my best work

There’s an old joke that goes like this:
Q: What do a Hooker and a Bowler have in common?
A: They both do their best work in an alley.

Me? I do mine in a supermarket.

I have found so many opportunities in my life to do small but meaningful things to help others while engaging in the mundane act of food shopping. My superpower has always been the ability to notice small details and I have proven especially adept at picking out opportunities for small, random acts of humanness at the market. I don’t call it kindness because I believe that it is our duty and it is what makes us human.

Often, it is merely the observation of a small, elderly person or a vertically challenged young one that needs help lifting something or reaching an item on the top shelf. It happens frequently, the markets pile things so high these days. I see, as bright as day, a person in need of assistance and I am truly amazed at how many people DON’T and instead walk right by. Today, it happened to me twice so I felt compelled to blog about it.

I went to see my son today in MA. I was early so I stopped at the local market to grab him some supplies for his apartment. I was in the pet food aisle and a elderly man was trying to put a 24 lb bag of cat food into his carriage. I could see him struggling with it and I quickly went over and did it for him. He was very appreciative. I said,

“It’s nothing. Have a nice day.” As opportunities sometimes arrive, I was parked next to him and we left at the same time. I grabbed the same bag of cat food and put it in his trunk for him.

After helping my son I headed home and on the way stopped at a different market. As soon as I reached aisle 3 there was a vertically challenged woman staring at a box of rice pilaf. The shelf was partially empty and it was a good reach, even for me to get to it. I asked her,
“How many do you want?”
“Excuse me?”
“How many boxes of that Pilaf?”
“Oh, 3 please. Thank you.”
“Not a big deal, have a nice day.” It really wasn’t a big deal after all. It is my duty, my obligation, my pleasure.

About 3 months ago my youngest boy was up visiting me and we went to the local market. After grabbing a few items we jumped into the 14 items or less checkout lane. As soon as I got in line I knew that we made a mistake. There was some kind of holdup with the person in front of me. My son pointed out that other lanes were moving but I didn’t move. I had a feeling I knew what was going on. The person didn’t have enough money and the cashier was voiding out items. I knew what I was going to do. As she voided her last item I noticed that the cashier had piled the items behind her at the register. The woman had just gotten her receipt and was about to walk out and I asked her to hold on a moment.
“Would you please add those items to my order, bag them separately so that she can have them?”
The cashier smiled and immediately rang them up. The woman vehemently objected. I told her,
“It’s done. Don’t worry about it.”
She thanked me profusely, I waved to her and told her to have a nice night. I caught my son’s eye.
“Nice move, Dad.” As we walked out I told him,
“It’s nothing she wouldn’t have done for me.”
“Not really Dad, not everyone does stuff like that. You don’t even know if she has money. Maybe her card was bad and she’s rich.”
“It doesn’t matter kid, what matters is that at that moment she needed help. Remember the homeless guy at Walmart?”
He did. When he was very young we got caught at the begging section of our local Walmart. If you miss the light, the homeless with signs walk up to your car and ask for money. I gave a guy two dollars. My son asked me if it was a good idea. After all, he might be an impersonator (it was known to happen).I told him,
“Maybe he is. But he may also need that money. I may never know but it only cost me 2 dollars either way.”
I know he retained it, hence the attaboy.

I’m not looking for a cookie here, I’m hopeful that someone will be inspired to keep their eyes open for an opportunity to help someone. It doesn’t take a lot; buy a homeless guy a McMuffin and a hot coffee on a cold day, reach for something off of the top shelf, help carrying groceries, let someone go before you in line, just say hi to someone who looks like they need it. It’s so damn easy and could make someone’s day.

