"I recently became very ill with cancer and was declined long term disability benefits through my employer’s insurance company. I couldn’t believe how arrogant and unfeeling they were. Ms. Burbage explained that the medical reports on me were strong, and that I should receive benefits. I am now on claim and have more peace of mind because of how she fought for me."
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When I worked as a lawyer in the big city, I was constantly surprised and often discouraged by what I heard from clients and some other lawyers. Individuals and organizations treated others unfairly, civility seemed to have all but disappeared, and good old-fashioned compassion for one’s neighbour seemed long gone. I entered this profession to use my energy and ability to help make things better for people and in those big city years of practice, I’m sorry to say I didn’t see much improvement in the way people treated one another. Whenever I return to the city I left 8 years ago for a happier life, I barely recognize it. Many neighbourhoods full of culture and personality have been replaced by cold stone and glass condos. Big-brand coffee shops where people text, but rarely talk are everywhere.

I ask myself, is the lack of civility because we are all too stressed with work, family and what appears to be an obsession with being tuned in and turned on to smartphones and social media? Do we stop looking out for our neighbours, going to the aid of people in need, being involved in our town and standing up when we see wrongs being committed because we are too busy or have we just stopped caring? Are we just becoming consumers who demand instant gratification, the best of everything, with no expenditure on our part except $7 for a cup of coffee?

What I notice about St. Catharines, and one of the reasons I will never return to the big city, is that every day here I see exceptions to the big city rule. I am convinced that we have retained more of our humanity because we are smaller, the pace is slower and because of the fact that we have incredible natural beauty all around us. I know the names of business owners in town and we always exchange pleasantries when passing one another on the street. Same goes for the bank manager, the mail person and the baker whose bread I cannot live without. I worry when they are sick, or are having issues with their kids being bullied at school. When a neighbour’s wife died, the community wrapped its wings around him and brought food, flowers and notes for months after her passing. Women in town watched over him like mother hens and made sure he always had something delicious to come home to.

I often find in my mailbox a lovely card full of warmth and appreciation from a woman who was in a car accident right in front of my house. She seemed surprised when I brought her into my home and fed her homemade soup while she waited for a family member. I find it more surprising that, years later, she still delivers the most beautiful thank-you cards to my mailbox.

What I witness living in St. Catharines is a return to a time when people care. We talk about our hopes, our dreams, and our disappointments. Yes, we use smartphones but we park them at the door when we meet for dinner because we want to give our friends our undivided attention. Yes, we are also ambitious, we work hard and we care about what’s going on in the world. But first and foremost, we care about our town and the people in it. That’s why I’ll never leave.