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A Year of Living Generously

Author spends 12 months volunteering in an effort to 'do some good'

By Wayne G. Smith

A Year of Living Generously
By Lawrence Scanlan
(Douglas & McIntyre) $32.95

Acts of compassion often reveal as much about the giver as the recipient. Lawrence Scanlan’s year of benevolence offers no exception. The author states his goals are to “do some good,” “take some notes” and find evidence that human generosity is alive and well. However, his own biases and awkward storytelling too often get in his way.

Over the course of 12 months, Scanlan volunteers with various organizations — some in his hometown of Kingston, Ont., others further afield — for various lengths of time. The experience is an eye-opener for the author, who admits to having “truly led a sheltered life.”

Scanlan does seem genuinely interested in people, and there are moments of sympathy and tenderness in his observations — along with the occasional misstep: at a St. Vincent de Paul centre, he notices a client who walks “tippy-toed.” He finds this amusing and compares the fellow to the frantic rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.

At a men’s shelter, the author is assigned a number and a bed, but after considering the risks, makes a bolt for the comfort and safety of home.

Given the author’s exhaustive planning and execution of his philanthropic journey, I was left wondering why the limited perspective obscures the examples of charity he sought to show. My conclusion: Scanlan’s heart is in the right place, but he could have used a benevolent editor.

Rev. Wayne G. Smith lives in Moncton, N.B.

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