If you live your life like your funeral is tomorrow, have the goal of someone reflecting on your life and thinking “Now that was a nice person.” You may have been a Captain of Industry, a CEO or a Nobel Prize winner. But were you a good and nice person? To me, that is the nicest thing someone can say about you.

the lucky hat

“Did you get that at Fenway?”
Startled from my apparent trance I turned to the kind-faced gentleman behind me in line at the market and recognized that he was referring to my hat. My favorite hat, the Red Sox Scali Cap. “Yes I did, actually” I replied.

“Bet that set you back a few bucks” he said

“Yea, but it was worth it. It’s my good will hat. Besides, it hides my chrome dome” and for effect I took it off and gestured self-deprecatingly at my bald head. He laughed and I then realized it was time to pay the clearly annoyed cashier who obviously had much better places to be today. I paid and walked out.

As I walked to my car I reflected on how NH life was growing on me but I’m still taken off of my game when someone just initiates friendly conversation. While I am a big fan of it I come from an area where people will generally read a candy bar wrapper to avoid eye contact. Enjoying that brief exchange with a friendly stranger, I opened my car to put my groceries in.

“What did you mean by Good Will hat? I thought you said you bought it at Fenway?” My friend from line was parked next to me. He thought I bought it at a GoodWill store.

I told him the Chili’s story.

Many years ago I was at Chili’s restaurant knocking back a few with my buddy Chuck. I liked the bar a lot and I really liked the bartender. Jane was a slightly heavy, forty-ish woman who was a refreshing change from the usual younger, vapid bartenders that flashed cleavage for tips but had little personality. Don’t get me wrong, I love tits but I’m old fashioned and like to have a bartender I can talk to also. I was wearing my hat. Jane was obsessed with my hat. She also had asked me if I had bought it at Fenway. She kept telling me how good I looked in it and I kept telling her to stop hustling for tips. She laughed. Then she told me how much her brother would love a hat like mine.

Over the course of several more beers Jane told Chuck and I of her brother in VT. He was dying of stage 4 prostate cancer. She wanted to get him something to cheer him up. She got a little emotional as she talked of him. The subject was changed.

When I paid my bill, I put the money inside my hat and left it on the bar. When she came over I slid the hat across the bar and told her to give it to her brother. She teared up and I tore out of there. No drama for me that night. Chuck slapped me on the back and told me what a nice gesture that was. Not to be immodest, but I do stuff like that pretty often. If I see a chance to make someone smile, unless I’m really attached to something I will usually give it away,

The next day I saw my buddy Steve on the street. He asked me where my hat was. Unbelievable. I told him the story and he also thought it was great.

2 weeks later I heard a knock on my door and when I opened it there stood Steve with a new hat. “For you” he said. “I was at the game last night, saw this and had to get it for you. You paid it forward and now I am too. Besides, you need to cover that bald head.”

When I finished telling my supermarket friend the story he was full of smiles. ” All of that from one hat, huh?”

“Yup, and every time I wear it I am reminded to spread some good will. Small gestures my friend”.

As we parted ways I jokingly remarked ” do you want it?” He laughed and got in his car.

Small gestures can mean the world to someone.

Give a little, get a lot

There’s an old adage that states:
“You can’t help those who can’t help themselves.”

While this is largely true there is a caveat. You still need to try.

It all started with a phone call from a friend and Masonic brother after 10 PM on a Saturday night in October. Despite the bond between Masonic brothers being mighty and strong, the late hour, and that this particular brother is long-winded and hard to get off the phone, I chose to let it go to voicemail. He immediately texted me imploring me to call him. I did.

He was in jail.

It turns out my Masonic brother, who is held to a higher standard by our fraternity and by his own commitment to be a better all-around man, was pulled over for speeding and then arrested for outstanding warrants. He was unlicensed, uninsured and in violation of not paying 2 years of child support. He needed my help, in particular he needed money. His car was impounded and he needed 500 dollars.

I offered my ear, the full extent of my advice and any resources I had to offer but I had no money to give. I implored him to reach out to his family. What he then told me made me realize that I actually knew very little about my friend.

