The men's volley ball coach at the small Iowa college I attended was like an older brother to me. On occasion, we'd go out to dinner. I'd tell him all the things swirling in my early twenties head and heart. He'd tell me he trusted me and my decision making and to stay the course. Whatever course that was at the given time. He wouldn't let me pay. He always told me, “When you have an opportunity to help someone else, pay this meal forward.”
I've never forgotten those kindnesses, and I keep an eye out for ways I can pay him back by paying it forward.
The first summer I was divorced I felt like a terrible neighbor. I was generally the last one in the cul-de-sac to mow my lawn and sometimes I let it get TALL before I handled my business. I was so emotionally drained and physically exhausted. The idea of working all day and then coming home to more work felt daunting. I did what I could and extended an extra dose of grace to myself on the days I couldn't do anymore. I was in the thick of figuring out what solo homeownership looked like for me. At this point, things didn't look good.
A few times that summer I pulled into my driveway and realized that someone had done the job for me. I could have wept with relief and gratitude. I thanked my neighbor profusely (after I figured out which one had done the good deed.)
Tonight marks a new chapter. We had something to attend right after work and then I planned to come home and mow when it was cooler and still light out. I'd have one major responsibility done before the weekend kicked into high gear. Our event ended later than I'd expected. I came home and changed into my yard-dedicated overalls. Undeterred, I pulled out the mower and made a few swipes in my front yard. Suddenly, I pushed the mower into my neighbor's yard and decided this was an opportunity to help my neighbor.
She is a mama with three children and is newly separated. She's in the thick of mothering her children and figuring out what solo life looks and feels like for her.
I mowed about half of both of our yards when she came out and asked, “What are you doing?” I told her I was mowing while I had a little light. We talked for a few minutes, the light dimmed more, and then I resumed my task. She ran back out a few minutes later with plastic container of pasta.
My heart swelled. Ahh, we're taking care of each other. This is when life is at its best. I accepted her gift knowing what it feels like to accept help and want to exchange the kindness.
This is a big night for me. Not because I did something nice for someone else, but because I proved to myself that I am whole in a way I haven't been before and it feels so, so good. I am in a place that doesn't feel so depleted, confused, and endlessly long. I have the energy to help my neighbors in a way I wasn't capable of three years ago.
I really have the best neighbors, and I feel honored to have the opportunity to return the kindnesses they have extended. Being neighborly feels so good. It helps make sense of a world that most days feels senseless. Progress, indeed.