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: O Canada The Wonders of Winter
The ratio of observers to participants hovers around 6,000 to one, indicating once again, that jumping into freezing water is a questionable pastime enjoyed by only a special few, and that voyeuristic sadism is a very popular form of entertainment. We are relegated to a roped off area of the beach while the observers are stationed high above where they can't be splashed by any errant drops. The semi-naked shivering people around me are attired in Christmassy water themes.
There are only two emergency vehicles here. This disturbs me very much. I think that there should be a hell of a lot more. I am also deeply concerned that if someone should expire, they may face the eternal humiliation of meeting St. Peter while half naked, wearing felt reindeer antlers and a Little Mermaid life-ring.
The countdown takes place. I nervously turn and look at my wife Barbara, who is there with our dog Rebus, just in case some family emergency arises that would sadly take me away from this. She smiles and waves her gloved hand back at me in encouragement. Rebus is next to her in his doggy hoody and matching booties. He looks at me oddly — oh God, maybe he is unwell, maybe I need to rush him to the vet right now....
The run begins and I pray to St. Darrell, the patron saint of silly buggers. I need his help like last year in Pamplona. He must protect me. I hit the water screaming with all the others. One million stinging needles shatter my body and I feel death trying to snatch me — and then the water hits my knees and it is much worse... and then I am frigid, and iced and glacially frozen but I am not cold.
No — I am, in fact, very cool!

воскресенье, 22 декабря 2013 г.

Christmas in Texas

By Lisa Ricard Claro

You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.
~John Wooden
Imagine moving your household and family, at a moment's notice, from Florida to Texas — two weeks before Christmas. When my children were young and my husband worked in management for a national hotel chain, the above scenario was not unusual. We received little notice of impending moves to other hotel properties — sometimes no more than a few days — and depended on the moving company hired by the hotel chain to pack our belongings in an organized manner.
One December we were living in Key West, Florida when the call came from the corporate office that my husband was being transferred to Dallas, Texas. A scant week later, a moving van sat in front of our house and we prepared to abandon the beach and relocate to the dusty Southwest.
We arrived in Dallas two weeks before Christmas and settled into the hotel downtown while my husband got to work learning the ins and outs of his new position. I contacted a realtor and started looking at rentals. I felt pressured to find a house to call home before the Christmas holiday; there was all the unpacking to be done, my son was in the first grade and had to be enrolled in school, and we still had to do our Christmas shopping!
We were fortunate to find a great house in a nice suburb north of Dallas. Then began the explosion of activities — setting up bank accounts, new address notifications, and scheduling the delivery of our belongings with the intent of being situated before Christmas.
The holiday came upon us in a rush. We managed to squeeze in time to find a Christmas tree, and the movers had labeled the boxes well enough that we found our decorations. My in-laws traveled to Texas to help us unpack and settle in. They spent time with their grandchildren so my husband and I could shop for gifts. By Christmas Eve, we were happy to have our world as calm as it could be two weeks following such a big move.