I always knew that he was under-employed. When I reconnected with him 7 years ago (we were friends in HS) he was working part time which I thought was odd for a man my age with children. What I didn’t know, and learned that night, was that he hasn’t worked at all in 2 years. His girlfriend he lives with had finally grown tired of supporting him and asked him to move out. His mother refuses to have him stay at her house. His 2 ex wives hate him. He is in a deep depression, and he is blaming his current situation on it.

The temptation to be judgmental was overwhelming. I had serious questions and opinions on how he had let himself get into this situation. In particular how just getting a damn job could have prevented all of this. But it would have been kicking a man while he is down, it’s not my style and it isn’t helpful. I needed to help him then and kick his ass later.

I implored him to reach out to anyone in his family that he can borrow from to get his car out of impound. He called me the next morning, his son had stepped up and helped him.

I have seen him regularly since then. He still has no car or license, he has been sofa-hopping every night, a hearing for his support is pending and he isn’t working. To be fair, without a car or a mailing address he really can’t work. But in my heart of heart I knew that he wasn’t trying. He was doing the one thing I hate the most…feeling bad for himself. Still, I withheld judgement.

Last night he called me. The situation was critical. He is officially completely broke, has nowhere to stay and has noone to turn to. I talked to him for hours, but after hour 3 I realized that he has a fatal character flaw. He doesn’t listen, he merely waits to talk again. I wasn’t getting through to him. I verified that he had a place to sleep that night and ended the conversation for the night. I went to bed but didn’t sleep well. I was very worried about my friend.

This morning he called me early. He was in tears. He had been a closed off rock before, not being able to ask anyone for help and not taking advice, now he had finally lost it. He cried into the receiver about how he wanted to be a better man, how he couldn’t take feeling like this anymore but he didn’t know where to turn. For the first time, he was willing to hear my thoughts. I again resisted the urge to give some tough love, some hard advice. It still wasn’t the time. He needed some stability to get his tears out, not worry about where he would lay his head that night or where his next meal will come from. I told him to hold tight, that I would call him back.

Before I go any further let me say that if I wasn’t 100 miles away I would take him in in a second. But I can’t.

But I had another idea. A mutual friend and Masonic brother of ours had a spare room and had previously offered it to me. He had also mentioned that he would offer it to our friend if it absolutely came to that. I called him and told him that it had indeed come to that and I updated him on the status of our friend. We both agreed that something had to be done. Inaction could result in something tragic and neither of us could live with it having not done something.

He was open to the idea of letting our friend stay with him but he had some genuine, legitimate concerns. He is also struggling financially. He can barely feed himself and is wary of having another mouth to feed. This is a fair assessment, our friend doesn’t have any means to support himself and would need some generosity for a while. We talked about his own situation for a while. We had concluded that it would be a temporary help for our friend and other than financial, it wouldn’t put him out. In fact, he would welcome the company. But still, there was the matter of money.

I told him that I would give him a check for $200.00 to pay for enough groceries for one month. I really don’t have it to spare but I need to do something. He was taken back by my offer but grateful. He thanked me for the offer but he would have to call me back. He recognized the urgency but needed a moment to think. Before he hung up he asked me where our friend was staying. I gave him the address.

I just received a call from my distressed friend. He was picked up an hour ago and he is enroute to his temporary shelter. He tearfully thanked me for my assistance and pledged his undying gratitude. I told him to take the reprieve to assess, recover, relax and game plan his return to being a productive citizen.

I don’t know where he will be in a month. I plan on visiting them on Sunday to get a better feel for where he is going. I want to thank my friend and Masonic brother for putting our brother up. For now, I don’t have to worry about him succumbing to his depression.

I don’t have much in the way of assets, but I am always going to be as generous as my situation allows with what I do have. Empathy, a soft shoulder, a cache of hard-earned wisdom and a meager but consistent bank account can go a long way.

No-one can do everything. But everyone can do something.

Superman out.

