With my noise-canceling earbuds in, I was deep in thought when I saw her wave at me frantically. I paused my problem-solving, which some would deem as worry, and looked at her.
She had a shovel in her hand and looked like she had been attempting to chip away at the ice that was thick across the bottom of her driveway. I was nearing my own house, returning from a walk along a trail.
I shut off what I was listening to and smiled at her.
“Could you get my newspaper out of the box?” she asked. I was standing on the street right by it.
“Sure,” I said.
“I don’t want to fall on the ice.”
“I don’t want you to either.”
I reached in and handed it to her.
“We didn’t get around to this last time it stormed, and now it has gotten slippery.”
I could see my own iceberg from where I was standing.
“That’s mine right there. I know the feeling. I think spring can get rid of it for me.”
She told me her name and asked me mine.
“How long have you lived here?”
“Thirty-one years,” I said.
“Really? We have been here thirty-seven.”
Who’s counting? I don’t like to.
“I have been here almost as long as you, and I hardly know anyone around me,” I said.
“We don’t either. Our neighbors in the backyard are really the only ones.”
“The two houses on both sides of me are about it,” I said.
She gestured to the house to her right and said,
“They went to school with my kids and don’t even talk to us. The person on this other side is single and comes home and never is outside.”
“My mom and dad’s neighborhood was full of people who all got together all the time,” I said.
“Ours was too. It just isn’t like that anymore.”
Is it the brutal winter weather that drives us in or the scorching heat of the summer? Or binge-watching?
When I moved into my house, I had an elderly couple who owned property along the entire block, with a super small house planted close to mine. They had raised their kids and had a million grandchildren.
I was in my early twenties and had a full-time job while my house was under construction.
When I would stop by to see how things were coming along, I would be greeted by Ron with a complete report of the day.
“I saw someone show up here at 9 am, and they left at 9:05. I don’t know what they wanted.”
“I saw them haul out a lot of black dirt and replace it with sand. I don’t think that is right. They are using that on another site, and that is wrong.”
They had created a crater in my backyard. Which they were calling a ‘pond.’
“You need to call the city and tell them.”
This started hostile phone calls from the builder threatening not to finish the job. Because of Ron’s advanced age, he wasn’t intimidated like I was, so I took his advice, and the company had to bring back all that they had taken.
From then on, my house was under the watchful eyes of both of them.
“Chris, I saw a guy come to your front steps right after you left. He got here at 10 am and left at 10:15. I don’t know what he wanted.”
I didn’t need a dog or a security system. Some wouldn’t have liked that, but I thought it was a great bonus to have someone standing guard right next to me.
When Ron got sick, I saw the ambulance come and pick him up. He never returned, dying in the hospital, leaving his wife, who was in her late 80s, alone with the house and property. I watched her over that summer trying to replicate the outdoor work that Ron had done, but it was too much.
She donated the house to the fire department, using it in a burning exercise. I stood next to her and held her hand as she watched it go up in flames. It was something she had wanted to do, but she saw years and memories go up with tears streaming down her face.
The land was parceled into four lots, and new housing went in. I recall smelling a strong scent of pine with my front windows open one day. The tall trees that lined their property were chopped down to their stumps.
It signified that nothing would remain the same, and I started praying for new people who would be just as nice as they had been.
My prayers were answered when a couple who should have been leaning more toward downsizing bought the house. I was astonished that God had given me exactly what I had asked for. And just as much as my former neighbors had watched over my house, so did these two.
Alvin, a retired horticulturist, had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. But, this didn’t stop him from working outside. His wife, raised on a farm, planted flowers in the house in the winter and transplanted them in the spring, so she spent a lot of her time outside. Both of them watched my property like hawks. This was extra comforting because, by this time, I was divorced, raising two girls on my own.
“Do you mind if I come over and pull all the weeds out of your backyard for you?”
Who would say no to that?
I left the back gate unlocked and would find him lying on my lawn, happily plucking weeds by hand. He didn’t believe in pesticides, and the work helped keep him distracted from the physical symptoms that were slowly taking over his body.
They had a slope in their backyard, and with his balance so bad, it was not uncommon for me to see him going forward with momentum putting him into an unexpected run, causing him to fall. More than once, I had to leap over the fence and make sure he was okay.
One night, he rang my doorbell. I was running a fever, but I went outside to talk to him so that I could stay at a distance. Over the years, his posture had deteriorated to the point where he was completely bent over, with his face downward.
When I approached him, I saw tears falling to the ground.
“What is wrong?” I asked. He was generally in a good mood, always smiling no matter what pain he was in.
He said his wife’s name in barely a whisper. His speech had also started to suffer, so I always had to crouch down to understand what he was saying.
“She died.” He started sobbing uncontrollably. It shocked me as I had thought she would be around longer than he would. He struggled to tell me that she had passed on and when her funeral would be.
With him in poor condition, the family had to relocate him. He fought them the whole way, grieving the loss of everything he had known, and I tried to tell him that his wife would want him to be somewhere he was safe. I waved to him as his son drove him away.
I was back to asking God to provide me with quiet people who didn’t have kids who threw crazy parties at all hours. Or left dogs outside to bark nonstop. I was beginning to realize how lucky I had been with the previous people who resided next to me.
Lightning does strike twice, and another couple moved in that checked off all the boxes I had asked for.
The first winter after Alvin was gone was difficult because he always helped me with snow removal. I shoveled, and he would come by for the heavier piles. I had gotten used to him suddenly coming up behind me and telling me to move out of the way.
I was thinking about that one Saturday while down by the end of my driveway, trying to remove the massive wall of snow that the city had plowed from the street. I was thinking about how much I missed his help.
No sooner had I thought that the new neighbor was behind me, telling me to move out of his way so he could help.
Periodically, he has done this for me over the years, but not often. He’s a hard working man, so I appreciate that he comes along when I need it most. Shoveling snow isn’t fun, but it provides exercise and fresh air, so I tell myself this when it falls upon me. I go outside like a zombie and get it over with because I have done it for so long.
I looked out the window with dread. I wasn’t feeling up to fresh air after the last snowfall. By the time we are in the twenty-second month of winter, I am fatigued from clearing the accumulation.
I heard my neighbor start his snowblower from where I was on the couch.
“Please come and clear out my driveway,” I said out loud. I looked over at my daughter who was in the living room with me. I was going to put on my jacket, but I decided to wait.
“I am so tired; I don’t want to go out there.”
After a few minutes, I saw snow flying like someone was at the end of my driveway.
When I looked out, he was removing all the snow for me.
“Oh my gosh!” I screamed. “He is doing it!”
“Hey! Stop!” she said, laughing, as I started to rock her chair violently back and forth, not able to contain my excitement about not having to go out into the cold and do manual labor. I could not believe it was actually happening.
I was being sent the most powerful message from God.
Our words matter.
I had said it so casually with hardly any feeling. It was a wish, at best.
What else can I have that I don’t have because I haven’t asked? In John 16:24 it says,
Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. (NKJV)
God had sent help my way even when I didn’t think it was happening. Going back over three decades has me see it more clearly. The world would have us believe that no one cares, everything is harsh and that all is lost, but it isn’t true.
When you go back and recount all the places where divine help showed up, you won’t fall for the idea that God’s goodness doesn’t exist anymore.
You will be less likely to be tricked or snowed.