Friday, January 29, 2010

Trusting in the Kindness of Strangers

There are days when I admit, I lose faith in humanity and in the world in general. I look around and everywhere I turn there are people doing bad things. You cant turn on the news, or read a paper without reading about all the bad things that bad people do. You cant go to the store without someone trying to steal your parking space or cutting in front of you in line. You cant drive anywhere without someone speeding by you in the breakdown lane just to get one car ahead of you.

I have spent my life, from the time I was a small child, being hurt by people I put my trust in. In 43 years I can still count on only two hands (not counting my immediate family), the number of people who were truly kind and didn't hurt me in some way.

Living with children with autism has shown me many disappointments in people. Those who judge without knowing. Those who look at your children like they are numbers or annoyances. Those who lie and cheat and only care about their budget and their job rather than standing up for what they know is right, even though what they are doing or what they are watching others doing they know to be so wrong. I have had to fight against having my children stuffed in small wooden boxes, locked in closets for hours, held face down on a floor, and so many other abusive acts that day by day my faith in people has been whittled away until there was nothing left.

And then there was Jack. Jack is an older gentleman in his 70's who visits the woman who lives next door to me. He is there almost on a daily basis doing jobs around her house. I have lived in this house for 5 years and in all those years I had never talked to Jack until a couple of months ago. We would wave to each other, and I remember occasionally getting letters in my mailbox from him offering his services for lawn care, but I had never really stopped to say hi.

Two months ago was the first time I talked to Jack. I was outside cleaning out my garage and he was next door doing some late fall cleanup. It started with a wave. Then he asked how I was. One of those questions that people ask just because they feel like they need to say something but didn't really care what the answer was, so I just replied "good, and you" and then started to walk away not really expecting an answer. But instead, he started talking. I admit, at first, I was kind of annoyed. I really had alot of work to do and I wasn't comfortable talking to this complete stranger but I didn't want to be rude so I kind of stood there, nodding my head and smiling while my mind wandered around thinking about everything I still needed to do.

I am not sure when it happened, but suddenly I realized I was listening to him. Not only was I listening but I was talking about myself too. Soon, I was telling him about my recent separation and trying to raise my two difficult children and he was telling me about his wife dying and how he and Diane (my neighbors) have been life long friends and an hour later I was still standing there listening to the life adventures of this man that for the past five years I only waved to. He asked me if I knew what family meant, where the word came from and when I said no he said that Family stands for "Father And Mother I Love You" and that it symbolizes the love a mother and father have for their children. He also told me about trips to Italy and Venice and England and the Vatican. He made me laugh with his stories of antics he and his friends got into and made me tear up when he talked about losing his wife and finding Diane again after all these years. Time just flew by.

Finally it was time to get back to work and we said goodbye and he looked at me and he said, "I know its hard to ask people for help, but if you ever need anything, even just a friend to talk to, let me know". He also warned me to be careful when I decided I was ready to start going out because the world is a scary place now and I never know who I am going to meet and where they have been or what they have done. Now, being the person I am, and finding it hard to really trust in the kindness of strangers, I just nodded okay, and thought to myself, "nobody does anything without wanting something" and "what did I get myself into" and "what is he going to want from me".

For the next couple of months, whenever I came home and saw him outside, I would wave but then quickly duck into my house. I really didn't want to risk getting into another conversation only to see what I was expecting from my messed up way of thinking. Someone who was only being nice to me because they wanted something back. So I ran.

Well, yesterday it snowed. It didn't just snow, it was freezing out and very windy. School closed early, afternoon activities were canceled and because of the cold my fibromyalgia was really flaring up. I could barely walk without a great deal of pain and I kept looking out the window at the snow piling up and thinking there was no way that I could get out there and shovel. I kept telling myself that there really wasn't enough out there to shovel anyway. Later in the afternoon I heard a noise outside my front door. I went to look out the window and my entire driveway was shoveled and there was Jack shoveling off the steps of my front porch.

I couldn't believe it. My husband has been gone since June and not once has a single one of my neighbors come over to see if I needed help even though it is very obvious that I am alone now. Even when they were standing outside watching me struggle with the lawnmower (something I never learned how to even turn on, never mind operate) not one person came over to see if I needed help. And here was this stranger, someone who doesn't even live here, trying to sneak and get my whole driveway done without me even knowing.

I stood there for a minute struggling to decide what to do. Finally I opened up the door and he looked at me and said, "I was bored". He had been over Diane's finishing up some painting and then realized he had time on his hands and not only did he shovel her driveway and mine but he did the driveway of the man on the other side of Diane's house as well, even though that man has a snow blower and was very capable of doing it himself. I didn't know what to say. Should I offer him money? Should I just say thank you? What do I do?

Finally I settled on saying thank you and mentioned to him that I had been thinking of hiring someone to do the shoveling for me this winter and if he was interested I could hire him. He looked at me like I had offended him and immediately I felt really bad. He told me that the winter was really hard time for him because he really missed his wife. Not only that, but his son just recently moved out and his house is empty. He cant stand to sit still and do nothing because it makes him miss his wife even more so from about 4:00 in the morning until 11:00 at night he is going around to all his friends houses doing work for them just to keep busy.

He said, it's not about the money. He doesn't want money. He doesn't want anything. He just likes to help people. He started talking about how he sees that I am a good mom (which, by the way, he told me spells WOW upside down) to my kids and that I have alot to deal with and my only priority right now should be taking care of my kids and myself. He told me that he is leaving in a week to go to South Carolina, but when he comes back, if he notices my driveway needs to be done and he has time he will come do it for me.

He told me to take care of myself and to be careful out there now that I am all alone and again he said that if I needed anything to let him know. He then turned and walked away. That was it.

Now I know there are people out there like me who think, this old man was probably hitting on me or he is wanting something and I have spent my life being one of those people who would think the same thing. I have a choice here. I can keep going through life expecting everyone I meet to hurt me or let me down in someway, or I can find a way, once more, to trust in the kindness of strangers. Yes, I know that doing that opens me up to more hurt, and a part of me is really not ready to do that. But a bigger part of me, the part that looks at my children and realizes that someday I wont be there for them and they will need to rely on the kindness of strangers, feels that its time to start letting go of all that pain and hurt. It's time to at least open up a little part of myself to hope. I choose to trust in Jack. To trust that there really are some people in this world who just want to be kind and don't want anything in return. Maybe I'll get hurt. And maybe I will find a part of me that has been missing for so long and find that I really can let go once in awhile and trust that things will be okay and that there really are people out there who are just kind.

1 comment:

  1. Let me just tell you I have found more and more older gentleman really showing the true meaning of being a gentleman. Over the summer I was at the pool with the kids for swim lessons. The girls class started earlier than mine and CJ's class did and I was up on the deck just taking a peak at the girls in their lessons. I was standing there with my beach bag and CJ in my arms and an older man came up and offered me his seat. Honestly I felt like he needed it more than me. I mean sure my hands were full, but I'm young and healthy I was only up there for a few minutes anyways. I politely declined, but he insisted that I take it. It really makes me wonder where are the children of these men with such manners? Are they teaching their children this and it's just going in one ear and out the other? It just seems that you don't see it enough in the younger generation. I'm glad you have found someone you can count on during difficult times when no one else would do it. Joe never would have watched you struggle like that if you were our neighbor though let me tell you. It amazes me how people just don't want to take the time like that.