Where you are is where you are meant to be

Today was a good day.

One year ago today I showed up at the town Food Pantry to hand out Turkeys and meal baskets to the less fortunate in our community. I was already a steady volunteer each Saturday but the Thanksgiving event was a separate, annual occasion. Our Pantry really steps it up, I think it’s the most generous around, we give absolutely everything one could ever need for a Thanksgiving feast including multiple Turkeys. We offer frozen and fresh, and I was charged with helping hand them out. As the youngest person there, charging me with manual labor made sense. I took my station on the Tailgate of Pete’s F250. Pete was a nice older guy, and as the day progressed I would learn that he had stage 4 Lung Cancer. Yet there he was, in the cold, handing out Turkeys in the cold. That day I went home feeling as if I was destined to have met him. I even wrote a post about it that nobody read. You can read it here if you would like.

Today, a year later, I worked with Pete again. I made a point of telling him how happy I was to see him. He was happy to be seen. He was one year older, much weaker and thinner. But he was there. He needed more help than last year and I was feeling good so I took the load off of him. I was proud to share a soul-warming endeavor with him. Little did I know that  today my heart would be challenged again.

I had gone to pick up a Christmas tree with another guy and when I pulled in to the pantry I parked behind a very decrepit Ford sedan. When I got out of my truck I noticed that the door was half open and the driver seemed to be struggling with it. I approached the driver and asked if she needed help. The gaunt, wrinkled face, adorned with an oxygen tube that greeted me was heartbreaking.
“Is this where the Turkeys are being given?” she asked me. She had labored to get the sentence out. The oxygen didn’t seem to help her, she was almost gasping for breath.
“Yes, in addition to a whole bunch of other goodies.” I replied. “Are you coming in?”
“I am, I’m just having a hard time getting out of my car.” Her labored breathing tugged at my heart.
I opened her door and helped her out. It was snowing and she was parked on an angle and really struggled. When she finally made it to her feet, I sized her up. 80 pounds at the very most, soaking wet. I assisted her up the driveway.

When we got inside, she claimed her allotted food. We offered her 2 turkeys, she insisted on one but we talked her into another. As I picked up her box of food I realized it weighed at least 50 pounds. There was no way that, even if I put it in the car for her (which I did for everyone) she could ever get it out. I portioned the box out into bags. When done, I concluded that she still would not be able to carry them. I knew what I had to do.

I walked with her to her car, 5 bags in one hand and 2 turkeys in the other, and loaded it into the trunk. I opened her door for her and helped her in. She thanked me for my help and said
“I’m June. I hope you have a nice Thanksgiving. You’re very kind.”
“I think I can do more” I replied. “Can I follow you home please, I would like to help you bring all of this heavy stuff in.”
“Oh, I could never. I have a friend that I can call. And my place is very messy.”
“June, may I insist? You also have a low tire. It’s snowing. I’d like to make sure you get home safe.”
She reluctantly agreed.

It was a slow ten miles. She drove very slow because of the weather and her tire. When we arrived at her apartment I knew from the humble exterior that the interior would be worse. I got out of my truck and met her at the trunk of her car. I knew she would try to grab some bags, she was very proud, so I grabbed them before she could. She laughed a little and led the way up her unshoveled walkway.

Entering her apartment I confirmed that it was indeed humble but it had a certain charm. She had plants and grow lights, some interesting décor and decent furniture. The only real clutter was about 75 feet of plastic oxygen tubing all over the floor. It was her lifeline of sorts.

After a slew of “Thank you’s”, we talked for a bit. As sad as her physical appearance was, her story was worse. June lived alone. Her youngest son is serving his 7th (yes you read that right 7th) tour in Afghanistan. Her other two sons are divorced and they moved to Kentucky. One ex-daughter in-law is still in the area with one grandson who is disabled. She has Emphysema from Asbestos exposure. When I asked her about Thanksgiving and who would be joining her she thinks that her ex-daughter in law is coming over. After hearing all of this I asked June if she had a pen.
“Why do you ask?” she replied.
“Because you are going to write down my name and my number and you are going to call me if there is ever anything I can do for you. You call and I will be here. Promise?”

