Photo by Paul Felberbauer
When we moved into the little gray house, Art told us that he was 80% blind. I’m not sure if that meant he could barely see out of both of his eyes, or if one eye was fully blind and the other only a tad bit. I was never brave enough to ask, and I regret that.
In spite of his near blindness, if it was summertime, it wasn’t unusual for me to hear the rumbling start of his riding lawn mower on the other side of the fence. When I’d hear that sound, I’d often peek out of the window in a Gladys Kravits, nosey-neighbor sort-of-way. On one hand, I was bewildered that a human could live for a century and still mow his own lawn. On the other hand, I was worried that he might fall or injure himself, and no one would be there to help.
Carol (or Sweet Carol, as I call her in my imagination) was another neighbor who lived across the street from Art and me. I think she lived alone, although I’m not quite sure, and her age was about smack-dab in the middle of mine and Art’s ages. I would often spot her walking across the street to pull Arthur’s trash cans back to the house after they were emptied, or to deliver his mail. But, usually I think she would drop by for a visit because she was just a kind person who truly cared about our Arthur.
About a year into living there, I discovered that Carol and Arthur had a special lawn arrangement. Art was 99, (fairly) able-bodied, and had a desire to mow his own lawn. He was also mostly blind, so he couldn’t always see which spots he had mowed and which spots he hadn’t. That was no problem though, because he lived across the road from Sweet Carol.
Art told me their method. He said, “when I mow the grass, I just aim for the fence! And, when I get there, I turn around.” Then he would chuckle. After he got done, Carol would come over, hop on the riding mower, and “clean up” the patches that he missed. It was a simple, yet impressive system. At that time, I considered Carol’s act as a one-way street of generosity. Age, however, has taught me that there’s no such thing.
I love reflecting on this time in life because of how precious it was. It was precious because tiny humans were either growing inside my body or being fed from the outside of it (and isn’t that a miracle?) It was also precious because during this time I was forced to slow down a bit, which I’m terrible at. But because I didn’t have a choice, I was able to see and experience the way other people take care of each other - people like Sweet Carol and Arthur.
Those years were also long and hard, however. I remember falling deep into my bed at night with the exhaustion that only comes from giving all that a body can muster. We had a house full of littles, struggling bank accounts, and the ache of full-time church ministry burnout in our stomachs. I often felt overspent, overwhelmed, and over-touched. Sweet Carol and Art sharing the lawn duty was often a bright spot in an otherwise monotonous or heavy day. But also, it gave me this ever present reminder that people and seasons change. One day we are the toddler fumbling around, demanding constant attention, and the next day we are the exhausted mama being strengthened by the care of her neighbors. A few days after that, we could be the ones caring for the tired mama, and Lord willing, we eventually become silver-haired people who accept help from others and give them the gift of chocolate and our friendship as payment.
Babies grow. Life shifts. And maybe, just maybe, one day we'll be fortunate enough to mow our grass while mostly-blind. And, Lord willing, our neighbors honor us - and us, them - by their service. Because, like we previously discussed, generosity is never a one-way street.
[This short story is an installment of a miniseries that I’m writing about the lessons I learned from my friend, Arthur. Check back in later to hear about that time that he baked me a LOT of cake.]