After dinner on Christmas Eve my son and daughter completed their evening ritual of baths, bedtime stories, and bedtime songs. The added incentive of knowing Santa wouldn't show until they were asleep had them snuggled in their beds and snoozing by 9:30 p.m. It was then we realized we had yet to wrap a single present.
Out came the gifts in an excited flurry of bags and boxes. We hunted down scissors and tape.
"Where's the wrapping paper?" My husband and I asked each other. Panic followed. Neither of us had seen wrapping paper or remembered unpacking it.
We looked everywhere, poked through unpacked boxes and searched even unlikely places like the trunk of the car and kitchen cabinets. After thirty minutes of scrambling, our fears were realized. It was the night before Christmas and we had nothing with which to wrap gifts for our children.
I made my way through the local phone book, praying with each dialed number that I'd find a store still open which had not run out of Christmas wrap. By now it was almost 10:30 p.m. Every place I phoned was closed. I tried all the department stores and drug stores, all to no avail. Finally, in desperation, I dialed the place least likely to be open or carry Christmas wrap: a gas station with a small convenience store.
"Hi," I said to the woman who answered the phone. "Please tell me you sell wrapping paper."
"Sorry," she said. "If you need milk or snacks you're in luck, but that's about it."
"Our family just moved to Texas," I sighed. "I never thought to buy wrapping paper. Can you think of any place that might still be open?"
Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!
"Not this late at night on Christmas Eve," she said.
"Okay. Well, thanks, anyway."
What would I use to wrap my kids' presents? Paper towels? Toilet paper? Aluminum foil?
"Hold on a minute," she said. "I've got a ton of Christmas wrap at my house. My shift is over in a few minutes. Give me an hour to get home and see my kids and then I'll meet you back here at the gas station and let you have what I've got."
"Really?" I said. "I hate for you to go home and then have to turn around and leave your family again. Especially on Christmas Eve."
"I'm doing it because it's Christmas Eve," she said, and I could almost hear her smile through the phone. "See you in an hour."
She was as good as her word. Between 11:30 and midnight she met my husband and father-in-law at the gas station and gave us more wrapping paper than we would ever need. My husband tried to reimburse her, but she wouldn't hear of it.
"Merry Christmas!" she called as she drove off to spend what was left of Christmas Eve with her family. "And welcome to Texas!"
I've thought of that lady many times through the years, of her generosity and wonderful spirit. She blessed us with her time, precious time that belonged to her and her family. And because of her kindness, my little ones awoke on Christmas morning with gaily-wrapped presents under the tree and no idea of what transpired to achieve it.
We returned to the gas station to thank the woman again, but she no longer worked there. I never knew her name, but I will always remember her. She demonstrated the true heart of Christmas, going out of her way for strangers so late on that most special of nights, for something as trivial, but as important, as wrapping paper.
It was a single act of kindness that touched our hearts for a lifetime.