She teared up a bit and she did. She said she will. I went outside and found my portable air pump and extension cord in my tool box. I found an outlet on the outside of her building and pumped her tire. Then I left.

When I got back to the Food Pantry a couple of people praised me for helping her. I personally couldn’t imagine not helping her. One lady, a regular volunteer, cautioned me about how some of our “clients” are “Sponges” and that I should be careful with my efforts. I couldn’t disagree more.

Basic kindness is the definition of a oft-misused expression…”it’s the least I can do.” Helping others, even in a small way really is the least that you can do. And you can do more.

I’m glad I met June today. In fact, just like last year, I think I was supposed to meet her. It all started by putting myself in the right place at the right time, and where I needed to be.

 

Right place, right time

I can’t help but notice that lately, I have found myself in exactly the right place at the right time.

Last weekend, at Wal-Mart, I was walking in the right place when a young boy broke free from his mother’s clutch in the parking lot.  I took two steps and grabbed him by the arm before he made it into the path of traffic. The mother gave me a breathless Thank you and I tipped my beloved Red Sox Scalli Cap at her and went on my way.

Yesterday I was at the Supermarket and I noticed a sweet old lady staring helplessly at an item on the top shelf. I knew she wanted it, I knew she wouldn’t ask for help and I also knew no one was going to even if she did. I approached her, asked if she would like some help and retrieved the item for her. She was so grateful, it’s sad that the world has come to this. Then, one aisle over, a very short mother with two toddlers caused an accidental avalanche of cereal boxes by reaching and I caught several boxes before they hit her on the head.

None of these things were too out of the ordinary, but they were bunched pretty tightly together. As I tend to do, I was reminded of a memory, a time when being in the right place at the right time became a day that I will never forget. One that also, for the first time, convinced me that my Dad may have been right when he told me that everything happens for a reason.

After my Kidney Transplant in 2011, I chose to join the Fraternity of Freemasonry. It was something that I had always thought about as a younger man. It started as far back as my Great Uncle Cyrus’s funeral. He was a wonderful man that just lived too far away so I barely knew him as a child. We exchanged letters and my Grandmother said that he was quite fond of me despite our few meetings.

In 1981 Cyrus passed away. My Mom, Dad, Grandparents and I made the trek to clean out his stately house on the coast of Cape Cod. It took the whole weekend to dig through his belongings and it would conclude with the reading of his last will and testament. I don’t remember everything about it but I do remember when the attorney announced that I was to receive his late wife’s car, a 65 Ford Falcon ( a real gem that I had for years). The other standout from that day was my the dismayed look on my Grandmother’s face as a seemingly endless list of $5000.00 donations to various institutions and charities was read. It was money that she thought she would get as the Executrix of his will. I would later find out that those donations were made in the name of Freemasonry, the oldest and most honorable fraternity in the world. I was intrigued, to say the least.

In 2012 I was consumed with the desire to “pay it forward” after a wonderful person stepped out of the shadows and gave me a life-saving organ transplant. I decided that it was the perfect time to look into Freemasonry, to honor my Great Uncle and better myself. You may have heard that Freemasonry, or Masonry, is highly secretive. To a degree that is true. We have some. But it is no secret that men join to become better men; better husbands, fathers, brothers, friends etc.,. they are known to do this through those things which are larger than oneself. Charity chief among them.

I applied, petitioned for membership and in February, a date that I hoped my father would live to see (he died the previous December), I became a Master Mason. It was the beginning of my journey to being a better person and I had a fire in my belly.

