Saturday, May 17, 2014

Charity (Neighbors)

A good friend of mine, a kind, caring girl, named Melissa Marie, who is a counselor, took up a challenge from another friend and posted for three days pictures and quotes on FaceBook about Hope, Faith and Charity. On the final one she asked us who follow her to share to share their experiences with charity.
As she defined it, charity is the unselfish act of love and kindness to another person without the expectation of getting something in return.  I shared with her one story which I will also share here eventually. I was taken by this concept of unselfishness and I have been thinking about it a lot. Mostly what I am thinking about is my neighbors.

We’ve lived in the house we live in now for almost eighteen years.  We have seen some neighbors come and go but most of them have lived here just as long as we have. We have all watched our children grow from young kids to adults. We have witnessed trees go into maturity. We have had block parties and barbeques together; celebrated milestone birthdays and graduations. We have built large wooden swing sets together. The best thing we do though is to help each other when help is needed.  We bring food to each other when someone is ill or a baby has been born. We shovel each others’ sidewalks and driveways, or mow the lawns we share.  We always watched each others’ children, who now no longer need watching. We lend cars, go get people, or drive people to where they need to go.  They don't mind when you run their into the mud, as long as you bring it back clean. When someone needs a hand in doing something around their house we help or at least give them a tool. We laugh and we cry together. Mostly we just take care of each other.

Our original neighbors on the left of my house were the Grahams. Chris, the father, and I got to be very good friends.  He was a mechanical engineer that worked for GM and knew everything there was to know about cars. When people asked me where I went to get my car fixed if I had a problem, I would reply, “I don’t go anywhere. I find that by lifting the hood and putting a six-pack of beer in open sight, the problem gets resolved.”  Chris’s wife, Robbie, was a sweet and funny woman, who would often call me and say in a heavy breath, “What are you wearing?” I would say, “My suit and towel around my waist because I am doing dishes.”  “Are you wearing a cigarette and will you meet me in the side yard?”  One day I came home early from a business trip in the afternoon and Chris was playing the piano in my living room. I said “Should I be worried about this, Chris?” He said, “No, Karen needed a hand and I was kind of bored.” I said, “OK, I’m going to change clothes and we’ll have a beer. Why is it that I didn’t know that you could play the piano?”  He said, “You’re never around. Besides, I don’t have one; you do.”  After that Chris came over and played the piano all of the time.

The October night our youngest child was born it was nearly four o’clock in the morning when I got home to sleep. The phone rang. It was the Grahams. They had stayed up all night waiting. I was so tired. I just said, “We have a girl. Her name is Meredith.” I heard their teen daughter, Lindsey, jumping around and happily screaming.  Lindsey was always our babysitter.  After taking care of two rambunctious boys, she was very happy to have a girl to look after. Chris said, “You and I are going to be playing ‘Butterfly Kisses’ and crying on the driveway next summer. For now you go to sleep.”  As Chris predicted, that is exactly what happened the next summer after a block party when we were laying a blanket, smoking cigars, and looking at the stars.  I miss the Grahams.  They moved away nearly twelve years ago when Chris got transferred to Detroit

The people who moved in after the Grahams were folks from Texas. Ken and Tyree were very good people, extremely faithful and very generous.  Their daughter, Leslie, became the new babysitter until the she went off to college and the children no longer needed a babysitter.  Ken and I also helped each other a lot. Not long after I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Karen and the kids went on a road trip. I had to work, so I stayed home.  One evening standing in the garage I felt very alone and very afraid. I went next door and rang the doorbell. Ken answered and Ken could tell I was not well. He said, “Tom, come in and we’ll talk.” I did and we did. When we were done he and Tyree prayed for me, and I thought it was the nicest gesture in the world.  

Ken and Tyree moved back to Texas a year ago.  A new family moved in. This is their first house and they just had a baby. He is a veteran and going back to school. I am returning the kindness of everyone who has lived in that house by helping Randy to figure out what this experience is like.  They all came over for Easter and that was very nice.  Having a new baby in the house is always nice.

My neighbors across the street, the Beggs, have lived here just as long as we have. They have a boy, Austin, that is the same age as my middle son, Matthew, and they have been friends for many years. They also have a son that is Meredith’s age.  Mason is a good and curious boy. I love watching him build teepees and create bows and arrows out of twigs. He is also a hell of a soccer goalie that sometimes used to come over to use the backstop I put up when Ben was playing lacrosse. Julie is a stylist that cuts the girls hair.  Keith and I golf, we talk soccer, and he lends me all of his ladders, socket wrenches and drills whenever I need them.  One time Julie had to call Karen because Matthew had an accident. She said “I’m taking him to the urgent care because I think he broke his arm.” When Karen got there the doctor told her that she needed to take him to the hospital because his bone was poking through the skin. As they left, Julie said to Karen, “I knew it was bad, but I didn’t want to scare you.”  Karen smiled, “Of course not. It’s all good.”  

My next door neighbors on the right are also very fine people.  I have multiple stories of when we have exchanged favors. They have two older boys that I have watched grow, and helped in their career searches and getting into law school. They still come over to visit and have beers. Russ and Sandy also have a daughter, Katelyn, that my oldest, Ben, has been friends with since kindergarten. He drove her every day to high school because he had a car, and there were few times when her dad had to ring my bell to tell her to come home after she came over to watch a late night movie. When the two of them graduated we erected a big tent between our yards for both their parties.

This is the story I referred to at the beginning of this post. Every summer, in favor of a cause, Sandy buys a huge pile of mulch, much more than they can use, and she invites people to come and take what they need. We spend a day moving wheelbarrows up and down the sidewalk, and helping each other fill in our beds. It’s a lot of work but it really brings us together. The best thing Sandy ever did for me is that she picked me up when I had fallen out by the curb. She was watering her plants at the time and came running when she saw me go down. She got me into the house to Karen. Later on after we knew it was Parkinson’s she brought me books that she thought might inspire me.  One is daily devotion that I keep on my bench beside me so that I pick it up every day.

There are so many people in my life that randomly extend kindness to me and my family that I can’t name them all. There is Jill who drops healthy food in my mailbox and encourages me to do things like yoga; Camee, who is teaching me yoga; Kelly, who edits my words to make sure they look right; John, who invites me to work with him leading volunteer projects that will benefit other people; Jim, who shares my love of music and makes me laugh, and Grant, a young man from down the street, who in his twenties, has been struggling with a brain tumor for a few years, but who stops by the studio every day on his walk to visit and shake my hand.

"Charity" in the dictionary suggests that it is “the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need.”  I don’t think I agree. I think I prefer Melissa Marie’s definition.