Highway Angel

By Arlene Kochberg

A fellow who does things that count, doesn't usually stop to count them.
~Variation of a saying by Albert Einstein
It was December 1976, and Ian and I had been married for all of two years. My parents had rented a two-bedroom condo in Florida and invited us down for the Christmas vacation. With airfare being out of the question, we decided to drive. At the time, we had a lemon yellow Honda Civic CVCC, which Ian sentimentally referred to as, our "pregnant roller skate." I just called it The Lemon... Oh, how I hated that car!
The weather forecast called for a snowstorm but, at twenty-two years old we were young and fearless. So we loaded up The Lemon and headed west on Hwy 401 to cross the border at Windsor. From there we would head south for the second Jewish "promised land" — Florida.
It was still quite early in the morning and, as predicted, the snowstorm had hit with a vengeance. Just a few hours into our drive, as we were approaching a Puslinch exit, our "trusty" lemon sputtered, coughed and died. Ian managed to coast us safely off to the side of the highway where we gently came to rest, buried in two feet of freshly fallen snow.
Undaunted, my gallant knight popped the hood, got out, and proceeded to poke and prod at the engine in the remote hope that, magically, it just might re-start; he had seen this done numerous times on TV shows, and it often worked. Not this time. Opening his door did however let out all the remaining warm air left inside the car.
So there we sat, shivering in the dark and the cold. There was no cell phone. In the wee hours of that early morning, as the wind howled, as the snow blew and our teeth chattered, we looked at each other in horror. We had no idea what to do.
After sitting in silence for what seemed like an eternity, a set of headlights emerged from out of the snowy haze. Behind the lights appeared an enormous dark blue Ford LTD, its massive snow tires belching out great wads of crushed snow as it approached our little yellow car. It slowly pulled up beside us and stopped. The driver's door swung open, and out stepped a large man, dressed in what looked like ex-lumberjack rags. Ian and I exchanged a fleeting look; I grabbed his hand and squeezed hard.
Ian tentatively opened his window. "Looks like you folks need some help," the big man said, in a deep voice that matched his size. He was certainly friendly enough... for a young couple who had lived all their lives in Toronto, maybe a bit too friendly. But with no sane alternatives, we climbed out of our disabled lemon and joined him in his car. I crawled into the cavernous back seat, Ian got into the front passenger seat, and we quickly exchanged a silent glance saying, "Good-bye. I love you."
Chicken Soup for the Soul: O Canada The Wonders of Winter
Flustered, uncomfortable, and more than a little apprehensive, we drove off into the darkness, to places unknown, with this large stranger. We tried to break the disquiet with inane conversation. As for the man, he chatted away quite comfortably... perhaps a bit too comfortably.
Eventually we pulled up to a modest, old, two-story home situated in, what we would still refer to as "the sticks." Like condemned prisoners, we trod silently, following the big man towards his lair. Then, in the window, we noticed a disproportionately large, elaborately decorated Christmas tree sitting in the corner of an equally festively decorated living room. I whispered to Ian, "Let's not tell him we're Jewish!" In response, Ian threw me his "what-am-I-an-idiot?" look.
In the house, quickly embraced in the warm light of the Christmas spirit, which permeated throughout, we were cheerfully greeted by the man's wife and young daughter. After taking off his lumberjack coat, boots and hat, the man, who we now call Jim, kissed his wife, picked up the little girl and gave her a hug, and then picked up the phone. As he dialed an obviously familiar number, Jim told us he was having his good buddy, who owned the local gas station, tow our car to his station to have a look at it.
Our hosts then invited us to sit down to a delicious homemade breakfast. Breakfast was made even more enjoyable given the fact that, contrary to our initial fears, it looked like our remains would not be found years later, dismembered, in some remote field.
After breakfast, our rescuer drove us to the gas station. By the time we got there our little lemon had already been looked over. Parts, the mechanic told us, wouldn't be in until the late afternoon, and we weren't going anywhere until the next day. Without a moment's hesitation, Jim invited us to stay the night with him and his family. Having been raised in the indifference of big city life, we were flabbergasted at this continued "country" kindness.
We spent the remainder of the snowy day with this Norman Rockwellian family in their pre-Christmas wonderland, well fed and well rested. In the evening, we climbed the musty, creaking wooden stairs to the second floor where a comfy spare room awaited us. In the morning, after another hearty breakfast, we said our goodbyes and expressed our thanks to his wife and daughter, and then Jim chauffeured us back to the gas station. We paid our bill, gave our very sincere thanks to everyone for their extraordinary kindness and Christmas spirit, and puttered away in our little lemon. We never did tell them we were Jewish.
Perhaps overwhelmed by the entire incident, we didn't think to write down their contact information. Sadly, all these years later, neither Ian nor I recall his real name. Perhaps, if by some strange coincidental twist of fate, he or his family might read this, they might recognize themselves and finally know how truly grateful we were, and remain, to this very day.