That very February I learned about a Masonic program called the “HELP” program. It is created by, managed and operated exclusively by Masons, all of which are unpaid volunteers. It is an incredible program, we collect donated medical equipment and supplies from families who have either lost a relative or recuperated from a serious illness. It is a program spread by word-of-mouth only and is free to the public for as long as they need it. I knew that I had to check it out so I signed up to volunteer the following Saturday morning.

The local chapter of the Help program was in the parking lot of a local Masonic lodge where they worked out of locked storage containers. We were fortunate to have an unseasonably warm day for February. It wasn’t hard to imagine how unpleasant it must have been on cold, wintry days. Being my first day, I knew nothing about what to do other than signing in. So I took the opportunity to survey the equipment they had to offer. I was actually amazed at the number of motorized beds, mattresses. walkers, commodes, adult diapers and therapeutic equipment available to the public. I was also quite impressed with the amount of fellow Masons, or Brothers as we call each other, toiling away repairing and cleaning equipment and preparing for the rush. As the Newbie, I just sat back and watched.

It wasn’t long before “the rush” began. Cars filled the parking lot and people were milling about looking at the equipment. I was standing awkwardly at the back when a woman walked up to me and abruptly asked me if I “worked here”. I quickly replied that I was a volunteer but I would be glad to help her. To be honest, at first impression I didn’t like her. She was abrupt, seemed impatient and she violated my cardinal rule, she didn’t say hello to me. Fortunately, I quickly reminded myself where I was and why people came here. They had a very ill person to care for. I gave her my full attention.

She truly had no idea what she needed and after aimlessly dragging me around she admitted it. I inquired of her who was sick and the condition. To my amazement, she answered that it was her father, 74, who was in the advanced phase of Parkinson’s disease. I was floored. Just 2 months before I had lost my father, at 74, to Parkinson’s. I became emotional but I adhered to the task at hand. I began to show her all of the equipment that we had available that would make caring for her father easier. I got her a walker, a commode. a lift that helps get a person out of bed and many more items. We spent over an hour picking the items out and talking about our dads.

After we “checked out” all of the equipment I walked to her van to help her load everything into her car. As I was lifting one of the heavier items she asked me why I (we) do this. I explained to her that Masons are a charitable group and we, by definition help people. She asked me if I was here every Saturday. I explained that it was entirely up to me how often I volunteered. She looked me in the eye and asked me,

“What are the odds that you and I would pick this Saturday and that I would end up asking you, perhaps the best person ever to help me out, for help?”

“I think this is a moment that was meant to happen. I sincerely hope that it will be of assistance to your father.”

She smiled, reached in and hugged me (catching me completely by surprise) and walked around her car to get in. As she ducked out of sight into her seat she smiled again. It was a sad smile, almost forced through a face heavy with sadness, but it was one I will never forget.

There were many lessons learned that day but the predominant theme was that it was an incredible case of “right place, right time.”

And it is a tough act to follow.

 

A life of virtue

I almost had to peel myself out of bed this morning, reeling from fatigue and another inconvenient gout flare-up. This time it’s in my ankle and my right elbow. It’s excruciating. Apparently, the 1000.00 per month medication prescribed to prevent gout is a real winner. I choked down 25mg of Prednisone in hopes that I would be able to support weight on my left foot by noon. I headed out at 9:15 to the local food pantry at the local church, where I volunteer almost every Saturday.

I really enjoy volunteering. There is a real need in my community, there is a large segment of poverty on the fringe of all of the “old money” in town. This need requires volunteers, which are few. In the winter the population is 25% of what it is when the sun is out. Of the remaining 25%, many go to Florida. By being there every week in the winter I help make sure   that they have enough coverage.

