The big man looked uncomfortable, waiting there on the sidewalk for me. I don’t suppose he could have been waiting too long.
I was mowing my lawn, focusing on keeping the lines straight, but I could hardly have missed him for even one pass of the lawn.
He waved a big, ham-sized hand at me when he knew I had seen him—a clear message he wanted me to stop and talk with him.
Never one to miss an opportunity to shirk my lawn tending labors, I complied.
“Do you have a power screwdriver I could borrow?”
The question seemed a little odd.
I looked around, but saw no car or, for that matter, any other indication of which direction the unfamiliar man had come from. I don’t normally loan tools to strangers walking down the street, so I looked back at him and wondered aloud what he needed the tool for.
He waved that same large hand over his shoulder and explained sheepishly:
“I’m visiting my mother-in-law up there, and was backing out of her driveway, but I hit the mailbox across the street.”
Glancing up the direction he indicated, I saw the mailbox lying on the grass and nodded.
“No one is home and I want to fix it, but I don’t have any tools at the house at all.” He thought for a minute as if to be sure he wanted to say the next words.
“I’ll pay you.”
I brushed aside his offer and told him I wouldn’t take money for helping neighbors. Leaving the mower where it sat, I went inside and grabbed my handy-dandy battery-powered screwdriver, with attachments.
Mike is a rough-cut retired trucker, who understands that neighbors are high up on the scale of significant people, even when he is not in his own neighborhood.
I liked him.
We laughed as we worked and sweated in the hot sun, enjoying the camaraderie which comes from accomplishing a worthwhile task together.
I bent down to put away my tools and as I stood again, he stuck out that big hand to shake mine, which was completely engulfed in his grip. As I took my hand away and looked down at it, I saw he had left a ten dollar bill in my palm.
“No. I’m just helping a neighbor, too,” I protested.
He wasn’t listening. “You didn’t have to help me, but you did. Thanks.”
I shoved the bill in my pocket, telling him as I did that I would pass it on to someone else who needed it worse than I. He nodded, smiling, and waved, a huge gesture in the air above his head, as he walked toward his mother-in-law’s front door.
I headed back across the street to start my mower again, still grinning to myself. But, somehow, there was the shadow of a negative thought gnawing at the back of my brain.
I saw another mailbox in my head, years ago–now where did that come from?
Oh, yes. Thirty -five years ago, it was.
“He just knocked it over! Never told anyone–just drove away.”
The irate voice on the telephone belonged to a lady I knew only slightly. She had attended our church off and on—more off than on at the time.
I asked for more information to fill in the gaps and fill them in, she did.
“That preacher came and got the church bus last night. It’s parked right next door, you know. Well, when he backed out, he hit the mailbox across the street. He knew he did it too, because he got out and looked at the back of the bus. Then he glanced around to make sure no one saw him, got back in, and drove away.”
Obviously, she was angry–with good reason. I didn’t know what to tell her.
Thirty-five years later, I still don’t.
And, that’s the reason for my pesky negative thoughts, as I consider my new friend Mike and his actions that hot summer day.
You see, Mike isn’t an intellectual man, hasn’t spent a lifetime studying the scriptures, but he understands that neighbors are important people.
No one saw him back into the mailbox. He won’t be back to visit for months, yet he wouldn’t think about driving away without making amends for his accident.
The preacher, on the other hand, had all the knowledge necessary to understand, without any ambiguity, what was required of him.
What made him drive away instead? Was it arrogance? Fear? Impatience? Did he just have more important things to do?
I can’t answer the questions.
And, maybe that’s a good thing, since it keeps me from pointing my finger too squarely at him.
I do know more is required of me. I know more is required of each of us.
I wonder if I need to clarify that we are no longer talking about mailboxes and next-door neighbors. That is a tiny part of it, but there is a much bigger picture.
The cautionary tale of the old truck driver and the preacher should serve to knock apart any preconceived notions we may have about who really understands right and wrong.
If God’s love hasn’t reached into the depths of our hearts, what comes to the surface, embodied in our actions, will be ungodly, regardless of our claims of a personal relationship with Him. (Luke 16:10-15)
A degree in theology scribbled behind our name doesn’t void this; a lifetime spent in church won’t alter it.
Only a clear sense of our own debt to love can lead to the realization that we must–absolutely must–extend that same love to our neighbor.
I’m pretty sure that if they breathe the same air I breathe, they are my neighbors.
There is no human being to whom I do not owe the great debt of love. Not one.
I’ve backed over some mailboxes myself.
Okay, not actually mailboxes. But still, I’ve done a good deal of damage in my lifetime. I’ve driven away time and again without a backward look.
I want to be like Mike.
How about it? I wonder if someone out there has a tool or two that I could borrow.
Maybe, if I ask a friend, I could even get a helping hand.
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.
(from The Weight of Glory ~ C.S. Lewis~English educator/author~1898-1963)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.