From Worst to Best

By Nan Rockey

Friendship is a sheltering tree.
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Everyone knew that this Christmas would go in the family books as the worst Noel in Johnson family history. I was nine years old, and my family had made the move from Los Angeles, California to a completely invisible, forgettable town in northwestern Ohio. Both of my parents, my little sister, and I were living with my aunt as my dad struggled to find work as a minister. All the while, I was fighting a rare blood disease that kept me confined to the hospital most of the time. On the days when I was able to attend school, I kept to the library and isolated myself by the swingset, trying to keep my distance from the strangers I called my classmates. As the Christmas season approached, I was again confined to the medical ward and my parents still hadn't found any work. Yes, this would be the worst Christmas ever.
It was December 16th and my classroom was in a tizzy, preparing and decorating for the class Christmas party, to be held the next week before we were released for winter break. I had the lonely job of cutting out paper snowflakes while I watched the other children hang garlands and discuss how they were finally going to sneak up on Santa this year. My teacher, Miss Endicott, called for me across the room, but I shook my head and averted my gaze to the white printer paper shreds in my hand, pretending not to hear. Of everyone in my school, Miss Endicott was the individual who was always encouraging me to interact with my classmates, and I could almost see her shoulders sag a little at my avoidance of company.
It would be the last time I would see my class until February.
Early the next morning, my parents drove me to the operating room where I was scheduled to have another tumor removed. I could see Christmas decorations out of the corners of my tear-filled eyes, hear "Jingle Bells" playing over my begging to go home, and the faint smell of mint mixed with the sickly sweet stench of anesthesia. As a masked face loomed over my field of vision and said, "You are being such a good girl, you will be home in time for Christmas," I prayed that God would take away Christmas and carry me from this terrible place.
The surgery was a success, but I experienced complications and was confined to bed for several days. As my body recuperated, my boredom was satiated by homework my dad picked up for me from school.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: It's Christmas!
On the last day of classes before school ended for holiday break, my dad brought home a stack of textbooks, folders, and atop the teetering pile of paper, a VHS tape. My mother lay beside me as my dad pressed play, and I became confused as the first image to appear on my television screen was my classroom. All of the decorations were up, and my classmates were all lined up against one wall. My teacher's warm face appeared in the corner of the screen and explained that since I couldn't come to the class Christmas party, then the party would have to come to me. The camera panned back to my peers who were holding up a bright yellow sign with "Get Better Soon" scrawled in crayon. One by one, Miss Endicott placed each classmate in front of the camera to say uplifting words, wishing me a Merry Christmas, asking if I would play with them when I came back, saying they would leave my gifts and candy on my desk until I got back to school. My mom's hand gripped tighter around mine as she whispered through tears, "This is incredible, this is so incredible."
I was shocked that I was cared for by people I barely knew. I watched the video again, just to be sure it was real, and my first day back at school I hugged Miss Endicott and thanked her over and over again. I don't remember what gifts I received, whether it snowed that year, or even the rest of my recuperation. What I do remember is that the Christmas when I was nine years old remains the greatest Christmas I have ever had.

An Imperfectly Wonderful Friendship

By Zoe Knightly

A friend can tell you things you don't want to tell yourself.
~Frances Ward Weller
"Zoe, you need serious professional help, and I cannot continue to be a source of support for you until you get it. I need space from you." As I sat at my kitchen table my heart sank. I could barely read the words of Jessica's e-mail through my tears. The best friendship I'd ever had was crumbling right before my eyes. How had we let our friendship get to this point?
I met Jessica during my freshman year of college. She was two years older than me and had the same drive and passion for running that I did. I broke the ice by making her a care package for a big race she had coming up. From that day forward we did nearly everything together. We would make secret handshakes in the pool, whack giant marshmallows with badminton rackets, roast the remaining marshmallows over an open stove, blow bubbles and throw water balloons at each other, get way too competitive playing Mastermind, and watch chick flicks at her apartment. It was our nerdy, intense, quirky personalities combined with our inability to fit in with the "popular" crowd that made us absolutely inseparable. By my sophomore year she had definitely earned the title of "best friend."
