“Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them” (Matthew 7:12, The Message).
THOSE OF YOU who know a bit about me from my writing might be surprised by this.
I’m an introvert. I mean, come on, I spend my life typing at a computer. I might as well be a monk.
The extrovert in our family is the lady I married.
When she walks Buddy the Dog, she stops and talks with people along the way. She knows a lot of our neighbor dogs by name.
I generally look at the person at the end of the leash, nod, and say something like “Morning to you.”
I keep on walking.
I was doing just that last Saturday morning when I turned the corner back into my cul-de-sac, and saw a huge pile of black mulch at the end of the driveway of one of my neighbors.
It was a full dump truck load – 4 cubic yards. Quite the pile.
I saw the homeowner, a young dad, shoveling the mulch into his wheelbarrow while his wife dug around the bushes that framed part of the house. Their two preschool daughters danced around the front yard and on top of the mulch.
As I walked past the gentleman I had never met, I actually said a full sentence.
“Looks like you got a day’s work there.”
“More than a day, I think,” he said.
I kept walking to my house.
I was thinking about the chores I had lined up for myself that day:
- Tune up the lawnmower by sharpening the blade, changing the oil, and changing spark plug.
- Maybe even cut the grass.
- Throw some spackling on a few cracks on the drywall inside the house.
- Put some protective stain on the fence, since the winter seems to have worn part of it off.
- Clean some the grouting in one of the showers.
If I had any time or energy left over, maybe I would do some office work.
When I turned Buddy loose in the yard, I looked back at my neighbor.
Certainly he would be shoveling all day.
We were supposed to get rain the next few days, so I thought he really did need to finish that job this particular day.
I didn’t know his name. It occurred to me this might be a good chance to say hello and perhaps give him a hand. Shoveling mulch is something I can actually do.
So I walked over and said, “Would you like a little help?”
You never really know what someone is going to say to that. A lot of us tend to be a little more self-reliant than is good for us.
He was not one of them.
“Boy would I.”
So I went back to the house, put on my gloves, aired up the flat tire on my wheelbarrow, grabbed my shovel, and went over to help.
It wasn’t hard work at all. It took just a couple of hours with both of us working.
Time went quickly. We got acquainted, learned where each other worked, I learned that he’s a Christian fellow who has been on a lot of mission trips. We had one thing in common: we had both gotten sick on mission trips to Guatemala.
I didn’t get to chat much with his wife because she was working in the bushes preparing the land for the mulch.
But I did get to chat some with their daughters – a lovely, lively duo.
As we neared the end of the mulch pile, the wife offered to let me take some of it. But I assured her that I didn’t need any. I put down mulch last fall.
I went back home and did some of my chores. Tuning up the mower, cutting the grass, throwing a little spackling on walls. Never did get to the shower or the fence.
I don’t normally take naps. They generally make me grumpy. But I did take a nap this particular Saturday afternoon.
When I woke up my wife handed me a gift bag from the neighbors.
Inside was a homemade card that the girls made for me. (See above.)
And half a dozen still-soft chocolate cookies.
I would like to say I shared them with my wife. That would be lie. I ate them all.
Here’s the thing.
People like me, who aren’t especially outgoing, need to keep our eyes open for opportunities to lend a hand to people.
It takes us out of our comfort zone to ask strangers if we can help them.
It’s easier to keep walking.
But it’s not usually better to keep walking.
Opportunities are fleeting.
I had just that one day to become acquainted with my neighbor.
I’ve missed a lot of opportunities over the years.
I’m glad this was not one of them.
By day’s end, five people were happy.
One dad with his wheelbarrow.
One mom digging in the bushes.
Two girls dancing.
It feels good to help someone.
It feels good to treat your neighbor the way you would want them to treat you.
Cookies sure don’t hurt either.