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.

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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