Helen Leask’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference


We’d just had another dump of snow but my heart was colder than my driveway. I waved goodbye, full of fake smiles, to my young children, who were blank-faced in the windows of the receding van. My frozen disbelief was reflected in their expressions, emotion held sub-zero because if it started to thaw it was going to hurt. The first of a thousand such goodbyes; a commonplace Friday-night moment in tens of thousands of divided homes.

The first Weekend At Dad’s.  

I went back inside to the first beer. I imagined the children climbing out of the van, dragging their feet into their Dad’s elevator, entering a new world without their mother.

I heard a scrape, scrape from outside my front door. I groped along the corridor and peeped around the curtain. I saw a tiny figure with a Dollarama snow shovel stoutly working his way along my drive, clearing the snow. He had mismatched gloves and shouldn’t he be wearing a hat? But there he was, intent on his task, Adam, the neglected child from across the street. 

Adam was notorious. All the neighbours would shake their heads over him and mutter darkly, “it sure takes a village…” Adam was placed with a surly nanny at two weeks old and returned her hatred in equal measure; his mother always walked straight past him after she leapt from the taxi, briefcase in hand; he couldn’t share, wasn’t invited anywhere; he expected nothing from adults and even less from children. I had always talked to him – reprimanded him a couple of times, too, for minor infractions – and once showed him how to bake a cake. 

He had never shovelled my snow before – hadn’t shoveled anyone’s snow – but there he was. It was getting dark, cold and late; no-one came out of his house to look for him. I watched him, mesmerized, rather curious about his next move. I assumed he’d seen older boys make a dollar or two and would come knocking on my door once the drive was clear. Instead, he dumped the last spade-load, straining a little under the weight, and idly plodded back to the sidewalk, flicking his shovel at a few untidy ice scraps on the way.

He was gone before I gathered my wits.

Before that sub-zero night, we had never seen Adam do a single selfless act – he had been taught well. Yet there he was, shovelling my snow on the most painful winter weekend of our lives.  Somehow, he knew. In the only way he could, in a peculiarly Canadian way, he wordlessly expressed his sympathy for the sad state of affairs. Shovelling as an act of love.

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They are posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

About jofacilitator

On Sept 1, 2020, I celebrated 50 years of work with the Institute of Cultural Affairs, facilitating meetings, groups, communities, and organizations, making it possible for ordinary people to have a voice in decisions that affect their lives. I retired on December 31, 2021, but still volunteer with the organization.
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