Monday was a special day, at least it was for me.
It was Gratitude Day. So is today.
If you've never heard of Gratitude Day, that's because I made it up. It was inspired by a question-and-answer exchange between strangers on a Toronto transit bus late one night last fall.
I was one of the strangers.
The other was a young woman from Africa who was seated beside me. But before we get to the story about that chance encounter, I should share another more recent one. It happened in Winnipeg on Monday and involved another young woman who also was a stranger.
This time I was walking my dog near Peanut Park, the 112-year-old Crescentwood neighbourhood green space that was rescued in recent years from drug dealers and vandals.
The reclamation and restoration happened with the help of the city, province and Manitoba Hydro. But primarily it was the people who live in the area who restored the property to the charming, natural beauty it was always intended to be when the park -- formally known as Enderton Park -- was donated to the city by Charles Enderton, the "father" of Crescentwood.
No matter where we live in Winnipeg, we all should be grateful area residents put so much of their love, money and time into a park for all to appreciate. If you pardon the pitch, we can show our gratitude by going online to peanutpark.ca, join the Friends of Peanut Park, and maybe make a tax-deductible contribution to a trust fund that will preserve and maintain the park long after the current caretakers are gone.
But I digress.
I was going to tell you about the young woman I chanced to meet near the park Monday morning.
What put us in each other's path was a pop-up art gallery across the street from the park. A cube, with transparent walls and an open doorway known as the Little Red Art Gallery, although that's a new role. Originally, the cube was conceived by architect David Penner as a warming hut on the frozen river ice at The Forks. It was his winter gift to Winnipeg. Now Penner has transformed the cube for the summer by transporting it to a donated open space across the street from the English garden art of Peanut Park.
So it was that on Monday I was standing admiring the space with area resident Charles Feaver, when along came the young woman. Her name is Elyssa Stelman. She is an architecture intern with David Penner and she was delivering invitations in the neighbourhood. The invites, from Penner and art curator Paul Butler, were to an opening reception that evening for the Little Red Art Gallery, featuring the work of local artist Jeff Funnell. Next month, Elyssa said, there will be another opening and another artist.
In fact, Elyssa is an artist herself and a fine arts grad. Our conversation evolved from there. I told her about how I practise my intuition by guessing what people do for a living, which was safe to say when I already knew what she does. Elyssa told me that, coincidentally, lately she had been reading about intuition. Then, for some reason -- maybe I sensed something, maybe not -- I told Elyssa that Monday was my 33rd anniversary of writing a column in the Free Press. She smiled. Monday, she said, was her 33rd birthday.
The joy of synchronicity.
It seemed we were meant to meet that day. Which may be why I told her about the chance encounter with the young African woman last fall on a late-night Toronto transit ride. She was seated by a window, and I was beside her in a bus packed with people who weren't talking to each other, much less singing.
All so close, yet so distant.
That's when the question came to me. Out of the distance and the silence: "What's the best thing that happened to you today?" I asked.
She turned and smiled. "I got my exam mark back this morning," she said. "I got 95 per cent."
Now I was smiling.
She went on to explain she was in Bible school, but her boyfriend had to return to Africa, which is where her parents were. So, if I hadn't asked her, she would have had no one to tell about the best thing that happened to her that day.
Why did I ask her that question?
I don't know. It was as if she wanted to share her joy so much she silently sent me the question. All I know is we should ask ourselves that question every day. And that I am grateful I shared that bus ride with her that day.
And another Gratitude Day with Elyssa.
"Happy birthday," I said when we said goodbye. "Happy anniversary," she said.