Day 723: Strangers on a train


Back on Christmas Eve, I took the subway home and the driver came over the loudspeaker in a super cheery voice and said, “Hi, I’m Mike. I’m a Pisces and enjoy long walks on the beach. This is the happiest train on the Bloor-Danforth Line and I can prove it. Look around. People are smiling.”

And they were at that point. Even me.

At the time I thought “Mike” was just sharing some holiday joy. Little did I know that this driver is on a mission to lift the spirits of the complete strangers riding his train. And that he was prompted to do so by a tragic event that happened on one of his shifts.

I learned all this when a friend rode his train, heard his greeting and was so moved by it that she posted about it on FB along with a link to this CBC story about the driver, Michael Sage. (And I am SO glad she did. Thanks, Susan!)

Here’s an excerpt:

It’s hard to imagine how anyone who spends his days driving through long, dark tunnels would be cheery. It’s even harder if that person is a TTC driver who’s had the experience of someone being killed by running in front of his moving train.

But that’s Michael Sage – or the Smooth Operator, as many in Toronto know him. If you’ve ever ridden the Bloor-Danforth line, there’s a good chance you’ve heard him.

“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, this is Michael, your Smooth Operator speaking,” is a typical greeting to passengers. “I’m a Pisces, I enjoy long walks on the beach and I am my mother’s favourite child.”

Sage says he invented the character as a way of coping with the tragedy on the tracks that occurred during a shift one Sunday last April.

Sage was working the afternoon shift when, out of nowhere, he spotted a young man in the tunnel running toward his train.

By the time he realized what was happening, it was too late.

“It was the worst day of my life,” Sage recalls.

But after a couple of weeks off of work, he decided he would feel better doing his job than being at home.

That’s when “Michael the Smooth Operator” was born.

“It was hard when I first came back so I found using a little bit of humour made it easier to get through the days,” he says. “Sometimes I tell jokes, sometimes I reveal embarrassing moments.”

But what began as a way of trying to ease his own pain turned out to put a smile on customers’ faces, as well.

“It makes me feel like I’m contributing something really positive in life,” Sage says. “And I think that’s what we all want.”

Here’s the rest.

I’m thinking Mr. Sage is aptly named. I’ve been keeping him in mind every time I take the subway now. It’s helped me slow down and be more aware of those around me instead of rocketing into the subway car like I’m on The Amazing Race.

The other day I even stopped, took my earbuds out and listened to a busker playing the worst violin solo I’ve ever heard. But he was giving it his all so I gave him a thumbs up and added to the tips in his open case.

Maybe I should’ve said, “Hi, I’m Deb. I’m an Aquarius and like long walks on the beach….” :)

It was Mozart’s birthday the other day, so here’s a Mozart Adele mashup to celebrate!

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Day 722: Shirt off his back

Okay, this made me cry… in a good way…

On the weekend, I donated two winter coats to a local charity that helps new Canadians and others to start over… but would I have taken off my own clothing to hand to someone on the subway like this man does? Something for me to think about….

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Day 721: Poetry postcards

Happy New Year one and all!

I definitely resolve to do more good deeds this year… and to share what others are doing. Like this cool “art” project.

I love this… it reminds me of something I did a while back, dropping anonymous “Have a great day” notes into neighbours’ mailboxes… until a friend said, “What if the husband finds it and thinks his wife is having an affair!” Never occurred to me, lol.

I would love to receive one of these poetry postcards, and whoever does in a city as big as New York… well, it would be like winning the lottery, right?

Song for the day, Joni Mitchell’s “River” … captures the season in many ways, I think.

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Day 720: The white envelope

A friend shared this story with me and I broke down in tears (warning you now, go grab tissues, stat!) … what a beautiful idea… I want to do this!

11227637_10153689123320991_7711996608182884622_nChristmas Story:
For the Man Who Hated Christmas

By Nancy W. Gavin

It’s just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past ten years.

It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas. Oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it – overspending and the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma – the gifts given in desperation because you couldn’t think of anything else.

Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way.

Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was on the wrestling team at the school he attended. Shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes.

As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler’s ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford.

Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, “I wish just one of them could have won,” he said. “They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.” Mike loved kids – all kids. He so enjoyed coaching little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That’s when the idea for his present came.

That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes, and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed a small, white envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done, and that this was his gift from me.

Mike’s smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year. And that same bright smile lit up succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition – one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.

The white envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning, and our children – ignoring their new toys – would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents. As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the small, white envelope never lost its allure.

The story doesn’t end there. You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree. And the next morning, I found it was magically joined by three more. Unbeknownst to the others, each of our three children had for the first time placed a white envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing to take down that special envelope.