A morning at the food pantry consists of a rotating cast and crew of really nice people. Most of them know my family so it wasn’t hard to blend in. Each week, anywhere between 10-15 families come in and we set them up with a lot of healthy goodies. It’s about 3 hours of steady moving, packing and small talk. Today, as I was checking my email during a break. dear sweet Bonnie said to me, “Bill, how come we never see you at church on Sunday?” Oh boy, here we go. As I began to formulate my answer I realized that all eyes were on me, as if to all say “yea, how come?” Not wanting to get into it, I explained to them that I’m just not a “church guy”. The hymns, responsive readings, symbolism, and idolatry don’t do it for me. I explained that I have a complex relationship with Spirituality that is still in progress. I left them with the Kayak quote:

Religion is sitting in church thinking about Kayaking. Spirituality is sitting in a kayak thinking about God

That seemed to satisfy them. We moved on. I limped out of there on time and went home, hoping the prednisone would kick in enough to force a quick 1/2 hour on the hamster wheel before I run out of spoons for the day.

As I was making a quick sandwich, Mom said “Going to Church tomorrow?” I facepalmed dramatically. “What?” she said. I explained to her that I just went through this. Mom has always thought that I don’t like church because of an incident I had in high school with a sanctimonious son-of-a-bitch minister who slapped my cousin. I have spent the last 30 plus years trying to convince her otherwise. In the moment, I decided to have this conversation for hopefully the last time. I looked at her and said,

“Church or no Church, aren’t I living a life of virtue”? I went on to explain that I try always to be nice, courteous, respectful, charitable, etc, isn’t that as good as going to Church for an hour a week and stare at the plaster ceilings, waiting for the cracks to appear? She doesn’t get it, she never will. Even the Kayak quote wasn’t pushing this one over the curb.

When I used the word virtue, it just kinda popped out. It is a lofty word with multiple synonyms that range from purity to righteousness, to morality. I will only go so far as to say that I try to live my life with integrity. I grappled for years with virtue, wondering how I could lead a good life without religion. It wasn’t until I reconciled that good vs evil is the same thing as good vs bad that I made any significant strides. I asked myself, do I need 10 commandments to know not to steal, kill or shag my neighbor’s wife? Any decent person knows this. I always try to do the right thing, that’s all.

I always tried to pay attention to little things like pausing in supermarket aisles to offer to reach items on the top shelf for little old ladies, carrying heavy items for people, opening doors, buying a coffee for the guy ringing the bell outside the WalMart at Christmas. Small, human gestures.

Post-transplant, full of “pay it forward“, I stepped it up and joined a fraternal organization dedicated to self-improvement and community. Blood drives, community breakfasts, an anonymous foundation for charitable giving to school kids with needs that don’t fit traditional programs, working the registration tent at a Down’s Syndrome “Buddy Walk”  became my Saturday mornings. They were all small gestures that helped people and gave me a real sense of purpose in life.

Unfortunately, I got sick again just as I was really starting to get going. It wasn’t long before I found myself as I am now. Weak in body, Spiritually available to what the Universe has in store for me. With this spirit in mind, I have scaled back my goals to just trying to be a good person. It’s all I have. Energy availability aside, I know that I have enough in me to be kind to strangers. I can certainly say please and thank you. I will continue to treat those that serve me with kindness and dignity. I am able to hold a door and grab something off of the top shelf for someone. I can muster the strength to listen to a friend who needs someone to talk to. I can find the energy to not lie, cheat or steal and to be good to my word, shake a man’s hand and look him in the eye.

I found my purpose. Not to be a good Christian or a benevolent Pagan. My purpose is to be nice. It takes almost zero energy to just be nice. So few are willing to take the job and my resume is a mess anyway, so I’ll take the job. If Jesus is real, I’ll let him decide my worth. I don’t know if that is what a “religious” person considers to be a life of Virtue but I would certainly think it will get me a pass to sleep in on Sunday morning. At least until Kayak season.
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Perhaps I will show my mother this post, and put this to bed forever.

 

How to make an old lady cry

But first a joke:

Q: How do you get an 80-year-old lady to say the F-word?

A: Have another 80-year-old lady yell Bingo

All kidding aside, I did it today. I’m a bad man.

