A couple of weeks ago, I decided to take advantage of the lovely weather we were having and go for a walk. My day had been decidedly disappointing and I needed to burn off some steam. I have often found the quickest cure to feeling bad about something is to walk it off.
So I grabbed my ear buds and set off into the neighborhood.
Along the way, I came across an older gentleman picking up what looked like broken glass from a car accident in the middle of the road. When I asked him what happened he said there had been a couple of teenagers that got in a fender bender and this was what remained. We both agreed the most important thing was no one was hurt.
I’d be remiss if I said I instantly jumped in and started helping him clean up the shards of what ended up not being glass but just plastic from the side mirror. I didn’t. I put my ear buds back in and kept right on my merry way.
I was, after all, walking off my bad day.
But the more steps I took away from the sweet old man cleaning up the street by himself, the more guilt I felt.
Why wasn’t I helping? What on earth was the matter with me?
I went back and offered to lend a hand and he passed me a plastic bag. I was shocked at how many people stopped to ask what happened, got the information and were on their way. I silently wagged my judgmental finger at them (nevermind I had just done the exact same thing) and swallowed my bitter pill of disdain (after all, this wasn’t my street but I was helping out!) but it didn’t seem to bother my neighbor. He just went about picking up the broken pieces as though he were pulling weeds from his own garden.
We politely chatted, as often strangers do, exchanging information in an effort to get to know each other. All along, I had assumed we were in standing in front of his house but it turns out he lived across the street from where the accident took place! I marveled at this man’s dedication to cleaning up debris from someone else’s yard without complaint.
As our pleasant conversation continued while picking up the shattered pieces, all the crappy stuff that had been bothering me throughout the day melted away. So what if no one else was helping. It felt good to be doing such a random good deed!
Fast forward to Trash Day. I take a quick walk and along the way, I pick up random trash on the street that had fallen out of cans and place it in the receptacles (never thought you’d see that word outside the movie theatre, right?) On my way home, I discover broken glass all over the street a few doors down.
I quickly take my neighbor’s lead and head home to collect my broom and dustpan so I can rectify the broken glass situation. I don’t post it on social media, claiming fame to my good deed, I just do it. It felt good. It felt right. My neighbors will never know there was broken glass in their driveway. I was stealth. I took care of it. Broken glass no more!
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting any Pay It Forward reciprocation. I just wanted to be the kind of neighbor like the one I stumbled upon on my walk, the one who doesn’t care where the yard lines are drawn.
But when I came home from an exhausting day and saw the dead opossum in the street in front of my house, I did want Pay It Forward reciprocation. I wanted to claim “Broken Glass this Morning!” in hopes the Universe would instantly address the opossum situation.
But of course the Universe has more important things to deal with.
I realized in an instant my kind neighbor wouldn’t have wanted anything in return for cleaning up broken glass and yet here I was demanding the Universe take care of the opossum on the basis of by golly, what goes around better darn well come back around.
The opossum was eventually taken care of and inspired by my neighbor’s good deed, I continue to pick up trash on my walks. I’m just a Good Neighbor-in-Training, not quite the Master like the lovely gentleman who lives down the street.
But hey, it’s a start.
And if we all start somewhere, I willing to bet it will amount to a whole lot.