I had a moving conversation today. One that made me realise that community is important.
The day started normally. After a very late night of reading and writing, I work up late – at 9.30am. The sunlight woke me, streaming in through a slit between my heavy drapes, right across my face. I got up and did my morning thing: coffee, cereal, play the piano a little, read the news (except usually I do it starting a lot earlier!).
At about 11am the doorbell rang. I don’t get a lot of visitors, so I ran down to peer through the drapes to see who it could be. It was the lawn care guy.
I opened the door and we exchanged pleasantries. We talked about the weather, about the chill in the air that the brilliant sun was so misleading about. We talked about my lawn and how he would be taking care of it this summer for me. I was impressed, because he spoke about his craft with caring words and knowledge. To hear pride and care in the voice of someone doing a fairly menial job is rare these days – remarkable. I was struck, as we spoke, at how sad it is to be surprised by someone who elevates their job to a “craft”. Most just perform tasks, thinking of all the other things they would like to be doing. The craftsperson sees the value and the purpose of his or her work and does it deliberately, thoughtfully.
Life is better when you live it deliberately and thoughtfully.
Well, I could tell that something was on the lawn guy’s mind. He kept looking down and letting his voice trail off. Finally, after about 90 seconds of pleasantries, he looked down, thought for a moment, and then looked up and said: “Can I tell you something? There’s something on my mind and I have to tell someone.”
I said: “Sure, of course.”
And so he told me the story of his best friend and co-worker, who, at the age of 40, went to visit a client, was filling out the forms to open a new account and suddenly had a heart attack and died on the porch. It was sudden and he told me that the company was quiet and sad. People were shocked.
“I just don’t know, man. He was young. He was fit. He was married and stable. But God just took him.”
I nodded. He continued, “It was hard to find out. I felt sad at losing a friend, but I felt afraid too – afraid that I might die suddenly like that. That my wife and our little kid would be alone in a mean world. The world can be mean, can’t it, professor?”
I answered that yes it could, but that there are good people and it’s important to find them. That it’s important to be a good person yourself – to bring light and light-heartedness to others, not worry and fear.
“Yes, professor, that’s right. I hope you’re right. I worry about how selfish people can be. How they only listen to what they want to hear. I worry about his wife and kid. They’re at my place now, while she gets over the shock. They feel so fragile, so vulnerable.”
“All you can do is be a good friend. Do the honourable thing,” I said. “The pain we feel today is part of the joy tomorrow, a famous person once said.”
We chatted for a more seconds. He told me about some experiences that he would remember his friend by. Moments of shared family bliss, trips to the beach, volleyball and pints at the local pub. The everyday stuff that makes us happy and brings us comfort. The stuff that becomes special when it is only available to us in hazy memories.
Then I left him to his craft.
When I went to make my lunch appointment, an hour later, he had gone. The invoice was curled and stuck in my door handle, as usual. It described what he had done to my lawn and what remained to be done. The last line was different, though:
“Thanks for the conversation and the pep talk, professor. It felt good to open up to someone who cares. You’re a good guy. Keep it up.”
I was moved. In a small moment, on the stoop, we had made a connection and shared a part of our lives. I think that’s what community is about.