Our beautiful friendship was the super-glue holding together the broken pieces of my soul. A lifelong disordered eater, I struggled immensely with eating in college. After knowing Jessica for two years, I finally felt comfortable enough to share with her what I was going through. She would comfort and console me. "You're a superstar," she'd tell me. She'd send me songs to brighten my day. She'd take me to church. She would touch my arm in support when I cried. She was always there for me. She would always take away my pain and leave me feeling like a champion. Our friendship was magical. Flawless. Perfect. The best thing to ever happen to me.
But behind the perfect illusion I had imagined it to be, our friendship was just as broken as I was. I couldn't see what an enormous burden I was putting on Jessica. Talking endlessly about my struggles was beginning to be more than she could bear. She wanted to help me but didn't know how. This went on for a year and a half until one day I took it too far. We were sitting outside at a picnic table on an unusually warm December afternoon. "I'm thinking about cutting myself," I confided to her. She stared at me with terrified eyes, a sharp contrast from the soothing demeanor she'd always shown me. She quickly began making excuses to leave. As I watched her walk to her car, tears began to form in my eyes. Her uncharacteristic response made me realize that something was terribly wrong.
The next morning I sat down with a warm cup of coffee, still feeling awfully shaken about my encounter with Jessica. I casually began checking my e-mail and noticed that she had sent me a lengthy message. I read the first line and curled up on the floor crying hysterically. "Zoe, you need serious professional help, and I cannot continue to be a source of support for you until you get it," the e-mail began. "I need space from you." How could I possibly distance myself from the girl that meant everything in the world to me? There were countless additional lines detailing why she needed time apart, but my eyes glazed over and the words started spinning all over the page. I felt like I couldn't breathe. I called her twenty-five times. No response. I sent her e-mails begging her to speak to me. Nothing. After a day of uncontrollable sobbing, I finally realized that I had become completely dependent on Jessica and that our friendship was no longer healthy. I sent her a final e-mail telling her that I needed space of my own.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls
The month I spent apart from Jessica was eye-opening for me. I realized that I was in dire need of professional help, and without Jessica there to help me I felt lost and alone. Forcing me to get professional help was the best thing she could have done for me. Thanks to Jessica's tough love I came back to school a completely different person, ready to face life courageously.
Jessica and I very slowly began to rekindle our friendship, which we affectionately referred to as a "work in progress." For months we walked on eggshells, afraid that saying anything wrong would send our friendship into an irreparable downward spiral.
And then it finally happened. "I beat you, Jessica!" I exclaimed as I jumped up and pumped my fist in the air. "Victory is mine!" We were playing Mastermind on the same picnic table where our friendship had taken a massive nosedive the previous December. I had just beaten my genius best friend by one point. I looked at her with a smug expression and we both started cracking up. From that moment on I knew that our friendship was back to being normal. No, make that back to being completely awesome. Like a rubber band, the tension snapped and we finally both let our guard down.
Our friendship is different now. We have more obligations and see each other less. But our friendship contains an element that it never had before: depth. The breakdown in our friendship helped us get our issues out on the table so we could move past them. It challenged our commitment to being friends. But being the strong, determined women that we are, we put our shattered friendship back together piece by piece. Our friendship will inevitably have many more bumps, twists, turns and roadblocks along the way. We'll stumble and we'll fall. We'll have tension and need some comic relief, and we'll likely resort to taking badminton rackets and whacking over-sized marshmallows at each other. But because of Jessica, I refuse to dwell on the negatives in my life. It's probably for the best; now I can put all of my energy into whipping her butt inMastermind. Bring it, Jessica!

