On our drive home one winter day, Keith and I approached an older man struggling with a leaf bag and a rake. He was trying to clear leaves from the edge of the street so that rainwater could reach the gutters, but was too frail to make much headway. Now, this wasn’t just any old man – this was Jack. We have known him for years, but have never had the bad luck to drive by his house when he needed assistance. It’s always easier to wish someone well when everything’s going fine for them. That way you can still get credit for being a nice person without actually having to do anything. Unfortunately, this was not one of those occasions.
Keith contemplated the situation and then declared: “He shouldn’t be doing that. He ought to be in the house drinking cocoa and playing dominoes. We need to help him.”
“We don’t even own a rake,” I told Keith, fully intending to drive on by. Our elderly friend probably hadn’t noticed us anyway. Besides, if we did pitch in, I’d be doing the lion’s share since Keith was just a little kid.
“We can borrow rakes from Bill,” he countered.
“Bill’s probably not even home,” I said.
“Vicki has rakes,” Keith reminded me.
Doggone it! Why did we have to be driving down that street? That’s not even the way we usually go. Why did the guy have to be outside right at that moment? The last thing in the world I wanted to do was deal with somebody else’s yard work. I didn’t even want to deal with my own. What rotten, rotten luck!
As badly as I wished we hadn’t seen a thing, my sorry excuse for a conscience finally kicked in. Either that, or I just didn’t want to look like a creep in front of my child. It was probably that, more than anything.
So we borrowed rakes from Vicki and made our way back to the scene of the crime. Our friend was still outside, still fumbling with little handfuls of sticks and wet leaves.
When we piled out of the car, Jack’s face crinkled into such a lovely smile, and I have to say I felt the first stirrings of gladness that we had come. He seemed so grateful to see us, so relieved not to be facing such a monumental task alone. We shooed him inside and got to work.
That benevolent glow lasted for the first two or three hours, but started sputtering out big time when I realized this was not a one-afternoon affair. Although it didn’t take long to clear the leaves from the edge of the street, that was only the beginning. The entire yard –a corner lot of course! – was covered with tiny damp pin oak leaves. We were in this thing for days. Doggone it again! We couldn’t just breeze in, do something easy, and sail on out on a cloud of goodwill. Nope, when the sun went down, we were only a fraction of the way through with the whole dirty mess. I briefly considered telling Jack that we hoped we’d at least gotten him started, and that we hoped the rest of the job would go well. Have a nice day and all that.
But Jesus wasn’t about to let me off so easy. He was standing there with his arms crossed and a twinkle in his eye, but his mouth had that firm look about it, and I figured there wasn’t any use in trying to get out of anything. Besides, I was trying to teach my child about kindness, wasn’t I? That’s a joke, of course, since this time it was he who was in the business of teaching me.
We started raking on Saturday, and by Wednesday at sunset there was not a stray leaf in sight. I was filthy, but my hands weren’t blistered, and I wasn’t nearly as tired as I thought I would be. And Keith had worked hard. Not like a little kid, but like a man with a purpose. His eyes shone with pride in a job well done.
When we were finally done, Jack invited us inside to sit for a few minutes with him and his ailing wife. They were effusive in their thanks, and it felt good to know we had helped them accomplish something they could not have done alone.
Jesus, I know you had a good chuckle over the whole thing. But once again, I see that you were right. Didn’t you tell a story once about a guy who got beaten up and left for dead, but then was helped by a man who just happened to be going that way? In this case, that would have been Keith, since I was quite willing to “pass by on the other side.” I’m glad at least one of us was looking out through your eyes.
God, most of the time I don’t want to stop and help. I’m lazy, I’m busy, I have better things to do. Remind me to think of someone besides myself. Remind me to care.