I needed to shovel the snow for the third day in a row yesterday. I started to shovel in front of our house.
Not long after I began shoveling our walk, I remembered that our neighbor guy three doors down would be out of town for the next two weeks. With Dad gone, that leaves the mom (who works full time), the grandma, and the two-year-old daughter. My conscience kicked in. It sure would be kind if I could help out and do this one small chore for them so they wouldn't have to bear the cold and risk slipping on the ice. Easy, right? Shovel your neighbors’ walk. Fifteen minutes. Done.
Confession time: I don't usually think about helping my neighbors and shoveling their walks. Sad, but true. I just go about my business and do my own thing, get my work done, and then move on to the next thing on my list. But this past Saturday, my middle son came out to help me shovel. I thought this was a good activity to teach him how we can help people in all sorts of ways, even on our own block.
(Is it sad that I first think of helping others when I know it will teach my kids about compassion? I guess I have a long way to go before I experience a full change of heart.)
So, we shoveled their walk two days ago. Today, I was out there shoveling by myself again. I thought to myself, No one is here to see me or learn from me. Why am I not I shoveling their walk again? Okay, okay. I will go and shovel their walk.
But in order to get to their home, I needed to pass my immediate neighbors’ walk. I have lived next door to them for ten years and I have never once shoveled their walk. They don't speak English, but we have lived peacefully near each other and watched our kids play together for years. The grandma has helped me weed my garden and we have shared plates of food with one another often.
Would I really walk past their snowy sidewalk and not help out? Fifteen people live in that house, I said to myself. Many capable people who could shovel. But just because they can shovel their own walk, doesn't mean I couldn't show kindness to even them, my conscience reminded me. So, I just kept on shoveling.
In the next house lives our neighbor who is… difficult. Two years ago, while I was holding my baby, a SWAT team nearly ran us down as they busted in this neighbor's door looking for a stolen weapon. I then watched as the dad and uncles became physically and verbally aggressive while they cleaned up glass from the broken door and window. Things are hard at that house. Yet, are they not worthy of kindness? Would a kind act show this family compassion and a little bit of joy? So, I just kept on shoveling.
The next lot has been abandoned since a tornado came through our neighborhood—more than a year ago. It sits neglected, with all doors and windows boarded up. We thought the city might own it, but a few weeks ago a couple of guys came and cleaned out the house. Now I see a “For Sale” sign on the lawn.
I'm not going to lie, many of us were grateful when this family left. They were really hard to love. All sorts of shady things happened in that house. The cops were there regularly. A few years back, they received a lot of attention when their bulldog was shot and killed in their basement. What bothered me most, though, was how the oldest son talked to his little brother. Judging from their interactions, it was obvious that abuse was present in that household.
Regardless, it was the one house that sat between the walks I had shoveled and the one I was trying to reach. So, I just kept on shoveling.
I don't know if anyone was going to come and shovel there. I doubt it. But I thought about all the people who would walk on that sidewalk to get to the bus stop or to work. I thought about the mailman. After shoveling yet another walk, I finally made it to our friends' walkway.
I kept on shoveling, and while doing so, I thought about:
The family of fifteen who has lots of capable people to shovel.
The family who honestly kind of scares me.
The abandoned home with no family, but such a horrifying history.
The family—our friends—in need.
I realized that all the while I had been placing judgments on who was worth my time and kindness. Who really needs my help? Those are the people I should help, right?