Coach Perry

By Michelle Duplessis Prudhomme

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
~Phillippians 4:13
My husband Perry was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at age four. At that time, he was falling occasionally when he walked. At the age of twenty years old in 1996, the doctors realized that Perry actually had hereditary spastic paraparesis (also known as familial spastic paraplegia or FSP). It is an inherited neurological disorder characterized by gradual development of stiffness (spastic) and variable degrees of weakness (paraplegia) in the muscle and legs. This disease also causes spasms in the legs, leg cramps, poor balance and fatigue. Perry experiences these symptoms every day. It is not certain right now how his mobility to walk will be affected in the future. At the right time, Perry and I hope our Heavenly Father will bless us with children to love and cherish, even though there is a 50/50 chance they will inherit this disorder.
As a result, Perry walks with a limp, dragging his toes with one foot in front of the other and uses the assistance of a cane. Without his cane, he walks around the house using walls, kitchen countertops and other furniture to help maintain his balance. Even though it takes every effort to walk and he feels tired throughout each day, Perry does not complain. With ongoing research, we hope and pray that his illness will someday be cured.
Despite his handicap, Perry has had a great love for sports throughout his life. He was determined to play baseball and basketball with his friends when he was in middle school. Even with limitations, I admire him so much because Perry volunteers at the high school he graduated from. The students call him "Coach Perry." His title is Equipment Manager, but he is so much more than that. His dedication to the school is one of the reasons why I love him more each day.
Every football season, he dedicates himself to the team every day. After each practice and each game, he stays to make sure everything is put back where it belongs and then watches the replays with the other coaches. Sometimes I stay with him after the game. Perry has done this for twenty years plus, including four years as a student and he has only missed one game, due to the stomach flu. In December 8, 2006, my new family and I supported him and his school by going to the championship game at the New Orleans Superdome the night before our wedding day! He did not want to miss that for the world. His greatest football experience was in December of 2011, which happened to be the day after our fifth wedding anniversary, when the team went 15-0 and won their first state football championship in school history. All of those years had finally paid off!
Perry also enjoys being involved with other sports. He is the announcer for the boys' baseball team. If there is a function at the school and they need help, you will see him there. Because of everything he does, Coach Perry is well respected by the staff, students, and parents. He was "officially" recognized on May 12, 2007 at the St. Charles Catholic All Sports Banquet with the St. Charles Borromeo Award for loyalty and dedication to St. Charles Athletics. The St. Charles Borromeo Award recognizes members of the school community who have given their time and talents to make the athletic department the best it can be. There have been many students who look up to Perry as a role model. I could not be prouder of him in that moment!
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reader's Choice 20th Anniversary Edition
Unfortunately at this time in the year of 2013, Perry feels he needs to step away because of the physical toll on his body due to the responsibilities of his occupation at school. It is uncertain when he will go back to the high school to do small physical tasks in the future.
With my husband's challenges and my own dyslexia and ADD, I was very moved by Chicken Soup for the Unsinkable Soul. Every story in this book is special. As I read it, I felt like the stories were encouraging me to not give up during the challenging times in our marriage. It gave me a peace of mind that with our faith and love for each other, Perry and I can overcome obstacles together, being strong for one another, as well as all the other families I have read about.
One story in particular, "Heaven's Very Special Child" by John and Edna Massamilla, grabbed my complete attention. It began in 1954 when a family was taking their handicapped daughter to an institution where doctors felt she should live with other children like her. The girl's mother turned on the car radio and heard a familiar voice. It was a former classmate of hers who had no legs. The next sentence blew me away. It read, "He was now president of an organization employing persons who are disabled."
I can't begin to describe how I felt when I read that sentence. What better way for a person to help those who are disabled, needing employment, when he is disabled himself!

