Mending Communities and Neighborhoods:
So todays post was pretty much written by that one quote from Mr. Rogers.
Outside of our homes our next sphere of influence is our neighborhoods and communities (our churches, schools, sports teams, clubs, groups, etc.) what do our interactions look like in those arenas?
Are we courteous, patience, kind, empathetic?
But wait you say…so and so is a total jerk! I’m sure she is. We all know, and interact with jerks and it is HARD to be courteous or kind and especially to have patience with them.
But I’ve watched over and over again how empathy and understanding can change a person. How one person practicing patience can change a situation and how kindness can change an entire organization.
(This isn’t to say you should allow yourself to be taken advantage of or throw out boundaries…because you shouldn’t…and all of that is a great discussion for a different time….just not right now.)
This week in the Soul Mending Society we are just pondering this…how are my actions improving or breaking down relationships within my neighborhood and community….and what can I do to mend something within that sphere?
One quick story.
Years ago there was a mother who had children the same age as I have. We would run into each other often…at school, at meetings, at sports, etc. And she was just plain rude!
At first I thought…steer clear of this one.
Which is what most people did. She was hard to work with and unpleasant at best. But…then I thought maybe I could win her over.
I started saying hello when we would pass or waving from the car.
She ignored me. Over and over again.
Then one day I saw her in the grocery store. This was my chance to talk with her! So I thought of a conversation starter and zipped over to say hello. Once I opened my mouth she just stared at me. It was the iciest, cruelest stare. And she didn’t say a word. She just looked me in the eye, turned her cart around in the opposite direction and left me standing there without a word.
Well…that settled it. She was as rude as everyone said she was. I would continue to smile and wave and say hello…it had become habit….but no more trying to talk with her. Ever.
Months passed. A year. I’d smile. I’d wave. No response.
One day I got a friend request from her on Facebook.
I asked someone else who knew her why in the world she would want to be friends with me.
“Because you are always nice to her,” was the answer.
“But SHE isn’t nice to ME!” was my answer.
And then I was told a long, awful story that explained exactly why this woman was as prickly as she was…and when the timeline was put together I realized that the evening I bounced over to her in the grocery store she was in the middle of the crisis of a lifetime.
She was going through something I can’t imagine navigating through and there I was being annoyed that she didn’t want to shoot the breeze with me in the bakery section.
I had no idea.
I accepted the friend request.
More time has passed. We still aren’t dear friends but now when she sees me she waves.
We don’t know what is going on behind the closed doors of those around us. Sometimes it takes years to break down barriers and we may never see the result or influence of a thoughtful word, an act of kindness or a simple hello. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t important.
One more story:
Awhile back a new family moved into the house across the street. They were new and obviously I didn’t know much about them.
I did know however that the woman was in her 40’s and unexpectedly expecting…and that she had been really sick during this pregnancy.
So one afternoon I put her together a morning sickness care package and walked it over to her house. She was outside working in her flower bed.
I don’t remember the exact conversation but it went something like this:
“Hey! I’m liZ from across the street. I heard you were expecting and brought you over a little care package.”
“I brought you over some things to help with the morning sickness. Thank goodness pregnancy doesn’t last forever right?!?”
She turned around and said:
“I miscarried yesterday.”
And there I stood like a big ill timed idiot. With a basket full random items. I didn’t know what to do or what to say. It felt like time was crawling.
All I could get out was “I’m so sorry.”
She turned back around and kept gardening and I walked back across the street. I didn’t even leave the basket…I carried it back home with me!!! I was too taken off guard!!!
I remember calling my husband mortified…saying we were going to have to move because this woman will think I’m a jerk forever. Not only did I show up at the worst time but I froze and ended up taking the basket back home!!!
A few days later I was out weeding my flower bed when I heard someone behind me. It was the woman. She had a pitcher of lemonade and two glasses full of ice.
She said she saw me weeding and thought I might be thirsty.
From that time on we became friends. We talked in our yard, went running together, and started a neighborhood book club.
Later we would talk about that first meeting…and laugh.
Sometimes you do the wrong thing…with the best intentions. Sometimes reaching out to others is messy and clunky and awkward.
But even so…that is to be expected. We are only human which makes us all messy, and clunky, and awkward. So reach out…because that risk…that leap is worth it.
Your neighborhoods and communities need you…your goodness and kindness and empathy and patience…and whether it goes smoothly or not and whether it takes years to make a difference or not…what you do and who you are makes a difference.
Here’s to mending our neighborhoods and communities this week.