Sunday, October 28, 2012

20 Acts of Groovy

                                                                         Guillaume Apollinaire, from “Zone”; trans. Samuel Beckett

It was after my parents threw me a relatively grandiose high school graduation party when I decided I would never like to receive gifts on my birthday again. Upon first glance of this sentiment you may presume that I hoard unchecked privilege and was thus supremely dissatisfied with the presents I had received. 

Not quite so.

Sure, I was now the primary care-taker of a few too many satchels that I would later pass on to my mother and grandmother; and sure, guests felt it an ethical decision to buy me jewelry sported by most of everyone else (heh); but for the most part I held little animosity towards what I had actually received. Rather, I felt like an instigator of gluttony. In short, the presents were superfluous. I think that at the age of seventeen I had my first genuine brush with altruism - I did not need all those material goods. They'd be cycled into the crevices of my daily life, and submerged in routine, their novelty would wear off very quickly.

Like Marshall Sahlins says in his 1972 essay "The Original Affluent Society", there are two possible courses to affluence: a) producing much or b) desiring little.
He also said:
It is not that hunters and gatherers have curbed their materialistic 'impulses': they simply never made an institution of them....We are inclined to think of [them] as poor because they don't have anything: better to think of them for that reason as free. 
I am radically far from desiring little; be it known I desire everything from meaty burritos at 4 am for no good reason, to q-tips when I feel ear wax tormenting my auditory cavities in the middle of something important. Still, this resistance of sorts carried through to this year and hovered in my mind as it came time to plan a celebration of sorts for my twentieth birthday. It wasn't till I watched this video, though, that "Urooba's 20 Acts of Groovy" became a conception.

I definitely don't cry easily but, man, my tear ducts were in overdrive when I first watched this about a month ago on a regular September evening. "20 Act's of Groovy", then, became a list of 20 things I vowed to do on my 20th birthday. With the vital input of friends, The List was: 

1. Write a thank-you note to my floor's janitor. 
2. Write a letter to someone I haven't talked to in over a year. 
3. Buy food for the person behind me in line. 
4. Go to the UBC Hospital & give someone flowers/chocolate. 
5. Bake cupcakes & give them to random workers, etc. 
6. Leave interesting facts/warm fuzzies around campus/transit/lecture halls/hoods of parked cars. 
7. Donate blood. 
8. Plant a tree.
9. Buy a meal/clothing for a homeless person and sit with them and talk to them. 
10. Donate to Landesa Or maybe 
11. Write a letter to my future self. Perhaps 40th self?
12. Buy flowers/write a card for a parent waiting at the Children's Hospital.
13. Write a thrifty-fashion-love-yo'-self manifesto to share with peepz. 
14. Go to a restaurant, find a person who is eating alone, sit in front of them and go "Sorry I'm late, but you look amazing tonight." 
15. {on the weekend} make a meal/bake treats for the famjam.
16. Get flowers delivered for Mummy.
17. Go to the public library and slip notes in all my favourite books. 
18. Write a letter to my future significant other. (hahahaha) 
19. Tell a professor I really enjoyed their lecture. 
20. Write poetry at Wreck Beach.

As of today, I've been only able to do a fraction of these, however fear not, this means good cheer will spread over the course of more than one day! To keep the momentum going, I had also created "pledge" forms - slips of paper given to those I had done acts of kindness to, involving the promise of a good deed to be passed on to someone else. The sustainability of this initiative can also be exemplified by friends telling me they want to do this for their birthday, yeeeehaw!

Many delightful things occurred on the anniversary of the day I came out of my mother's womb, including:
1) A midnight visit by approximately 1483498 people, who crammed into my teeny chambers:

2) A friend who pulled me out of class to surprise me with cake and a rose, with as much vigour and pomp (re: swag) that my now-20-year-old body frame could take.

3) The pleasantly-surprised reaction of this bus driver who I presented a tulip to & which was captured SO PERFECTLY & unbeknownst to me by a friend:

For all other happenings of the day, there is no photographic evidence; they shall be etched in my 20-year-old brain, howevs. 

The most profound moment of the day however, had to be when I attempted to complete #4 on The List: Go to the UBC Hospital & give someone flowers/chocolate. 

At promptly 4 pm, I staggered over to the florist on campus & bought about half a dozen tulips. I attached notes & quotes to them, like so:

With a friend in tow, I ventured over to the campus hospital. Upon discovery that there aren't many patients there during the day, we decided to head to closest hospital in the city. Choosing a specific unit was a process, but we decided to hand out our flowers at the cancer agency. We learned, though, that that building had been closed off due to the spread of a contagious gastro-intestinal illness. 