The Gift of a Lifetime

By Greg Woodburn

While earning your daily bread, be sure you share a slice with those less fortunate.
~Quoted in P.S. I Love You, compiled by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
I have been a competitive distance runner since elementary school. As a high school freshman, however, I suffered a hip stress fracture and was sidelined for my sophomore year. Although I was devastated by my injuries then, today I consider them true blessings. They made me realize how deeply I love running and all it has given me: the purity of racing, yes, but also the camaraderie and inside jokes with teammates, the feeling of improving every day to reach the goals set at the beginning of the season, the balance provided by a good run in the middle of a busy day.
Running is hard, but NOT running is harder.
My parents and especially my older sister Dallas — herself a track and cross-country runner in high school — have always taught me that the best way to overcome personal adversity is to help others with their challenges because it brings us joy and puts our own problems in perspective. In this light, I empathized with disadvantaged kids who couldn't enjoy running — not because of injury, but because they could not afford running shoes.
I turned adversity into opportunity by creating Give Running, a non-profit organization that teaches youth, through running, the character traits and skills that serve as a foundation for success in all aspects of life. Since 2006, Give Running has collected, cleaned, and donated more than 14,200 pairs of running and athletic shoes to youth in developing countries and local inner-city communities. To further promote a love for running and the benefits it fosters, Give Running also holds youth running camps that include leadership development and community service components emphasizing the broader application of lessons learned through sports.
In December 2009, I traveled to Mali in West Africa as part of the USC Africa Health Initiative and spent three weeks in the small village of Sikoro (population 450) building an irrigated community garden to provide fruits and vegetables that are severely lacking from the villagers' nutrient-poor diets, while also economically empowering women with a new source of income from produce sales. In Malian culture, we learned, men and women are each expected to have their own source of income; women would use their income to purchase food for meals and other necessities. Before we helped build the community garden, the women in Sikoro mainly earned money by cutting down trees to sell as firewood — an unsustainable practice that was contributing to deforestation in the region.
Furthermore, we raised funds prior to our travels and purchased materials for building a desperately needed bridge. During the four-month rainy season, the river bordering Sikoro floods, isolating its residents from the secondary school, larger markets, and medical clinic in the larger town across the river. Less dramatic but equally sincere, I brought along 113 pairs of running shoes — as many as I could squeeze into five extra duffle bags — to distribute to our generous hosts.
For many of the Sikoro villagers, these were the first shoes they ever had! Indeed, so precious were the shoes that if we at first guessed wrong and gave a person footwear that was a half-size — or even more — too small, the villager would scrunch up his or her toes and insist the shoes fit just fine! Painfully too small was better than none at all; they would not let us take the running shoes off their feet until we brought over larger replacement pairs. Recalling it still gives me goose bumps.
As special as it was to honor the Chief with the first pair of running shoes given out, lacing up each pair on recipients' feet was equally meaningful. However, one gift pair of shoes stands out in my mind and heart as distinctly as does the most memorable run of my life.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: From Lemons to Lemonade
The day before leaving Sikoro, I went on a six-mile run circling through the village. The first few laps of my quarter-mile loop I ran in solitude, but then several children began to run with me. They would keep me company for one or two circuits, then drop out and take a rest, only to rejoin me the next time I came around. Before I knew it, my running group had swelled from three to ten to twenty-plus smiling kids — many of whom were wearing the gift shoes they had received the previous day.
During this most cherished run, one training partner stood out because he had to stop — not out of exhaustion, but because of a rocky section of the trail and due to the fact that he was running barefoot. Lameen Sacko, I learned, had not received a pair of Give Running shoes the day before. The following day, my last in the village, I met Lameen at his tin-roofed mud hut and asked him to try on my running shoes — the only pair of shoes (besides flip-flops) I had brought for my own use in Mali.
My size 11.5 Adidas Supernova Glides fit Lameen perfectly.
"I ni che, Amadou (Thank you, Greg)," he said, using my adopted Malian name.
"I ni su (You're welcome)," I replied, smiling.
As we shook hands in friendship, adrenaline again surged through my body and my heartbeat raced. I realized how each pair of Give Running shoes serves as a bridge between two lives. While the giver and receiver of each pair of shoes may not meet face to face as did Lameen and I, through the shoes they nevertheless meet foot-to-foot.
Visiting Africa, I found, breaks your heart — and opens it wider than ever before. I am certainly a better and more fulfilled person for the experience. The following holiday season when I sat down to a feast of Christmas foodstuffs, I thought of the wonderful companionship I was treated to in Sikoro. I gave thanks for all I have and for all I learned from those who have so much less. I also thought of Lameen and laced up my new Adidas to go for a run.
When the USC Africa Health Initiative returned to Sikoro in the summer of 2011, our dear friend the Chief was wearing his bright white running shoes — still in excellent condition — when he greeted the visiting contingent. While I could not return this time, before the USCAHI cohort left Los Angles, I gave one of my friends going on the trip another pair of my size 11.5 Adidas Supernova Glides for Lameen.

