As Randa and I ate our Saturday morning breakfast on the porch, I noticed a bunch of small branches and twigs scattered on the driveway. “Looks like we had a bit of wind last night,” I commented.
Further investigation revealed that, indeed, we did have a bit of wind. Small branches with their clumps of green leaves littered the streets and yards of our neighborhood, with the occasional accent of slightly larger ones as well. Most of the slightly larger ones—about one to two inches in diameter—were dead limbs, already stripped of their bark and weathered gray. As I drove slowly around the block, I saw a bunch of dead branches and, every now and then, green branches as much as four or five inches thick.
I was surprised that we’d had winds strong enough to strip that much from the trees, leave that much litter in yards and streets, and yet Randa and I both had slept right through it. But what I saw a bit later, though not especially surprising, was more impressive.
One neighbor was picking up branches from the yard of a vacant house while another was removing branches from the street. A half-block away, a third man cleared a large clump of Johnson Grass that had grown up around the guide wires of a large utility pole. That was also on a vacant lot but was right at the edge of the street near the busiest intersection in our neighborhood; it had been a small eyesore for several weeks.
None of the men were working on their own places. None were being paid for what they were doing. No one had even asked them for their efforts. They were simply doing things that needed done, working to make things better, pitching in to help out other people who might never even know the kindness that had been shown them. It reminded me—perhaps oddly—of the Carpenter’s account of the Good Samaritan. In that small bit of history, he taught us that being a true neighbor is actually a matter of chosen action, not an issue of ethnicity, religious or national identity or genetic affiliation. It’s what we do or don’t do that determines whether we are neighbors.
As I observed these men pitching in without deliberate cooperation, I took note that these are the kinds of things that decent people do. Little ways of showing love and concern. Things that make a place like this seem more like a neighborhood. Without these small acts of caring—and the large ones when they are needed—we’re not really neighbors. We’re just people who happen to live in proximity.