On March 20th, after just one week home because of the coronavirus, I saw this question on Reddit: “What has the pandemic ruined for you?”
‘Gosh,’ I thought. ‘What a terrible way to look at it. What about the bright side?’
Two weeks later, I understand this person’s mindset somewhat better.
Though most of us are not physically ill, there is tremendous suffering. Fear, anxiety, grief, loneliness, educational concerns, and serious financial distress. For every person who is trying to embrace the benefits of wide avenues of time, there is another who can only think that this time is coming at great cost.
There are blessings, silver linings for sure, but telling anyone, “You should be grateful,” is callous and unfeeling when they are suffering.
That’s what I was thinking as I stared out the window on a gloomy Saturday afternoon. The rain had stopped for a bit and between drops still falling from the roof, I saw my gray-haired neighbor Ed* come out of his house in his sweatpants and slippers and collect his mail. He stood still for a second or two, rifling through the stack, then turned away from his home. My curiosity piqued, I watched him amble across the street and up onto the porch of Walter’s house, where he put some misdelivered letters and catalogs into the red square mailbox under the awning.
‘That’s neighborly.’ I thought, and then warmth filled my heart as I remembered…
This is the same man who’s helped me countless times to track down our belligerent Beagle Luna after she’s jumped our fence and followed her nose into the woods behind his home. A man who, with his wife Carol, has always bought Boy Scout popcorn from our oldest son, is generous at Halloween, and has offered to help my husband with troublesome trees that cascade over our yard.
‘But,’ I considered, as I watched him slowly retrace his steps and open his own front door, ‘I appreciate him most for that tree.’
It’s a 20-foot pine in his front yard that he’s decorated with colored lights all 18 Christmases I’ve lived in this neighborhood, a sight that blesses my entire season every single year. I can see it from my bedroom, so every December night before I close the drapes and put on my pajamas, I stop to look at it – red, blue, green, and gold twinkles in the inky darkness.
I never told Ed and Carol that I appreciated the effort it takes to trim this tree each year, that I have always felt outdoor decorations were somehow meant for the entire community, and that I have accepted this tree as something of a personal gift from them and am immensely grateful for it.
But – I had long felt that I should.
One of my favorite truisms is, “Never ignore a generous impulse,” and yet this was a strong inner nudge I had ignored for far too long. For years in fact, I’d rationalized it away.
‘A note thanking them for their Christmas tree would be just too weird,’ I’d thought. ‘You don’t know them well. You’re so sentimental, Gretchen. It’s too much and it would make them uncomfortable.’
But the nudge never let up, so I finally settled on this excuse: unusual times call for unusual measures.
Three weeks into the pandemic I wrote the note and taped it to their front door. Thanked them for all the things….especially the Christmas tree. Figured they wouldn’t be afraid to read it because Ed carried mail barehanded over to Walter’s.
Within two hours they called. Ed said Carol could hardly stop crying from the shock of it – that the note made them both feel so good, it meant so much to them. After several minutes, Carol got on the line and told me, “I didn’t know people noticed.”
She didn’t know people noticed…the kindness, the consideration, the attempts to be neighborly.
Do you see this around you, too? Is there anyone you have felt nudged to thank?
In a time when gratitude can be hard to muster, it’s helping me to keep my eyes and memory open to see what’s been there all along – loving, good-hearted people, living just a couple houses away.
With an abundance of love and a little precaution, our shared hope is that the pandemic won’t ruin that for any of us.
No one should seek his own advantage, but that of his neighbor.
1 Corinthians 10:24 (NAB)
*Names have been changed