Clint's Gift

By Sandra J. Pady

Animals can love unconditionally. This is divine love in action, a love that's there no matter what you say or how bad you feel that day.... We are all Soul dwelling here in the world of nature.
~Harold Klemp, Animals are Soul too!
Shortly after I had established the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada, Clint came into our lives. Prior to that evening we had taken in eighteen other donkeys in need of a home, but Clint's arrival marked a turning point of sorts. Twenty years later I can see that from that day my desire to help these gentle creatures became, without doubt, a lifelong commitment.
On that snowy, grey December morning, which happened to be the day of our annual family holiday party, the call had come into our farm from a concerned resident who lived two hours away.
"For several days now at the farm next door," he told us, "an old donkey has been lying in the field. He never gets up. The owner says he wants to get rid of him. He really needs your help." Soon thereafter, Karen, our barn manager, was on her way to investigate, while my husband, David, and I remained at home preparing for our guests.
The hours passed. Our siblings, nieces and nephews arrived and it was soon time for dinner and the sharing of gifts. Everyone was in a festive mood, although at the back of my mind concern for the little donkey was ever present.
Finally, just after 6 p.m., the headlamps of our truck and trailer appeared in the gloom. As I looked out from the kitchen window, the lights in the barnyard came on and I saw Karen moving towards the back of the trailer. Hurrying outside I was just in time to see a frail, elderly, mud-covered white donkey try to hobble down the ramp and into the snow-covered yard. We rushed to support him, and then more or less carried him to the drive shed where he virtually collapsed.
Those were my first, unforgettable moments with Clint.
We were, in those days, very new at the practice of animal rescue and care. Our nineteenth century barn had a selection of falling down stalls, all of which were currently occupied by other animals. The temperature forecast was to stay well below freezing during the coming days. We sensed that this latest arrival, weakened as he was and showing a fever, would not survive the cold temperatures in an open part of our old barn.
A solution had to be found. Without thinking twice we looked over at the semi-heated garage attached to the farmhouse. We quickly realized its above-freezing indoor environment provided our only option.
In great haste family members were commandeered to bring bales of hay, straw, blankets, and pails for water up from the barn. Three nephews worked quickly to cart up and then assemble the portable stall. This Christmas party would not soon be forgotten!
Before too much time had passed, and just in time to mark our veterinarian's arrival, we supported the exhausted donkey as he hobbled across the yard only to sink down gratefully into the fresh thick straw bed in the portable stall. Clint had suffered from the ravages of repeated exposure to freezing temperatures while he lay in the field, day after day, with hooves so overgrown he could barely stand. We knew his recovery would be painfully slow.
In those first moments with Clint in the garage we did not imagine that our emergency solution would turn into an extended residency, one during which two people and a donkey would share living quarters for weeks on end while one of them gained enough strength to cope with the demands of our Ontario winter.
At first, Clint lay down most of the time. His damaged hooves caused him too much pain whenever he tried to put his weight on them. Our veterinarian cautioned us that improvement would be gradual, and most likely minimal. Clint would probably have to take pain medication for the rest of his life since the founder in his hooves had caused the pedal bones to rotate. Slowly, though, day by day, his condition improved and he was able to stand for longer and longer periods.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: O Canada The Wonders of Winter
And the healthier Clint became the more vocal he became. As it happened, our bedroom was above the garage and Clint learned very quickly to recognize the sound of our feet in the morning when David and I got up to begin our day. His clarion call became a daily feature of our morning routine. Clint was hungry and he wanted us to know it.
Now, as you may know, taking care of equines requires the carrying out of many chores that never come to an end. Since his stall was virtually in the house, separated only by a single wall, it had to be cleaned out completely every day. Manure and urine had to be removed and the floor washed, while bales of hay and straw were toted up from the barn on an ongoing basis. Then there were the pails of water that needed frequent replenishing. As his recuperation continued, we got to know Clint very well. He looked forward to receiving our attention, and loved it: scratching his long beautiful ears always soothed him, while a good brushing of his coat could occasion grunts of contentment.
Improving health had its downside, however, which came in the form of Clint's increasing restlessness. His vocalizations began to noticeably increase. He would bray first thing in the morning as well as every time he heard people approaching the garage. Then, in spite of his hooves, he began to determinedly pace back and forth, albeit slowly. Eventually, the day arrived when all three of us reached the limit. The donkey was getting bored in his solitary stall, and David and I were certainly ready to have a little more peace and quiet.
Five weeks after his arrival, on a sunny winter's morning, Clint walked carefully down to the barn. In no time at all, he settled in most comfortably with his other donkey companions and was much more content, we knew, to be once again a part of the equine world.
Clint went on to live at the Sanctuary for five more years. Although we monitored his condition carefully, as the vet had predicted, he never really returned to completely good health. Running in our fields was never an option for him. But his spirit was indomitably strong and he thrived on the loving attention that Sanctuary visitors gave him. He knew what he wanted at all times and he knew how to communicate his needs. During those years, Clint's distinctive bray became a familiar part of the chorus of sounds in our lives. To this day, I can still feel the softness of the touch of his nose whenever he would nuzzle against my side, looking for a pat and a hug.
Our experiences with Clint will never be forgotten, and they taught us that Christmas presents can take many forms, but the best one of all is the opportunity to give assistance to a helpless creature in need.