We then headed towards the main building, vouching for the input of the lady at Information. [word-for-word accuracy is not guaranteed]

"Hi, we were wondering if we could deliver flowers to patients?" I inquired.

"Sure. What patient are you looking for?" she asked.

"Oh, no one in particular. We have several flowers and notes we'd like to hand out."

"Oh wow, that is so nice! Um...hold on, um...let me check where you should go."

After a phone call, she turned to us, "The sixteenth floor would be the best place!" She gave us directions of how to reach there. 

"Good luck and thank you!" she called after us.

We arrived on the sixteenth floor. We had forgotten to ask what kind of patients this floor held, but after having attempted to do this deed several times, we were eager to begin. We walked up to the receptionist, told her our purpose, and asked her what room we should begin with.

"Uhhh, this floor? Um. Well, let me think. Uh. Well, you can give them to Eileen just over to your left there. But, uh, I think that would be it on this floor."

We were a little confused at this point; the act of handing out flowers to strangers is generally perceived as something positive. Why had the receptionist's tone been so...unenthusiastic?

We walked towards Eileen's room. Naturally, I was frightened by the tiny dog that lay at her feet, who we learned was named Cookie. After chatting with Eileen for a bit, we handed her a tulip. She told us she was able to go home next week; we shared in her elation.  

After having said goodbye, we proceeded to walk down the hallway again and stumbled upon a nurse. We wanted to continue delivering flowers on this floor after such a great first experience with Eileen, and thus prompted her to tell us where we could go next.

She had the same cautious tone as the receptionist. 

"Uh, on this floor? Um. Let me see. Uh, perhaps this room to your right? You could see if she'd like that. But she may not be able to respond."

"Oh, okay, we could certainly try", said my friend Aysha.

As we were beginning to head into the direction of her room, the nurse asked us, "You ladies do know what floor this is?"

"Yes, the palliative one; we saw the sign when we got here," I answered.

"Okay. Do you know what that means?"

Me and Aysha shook our heads. A moment of silence passed.

"What does it mean?" Aysha inquired.

"Palliative...It essentially refers to those who are...waiting to die."

My and Aysha looked at one another, wells of tears forming in both our eyes. My thoughts immediately traced themselves back to Eileen. Eileen, who was excited to go home in a week. 

We left the floor immediately thereafter and continued to hand out our tulips to hospital staff: volunteers, nurses, doctors. 


On the twentieth anniversary of the day of my birth, I had witnessed what lies diametrical to birth: death. Rather than ruminate over the implications of this, I was instilled with the cognizance of why 20 Acts of Groovy was so important to me.  It couldn't have come at a more appropriate time in my life, where with the advent of so many perspectives, one entertains different philosophies each day and night.

I can already tell my twenties will be an epoch of epic [self-/]discovery.


Anonymous said...

In some ways I wish this there was a post entirely focused on the hospital part. It will definitely be the part I will remember forever.

Anonymous said...


Allah blesses you forever!

Long time no see you, visit me , too,
your friend from Rio,

Urooba said...

Anon: I hear you - I think I just wanted it to be a more holistic birthday post; I am glad to hear that this was a memorable read for you, though. :)

@Denise: thank you, you're the sweetest; it has been far too long! Life is so busy; I hardly blog-hop anymore!

jtz said...


Such a beautiful and lovely read, turn 22 next week so the vid was perfect! Really want to do a similar thing now!

Please keep up your wonderful posts!

Tyler said...

Love the hospital story :) And the idea :)

Urooba said...

@Jtz: Thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed it! You should definitely do it for your 22nd!

@Tyler: thanks Ty! :D

jtz said...

So decided to go ahead and do my 22 things before I turned 22. It was an amazing experinece but due to lack of time, I couldn't do some of the more adventurous things I would have liked to do.

Here's my list:

1.Write a 'lovely moment' every week(project I'm working on-small things that make me happy)
2. Cook for family once a week
3. Give my class treats
4. Talk to students for 5 mins as free time
5. Call someone I haven't spoken to in one month
6. Bake cupcakes for neighbour
7. Look closer at Allah's creation and be mesmerised
8. Leave random thoughts in random places
9. Thank my previous tutors/teachers
10. Sort out a weekly Direct Debit from bank for sadaqah
11. Give way to someone in every car journey
12. Send a note to doctor to thank him
13. Write a letter to my future aged 23 self
14. Pray salah shukr
15. Create a thorough top 10 holiday wish list
16. Watch the sun rise, set and the stars come out all in one day/night
17. Have a facial
18. Do a small DIY/craft project
19. Go for a long long long walk
20. Smile at 50 strangers
21. Have a 24 hour technology free day
22. Read a story to a child.