Over the last week, I’ve watched a story of community and compassion grow in our neighborhood. This is a story of hope and understanding. At a time when so often the news is sad, scary, or angry, this is amazing to see.
It started as an email from a frustrated neighbor to our “Nextdoor” group, talking about his anger with the woman who live in the house beside his. He complained about trashy her yard is, about how the house is falling apart, that there are rusting, junked cars in the yard. The inside, he said was just as bad as the outside. Everything’s a mess. He said this had gone on for years, and he was sick of it. We live in a rural area, so there are no HOA that enforce curb appeal. He wanted to know who he could contact to see that something was done.
He received a lot of replies. One said to call the sheriff, another said to check out the local ordinances to see which laws she was breaking. Every other single response one of empathy. Did he know the woman well? What were her circumstances? Had he offered to help her figure out what to do to make changes? Could she be in financial straights? Did he know that the next few weeks they could do free dumping at the local landfill? A few people knew the woman and began to explain her circumstances. She was 70, on a fixed income, was overwhelmed by the amount of work needing to be done, not knowing where to start, and not thinking anyone could or would want to help.
Over the course of a few emails, the tenor of the man changed. No, he hadn’t really spoken to the woman. No, he didn’t know she was on a fixed income. No, he didn’t know she was overwhelmed. No, he hadn’t thought she might have been embarrassed by the mess; he thought she was doing “this” just to upset him. Now, he was starting to think maybe that wasn’t the case.
Along with the emails of support, came offers of help. People have volunteered to haul trash, weed, paint, and fix things. An organizing maven has offered to help on the inside. A landscaping company donated 6 hours of labor for “whatever.” A troop of Boy Scouts is helping, too. People have donated use of their dump trailers, equipment, and to make arrangements to have the vehicles hauled off, if the homeowner wants that. Offers of donations of trash bags, dumpsters, cleaning products, and meals for the workers have come through as well. Many people have just said “Tell me when and where, and I’ll be there.”
The man was overwhelmed at the response (well, shocked, actually). He talked to his neighbor, heard her story, and they both cried. She had no idea that anyone would want to help her, let alone to the extent of what was being offered. Now, the man who wanted to contact someone to get something done about his neighbor, is organizing the workday and making friends.
The project is gaining steam and a weekend workday is scheduled to happen in the next few weeks. Our community has benefited too. People are excited to be a part of something good. They are smiling more, being a little kinder. It’s nice to see.
This story could have gone so differently. The man could have called the sheriff and reported the woman. Legally, he would have been justified. She was in violation of some nuisance ordinances. The woman would have gotten fined, or worse. Her financial situation could have been devastated, her sense of isolation and overwhelm grown larger. Not a happy outcome. Instead, he took a chance and made a huge difference.
Now two lives are being forever changed. A simple step in hope.