When I first moved up here in August I made it a point to get to know as many people in town as I could. It’s a nice community and I didn’t want to be the “new guy” that people stared at for long (in a town this small it could take years). In addition, I needed money so I put it out there to the few that I met that I was available for small jobs. In an aging community such as this, I was sure that I would be utilized. One woman, in particular, was excited at the prospect of some help and invited me over to show me some projects she wanted to be done. She was a sweet lady in her early 80’s, very fit for her age with an 1800’s era farmhouse that was clearly in need of major repairs. She offered me some work in her enormous yard, all manageable stuff, and left it with me that she would call when she was ready for me. She never called.

I saw her at the Community Club meeting in December and I asked her, nicely, why she never called me. She had seemed so eager after all. She dodged the question and I let it go. I would find out later that she is very poor and probably is unable to pay me. We never actually discussed money, but I know that I would be reasonable with her. Anything helps after all. I decided that I would say something to her.

As the meeting wound down and everyone was putting on their coats, I approached her and said “We never actually talked about money, but I assure you it’s not a big deal to me. If you need something just call me I’ll be happy to help.” She looked as though someone had removed 200 pounds from her shoulders, the elephant in the room had left. She thanked me and went home.

She called me Saturday morning. She asked me if I would help her remove some snow from her roof. It was an understandable request, she certainly has at least a foot of it on her house and her roof is old. I told her I would be over to take a look at it Sunday at 11. I went over and when she showed me I wanted to say no. I’m in the middle of a disability claim and falling off a roof would certainly be inadvisable. It looked brutally difficult and time-consuming and I wasn’t sure if I was up to it. We talked for a while and in the course of the conversation, and she wasn’t trying to do this, she painted a picture of how alone she was, how overwhelmed with the maintenance of the old house, and how she was struggling with this brutal winter. I immediately knew that I would help her. As the conversation wound down on its own momentum, I said “I’ll be here Tuesday at 10. It won’t rain between now and then you’ll be fine.” She was so very happy.

I wasn’t. I was dreading it. It would be hard, treacherous work. But the weather would at least be warm.

I showed up this morning dressed in my best waterproof gear. Boots, snow pants, gloves, shovel and snow rake and I was ready to go. I trudged around the back of the house through unbroken snow (harder than it looks), climbed the ladder and immediately knew I had made an enormous mistake. There was more snow than on Keith Richards’ coffee table. But I went to it.

It was brutal work, it was warm enough that my feet went right down to the slippery surface. I almost fell off the roof twice. I had to move all of the snow to the front of the house because the back side was weak and I may fall through. 3 hours later I had managed, after frequent breaks to suck wind, to shovel all of it to the front side of the house. I was exhausted. I slid, no joke, to the ladder on my back and headed down. Once I trudged to the front of the house I realized I had completely filled in her shoveled walkway with the snow from the roof. 45 minutes later that was done. And so was I.

Exhausted, I went into her open barn and sat down on a lawn chair. A few minutes later she pulled in to the driveway and came in the barn. She was pleased with the work and could see that I was wiped out.

“Thank you so much, how much do I owe you?”

I looked up and said, “You owe me nothing.”

She was flustered, insistent that I simply couldn’t do that. I told her I wouldn’t take her money. She started to cry.

I explained to her that I was going for a different reaction. I wanted her to be happy. To have one less thing to worry about. She was so truly grateful I almost got emotional. I knew that I wasn’t going to accept any money from her that previous Sunday. I surmised that she would have to pay a snow removal service hundreds of dollars she didn’t have if I said no. Now that I was done, alive, vertebrae intact and out of cardiac arrest danger, it felt right.

“I have to do something for you, at some point,” she said, more composed. I told her I lost my hat. If it blows off the roof in the spring let me know.

You don’t give to get. You give for the sake of giving. Today I was able to make an old lady cry. And dammit, I’ll do it again. ‘Cause I’m a jerk like that.

Peace

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