Mike’s spirit, like the Christmas spirit will always be with us.

Wishing you all a peaceful, joyous holiday season filled with beautiful music like this. Enjoy!

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Day 719: Matthew’s Legacy

Read this incredible story today and wanted to share. An Ontario mom in California, Jamie-Lynn Knighten, was touched by the kindness of a stranger, Matthew Jackson, 28, who paid her $200 grocery bill when her cards wouldn’t work, only saying “I would be glad to take care of your groceries as long as you promise to do it for someone else.”

When she tried to get in touch with Matthew at his work later in the week, she found out he’d passed away in a car accident the night after they’d met.

On her FB page, she says:

“His boss explained to me how amazing this young man was in his every day life and that what he did for me was just who he was as a person.

“I still cannot believe it. I thought for sure I would get the chance to see him again, give him a hug and thank him at least once more in person. Now I won’t get that chance, but more importantly no one else will get the chance to meet him. And that breaks my heart.”

Her post went viral and now a “Matthew’s Legacy” page has been set up for strangers to share their random and not-so-random acts of kindness in honour of Matthew:

“We are hoping to use this page as a vessel for positive change in the world.. We want to inspire kindness and spark hope.. Share love and restore faith in humanity.. Regardless of age, race, religious affiliations, financial or social status, our goals stay the same.”

This post I found especially moving:


My good deeds today are small potatoes (smiling at strangers, holding doors open), but this inspires me to try and do more… even when it’s cold and grey and I’m tired and grouchy and actually feel like just growling at everyone. :)

Song for the day… enjoy!

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Day 718: Reverse Advent Calendar


Reverse Advent Calendar idea from the CBC’s Julie Van Rosendaal.

Now I’m a big fan of the traditional Advent Calendar… a chocolate a day? What’s not to like? Oh, and of course preparing for the beautiful event that is Christmas Day. :) To quote one of my favourite carols: “When love came down to the Earth.”

Saw this radical idea this morning HERE  though, and I think it’s brilliant! A reverse Advent Calendar. Truly flipping the idea around from getting to giving… which, to me is what Christmas is truly about anyway.

It’s easy. Simply turn two wine boxes (or you could make your own container) on their sides and for the weeks leading up to Christmas, add a non-perishable food item into each slot. When all the slots are full, bring everything to a food bank drop off (fire hall, bin at the front of the grocery store, etc.).

I usually try to get one or two extra items whenever I’m at the store and drop them into the food bank bin at the front, but I know the need is greater over the holidays so I’m going to try this. (And don’t ask why we happen to have a bunch of empty wine boxes at home.)

According to Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank, the most needed items include:

  • dried/canned beans or lentils
  • rice
  • canned fruits and vegetables
  • pasta and tomato pasta sauce
  • peanut butter
  • canned fish/meat
  • oatmeal
  • baby formula/cereal and baby food

Happy Adventing, everyone!


Here’s another cool idea for an Advent Calendar … a good deed a day… what a concept! :) Download one for kids, one for adults.

p.p.s.s. This always puts me in a Christmas mood. Enjoy!

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Day 717: #25000 Tuques


Sometimes Facebook is awesome. I just saw a link to this CBC story on a Quebecer named Danielle Létourneau who is using FB to organize a knitting campaign to help give Syrian refugees to Canada a warm welcome — literally.

knitting-for-syrian-refugeessmallThrough her FB page, 25000 Tuques, knitters across the province (and now beyond) are stitching together tuques to give to newcomers and including a personal note of welcome in each one.

I love how Danielle describes her project on her bilingual site:

25 000 Tuques is about creating a tuque for distribution to the refugees with a small, personalized welcome message slipped inside by the « knitter ».

Yes, it’s pretty symbolic and It’s based on when we put a tuque on a new born baby but it’s also because we want a better fabric for our society, one that is tightly knitted together… No it does not exempt you from taking other actions. It’s our very own small way of welcoming them and make a direct and humane connection.

Knitting helps; it help us feel a bit less powerless and it helps keep someone warm. Our knitting, our time, our attention is a concrete gesture that trumps all petitions.

It’s humble but it gives us the time to talk, to think and to love a bit better.

It takes two hours to knit a simple tuques with average size knitting needles. Two hours spread apart between whenever you have the time; in the metro, in the house… At that rhythm we will not flood Quebec with tuques: It takes two hours to help welcome someone. The way I see it, and I don’t know what you think of it, it’s already so much better than doing nothing.

Watch this map for drop-off centres to be added.

I’ve never knitted a tuque before but I’m going to give it a go!

A great song to knit by:

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