A Parable of Two Neighbors
It is better to be the neighbor who mows a neighbor's yard than to be the neighbor who tosses pinecones into it.
This is the parable of two neighbors. For the sake of anonymity I’ll refer to them as “Mean Mike” and “Good Gus.” Mean Mike, Good Gus and I lived in a middle-class neighborhood, the kind that had high expectations of orderly, well maintained houses and yards. I tried my best, but in my crazy life, my best wasn’t always good enough for the neighbors. I was a single mom with two very young children, working full time, teaching a class at the community college and serving on the board for two non-profit agencies. There was little time or energy left for basic home maintenance, and I will admit that at times my yard was less than the perfect manicured lawn the neighborhood standards demanded.
“Mean Mike” seemed to enjoy my predicament, keeping a close eye on my house and calling frequently with complaints. Early in our neighbor relationship, he informed me that it was essential I order a load of dirt and cover the roots of the tree in my yard. Not knowing any better, I ordered the dirt I could scarcely afford. When I wasn’t able to get it spread quickly enough, he pestered me incessantly until I got it done. Another time, a neighbor spied him throwing pine cones from his yard into mine right before he called to insist that I needed to pick up the pine cones in my yard! It was the call about an ant, a singular ant, crawling from my yard into his that made me realize there was absolutely nothing I could do to earn the approval of this critical man. Sometime after my husband had moved out, this neighbor had made it his mission to make my challenging life even more stressful.
Thank goodness for “Good Gus”! More times than I can count, I came home to find my lawn mowed. He didn’t make a big deal of it and when I would profusely thank him he deflected the praise, saying it was not a problem to mow mine after he finished his. Perhaps to him it really wasn’t a big deal, but in this single mother’s life, it was a major act of kindness! One day stays in my mind: I vividly remember coming home from a long, emotional day at work, trying to figure out what to feed my hungry, tired kids fussing in the back seat of the minivan. Driving up, I saw my yard freshly mowed! I sat in the driveway for a few minutes, tears of gratitude rolling down my face, saying a prayer of thanks for the kindness of my neighbor. The act itself was wonderful but more importantly, it was the thought behind it. At a time when I felt very alone, barely keeping my head above water in a sea of work, chores and childcare, he threw me a life preserver of love and thoughtfulness. His kind actions made me feel like someone actually saw me, recognized my struggle and cared enough to help with no expectations of payback.
I’m sure neither “Good Gus” nor “ Mean Mike” have any idea the impact they made on my life 20 years ago. Although I have long since moved away and gone on to a much easier life, I continue to carry them within me and I try to remember to pay it forward. I regret that there have been too many instances where I’ve been the “Mean Mike” in an interaction, but I continue to try to channel the “Good Gus” that I know is in all of us. We should all strive to leave a trail of kindness rather than a remembrance of pettiness and hatred. You never know what struggles someone is dealing with and what a difference your act of kindness may make in their life. Open the door for someone, say a kind word, mow a lawn, just please don’t throw pinecones in someone’s yard!