GOODNESS. This word has been on my mind since I started reading Pulitzer Prize Winner Carol Shields’ Unless.
Unless is a story about Reta Winters who was reassessing her life after her oldest daughter Norah, 19, dropped out of university and started panhandling at the corner of Bloor and Bathurst in Toronto. Norah sat cross-legged there on the street wearing a cardboard sign that read “GOODNESS.” She wouldn’t talk to anybody even her family and she refused to go home. At night, she stayed at a homeless shelter. You can just imagine Reta’s anguish as the cold winter days approached and Norah was out there begging while she, her mother, was safe at her warm and comfortable home with her husband Tom and their two younger daughters, Christine and Natalie.
Unless brought me back to that time about 20 years ago when a similar thing happened to a Certain Girl (CG).
It was the end of the second semester. CG just finished her second year of college. She and her older sister were living by themselves. CG came home one night with a friend who was there to help CG tell her sister that she wanted to enter the convent. Her sister was appalled. She couldn’t understand why CG wanted to do be a nun. Her sister wept that night. I was reminded of the movie Sister Stella L., when her sister asked CG “can’t you serve HIM in ways other than entering the convent?” That was the same line that Jay Ilagan’s character said to Sister Stella L, played by Vilma Santos, in the movie. But CG was head-strong. There was no budging her. She really wanted to do it. She was under 18 years old then and her sister was sort of her guardian. Her sister was helpless and there was nothing that she could do but agree. The next day, CG entered the convent.
CG’s mother was very distraught when she learned that her daughter entered the nunnery. Like Reta, she wanted to reclaim her. CG’s sister felt guilty. She thought that she had not been a good sister to her. They always quarrelled. Also, she convinced their mother that they could manage to live on their own and take care of themselves. But she felt that she failed their mother.
Unlike Norah, who wouldn’t talk to her family, CG’s sister and a few relatives were able to visit and talk to her in the convent. They knew why she went there. And yet her sister blamed herself for not being a good sister.
On the other hand, Reta, who had no idea why Norah chose to live in the streets, blamed men, (novelists, journalists, critics) whom she wrote unmailed letters to. She accused them of shutting out women of the universe, of neglecting to mention them as great writers.
Let’s go back to the word GOODNESS.
In Unless, Reta analyzes this word. In the first chapter, she says, “I don’t know what that word really means, though words are my business. The Old English word wearth, I discovered the other day on the Internet, means outcast; the other English word, its twin, its cancellation, is worth – we know what that means and know to distrust it. It is the wearth that Norah has swallowed.”
In my dictionary, it says, “GOODNESS applies to the inner quality in a person that makes him kind, generous, fair, sympathetic, and otherwise acceptable in character and conduct.”
To Norah, GOODNESS is distributing to other street people nine-tenths of what she gathers in her begging bowl.
To CG, it is serving the Lord, praying to Him, adoring Him.
What do I think goodness is? I think what Terry Fox did is goodness. So does what people are doing to help our less fortunate neighbours. I think it means being compassionate. Being nice and friendly. Forgiving each other. Not breaking the law. Not being judgemental.
The reason why Norah became a beggar is revealed in the final chapter of Unless. What happened to her in the end is also quite similar to what happened to CG. I hate to spoil the ending. So go and check it out. It’s a good read.
It’s time to stock up on Halls lozenges, cold and cough medicines, inhalers. Time to bring out the fleece sweaters and comforters. I so do sound like a mom. That’s because this is the time when my kids start to get sick. And then daddy and mommy will, too.
Fall officially starts today. And instead of feeling blue, I will try to enjoy the beauty of this season. I will watch the leaves turn to yellow, orange, red, and then brown.
Fall is also the time when the new TV season begins. Some of my favourites are: Desperate Housewives (every once in a while I feel like I am one), Lost (great writing, always keeps me at the edge of my seat), Survivor (I enjoy watching the challenges), The Amazing Race (it gives me a glimpse of different places around the world), Smallville (love Tom Welling), The Ellen DeGeneres Show (she cracks me up), The View (I enjoy watching the girls talk about hot topics), Dr. Phil (he helps me heal), Oprah (who doesn’t love her) and my newest favourite, Martha.
What a great comeback for Ms. Stewart. We see the real person in her daytime show. She is very nice and warm. And I also love The Apprentice: Martha Stewart. I could learn a few things from her. I already did from watching the first episode. Connecting. We have to connect with our readers. I love the theme song as well – Sweet Dreams (Are made of these) by Annie Lennox. As Martha always says – it’s a good thing.
Over the summer, I noticed that Reggie had taken the habit of putting his right hand inside his jeans pocket. There was this one instance when my three boys and I were waiting for the bus. There stood Reggie with his hand in his pocket. Behind him was Ryan, his hand in his pocket as well. And behind Ryan was Ryland doing the same thing. I couldn’t help but smile. It was a indeed a Kodak moment and I was tempted to take a snapshot but there were other people at the bus stop and I didn’t want to embarrass the boys.
My two younger boys tend to copy their older brother/s.
Here’s another instance.
