The racket from a snow shovel wasn’t all that familiar a sound to my ears back then, but I knew what it was. I wondered who was out working in the failing light and why. The six inches of snow that had fallen earlier had effectively closed down our sleepy little burg, and unless there was an emergency, no one was out on the roads. As darkness fell, it could only get more slick out.
Scrunchhh! I heard it again.
Holding the curtain on the big window aside, I looked across the street. There he was. Mr Harold, the crotchety old guy in the house on the corner was out shoveling his drive. Close to eighty years old, the portly, balding man set his shovel down for another pass across the parking area in front of his garage. I stood and considered my next move.
Oh, it doesn’t matter. You know what I did.
Yeah. I went and got my shovel. Crossing the road, I walked up his drive and stood near him, ready to get to work.
“Hi, Mr. Harold! It’s a little nippy out, isn’t it?” I said the words lightly, but I wasn’t prepared for his reaction to my presence.
You know what I expected, don’t you? Surely he would thank me for coming out to help. Possibly, he would protest that he was able to do the task himself. Regardless, he would be grateful and we’d make short work of the job, a job which would have taken a long time and have been much harder to do by himself.
I was wrong.
“What do you want?” It wasn’t a friendly question. The man was openly suspicious.
“What do you mean?” My reaction was almost as abrupt as his question. I had been taken aback by his attitude and needed a minute to find my bearings.
“You want something. What is it? The old guy looked at me, his lips pursed and with a surly set to his chin.
I finally got what he was driving at. He thought I wanted him to pay me for helping. He assumed that I would never do the job for nothing.
“No. Nothing. I’m just trying to be a neighbor.” The words from my mouth were polite and reassuring, but in my mind, I added the words “you grouchy old geezer” silently. I didn’t wait for a reply but started my own swath down the drive.
We finished the whole driveway in near silence. The last shovelful was pushed off onto the lawn before he really spoke.
“Thank you. Not many people do nice things for me nowadays.”
I looked into his face once more and saw a different person than the one who had been there the first time I’d looked. The angry, suspicious Mr. Harold was gone. This Mr. Harold was softer, perhaps even close to tears.
I smiled. “Neighbors ought to help each other.”
He smiled back and offered his hand to shake mine. I crossed the street and he went back into his house. He was never a crotchety old guy again, but was a good neighbor, waving when he saw us and always cheerful when we had the chance to talk. I helped him a time or two more while we lived in that house.
Funny. The older I get, the more I understand him. It makes me sad that I understand him.
“…just remember, life turned her that way.”
For some reason, I hear the hillbilly twang of the singer’s voice as the words come to my memory. The old country song excuses the coldness and bitterness of the person under consideration, assuming that we will agree it’s a reasonable explanation, knowing all she has been through.
I want it not to be true.
I especially want it not to be true in me.
Suspicion is not a pretty thing. It is a reaction which is born of long experience. When people take advantage of us often enough, we assume all people wish to take advantage of us. When we are fed enough sales pitches by folks who claim to have our best interests at heart, we assume every phone call is a sales pitch. I know. I hear it in the voice of every person who answers the phone when I call, asking for the person I need to speak with. The second I identify myself, their voice changes, the suspicion gone, the former hardness absent.
I’m reasonably certain that suspicion keeps us apart as a human race. It makes us avoid folks who don’t look like we do, or people who don’t believe like we do. I’m even thinking it convinces many of us not to even attempt to fulfill our responsibility to those who are unfortunate enough to have needs. We believe they will exploit us, will milk us of everything we are willing to offer. We expect them to cheat us.
Funny, isn’t it? We actually cheat them as we close our hearts and our hands. The opportunities for them to see God in us are lost. All because of suspicion.
And in the end, we are also cheated. We’re cheated of friendship, of generosity, of love that gives regardless of the cost and response.
David, that greatest of worshipers, says of God that He opens His hand and satisfies the desire of every living creature.
We, too, can have open hands and satisfy the needs of those who surround us.
The telephone rang in the music store one day last week. I picked up the receiver and heard the voice of a telemarketer. As I waited for an opportune moment to close down his memorized sales spiel, I happened to look at my free hand. What do you suppose I saw?
A clenched fist. A fist that said, “You’ll get nothing from me!” The automatic reaction to every perceived attempt to separate me from my worldly goods.
There is a reason they call selfish misers tight-fisted.
I’m not certain it’s only a coincidence we fight people with that same clenched fist. I’m suggesting tonight that it might be time to open our hands–might be time for us to reach out in love instead of grasping in fear.
I’m thinking it might be time we have a new explanation for our actions.
Love turned us this way.
“As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way.”
(Mary Ann Radmacher ~ American author)
“…I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.'”
(Deuteronomy 15:11b ~ ESV)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.
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