At snack time on Sunday afternoon, Ryan was eating one of Ronald’s Nature Valley Honey ‘N’ Oats granola bar.
“What do you want to eat, Ryland?” I asked my youngest boy.
“Can I also have that same thing Kuya Ryan is eating?” (For the sake of my non-Pinoy readers, Kuya is what we call an older brother.)
“Yeah, sure,” I said. “Which flavour do you want?”
He picked the Maple Harvest one.
I noticed Ryan threw an unpleasant glance at Ryland.
“Ryan,” I said, “why are you looking at your brother like you’re a bad guy from a movie?”
“Because he’s always copying me,” he replied.
I noticed the smile on Reggie’s face and I couldn’t help but chuckle when I said, “You always copy Kuya Reggie, too.”
“No, I don’t”
“Oh yes, you do. Does this sound familiar? ‘It matters if Kuya Reggie goes then I’m coming.’”
(That’s his usual answer whenever I ask him if he wants to go somewhere.)
“I play outside and he doesn’t.”
“There are many things that he does that you also copy. That’s why you should set a good example because your little brother will always copy you. If you do bad things, he might copy that, too.”
He may deny it, but he does copy his Kuya. The way he dresses and the shows he watches – just to name a couple. And I think it’s also the reason Ryan, though he complains sometimes, does his chores obediently. He sees his Kuya does his diligently.
How about you? Have you ever copied or have you been influenced by your older sibling?
Every September my kids participate in the Terry Fox Run at school. It wasn’t until last November, when Terry Fox was voted the second Greatest Canadian, did I learn the story of this young man who had been very passionate in raising funds for cancer research. In commemoration of the 25th anniversary of his Marathon of Hope, CBC aired on Sunday the docudrama Terry, which starred Shawn Ashmore.
Terrance Stanley Fox was born right here in Winnipeg, Manitoba and was raised in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. He was an athletic boy. But as an eight-grader, he was a small kid. His coach challenged him to build his endurance by running. He was competitive. He was athlete of the year when he graduated from high school.
At 18, he experienced a searing pain in his right knee. He was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma, a rare kind of bone cancer that tends to target active boys and young men. They cut off his leg six inches above the knee to prevent the spread of cancer. He underwent 16 months of chemotherapy. He faced it and decided not only would he beat it, he would do battle for the rest of us too. He was never in it for the glory.
On April 12, 1980, he started the Marathon of Hope in the Atlantic Ocean at St. John’s, Newfoundland. With only one leg, he ran a marathon a day. Self pity never occurred to him. He was going to run 53,000 miles from sea to sea (Atlantic Ocean to Pacific Ocean) across Canada to raise a $1 for every Canadian. But after four months of running six provinces, he started coughing. The cancer had spread to his lungs and he was forced to abandon the marathon on September 1980. Several months later, he died at the age of 22.
Terry was proclaimed a national hero. The annual Terry Fox Run is held not only in Canada, but in 50 other countries as well.
When asked, “What made you want to do this run?”
“After I was diagnosed with cancer, I stayed in the children’s ward. So I was around all these grateful kids, you know, really brave. Always talking about what they wanted to be when they grew up. And a lot of them might never get a chance. So when I got out of there, I just decided that if I was lucky enough to survive, I’d make sure I do something good. And I started running.”
Terry has a highway, a mountain and a coastguard ship named after him. Also eight schools, a stadium and a fitness trail.
I was working on Saturday at around 3:00 p.m. when I heard a child crying outside. My three boys were all inside the house, so I knew that child wasn’t one of mine. I looked out from the window of my workstation upstairs. I saw a little boy, about 6 or 7 years of age, lying on the grass. Beside him was a woman with short ash blonde hair. I supposed she is his mother. She was stroking his back. Two bikes lay on the sidewalk. I figured that the poor boy must have fallen from his bike. Usually there are people outside at this time of day, but not this day since it was a sweltering 30C degrees. I watched the woman look around. I thought she wanted some help. I yelled, “Lady, are you okay.” She looked up and said, “Yeah, he just scraped his elbow.” That’s good, I thought. I saw her pour some water from her bottle on the boy’s elbow. She then took something from a Ziploc bag. It looked like bandages. She was prepared. So I figured they were all right and I went back to my work. Yet I was constantly peeking to see what was happening down there. After about five minutes or so, they were both up on their feet and they rode their bikes.
Although I didn’t go out there to physically help, I felt good. I was reminded of the parable of the Good Samaritan.
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of
robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now
by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by
on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him,
passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and
when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds,
having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought
him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave
them to the innkeeper, and said: “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will
repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a
neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? He said: “The one
who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him: “Go and do likewise.” (Luke
Do you know who I think is a Good Samaritan? Each and every one of our brothers and sisters who have been supporting and helping our neighbours down in New Orleans. Everyday I watch on TV the devastating aftermath of hurricane Katrina. It is so heartbreaking to see people losing their homes and loved ones. And yet it is so heartwarming to see people helping not only by donating money and supplies but by actually going down there to give these people a hug and a helping hand. The GOODNESS is so contagious. I want to spread it around as well in any little way I can.
- About Me
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