Friday, November 19, 2010

Picking Up Bricks

Earlier this month, Ronnica at The Ignorant Historian wrote a post titled "Life's Not Fair".  She spoke about how materially privileged we average Americans are, and I agree with her completely - compared to the devestating poverty, hunger and illness that many people in this world face, my problems are nothing.  Sadly, my focus isn't always on the less priviliged.  Sometimes, in my mind, it's all about me and I think "Life's not fair!"  The line from Ronnica's post that touched me was:  
When we see someone suffering, it’s tempting to say, “That’s too bad” and move on. It’s the easy thing. It’s what we do all the time without thinking. If we don’t get involved, it’s unlikely that anyone will confront us about it. After all, it’s not “our” problem, right?  I don’t want to do that anymore.
That comment hit close to home for me.  Not because I'm not guilty of it - I am - but because of a time when I was on the other end.  ABout eight years ago, we lived in southcentral Nebraska.  Between our house and our neighbor's was a scruffy, ugly row of half-dead bushes.  The neighbor asked if we minded if he dug them out.  Of course we didn't and Dave offered to save him some muscle-work by pulling them with the pick-up - a method, by the way, that Dave had used before and knew how to accomplish safely. They hooked a chain onto the hitch on the BACK (that will be significant later in this story) of the pick-up, wove the other end of the chain through the base of the first bush then drove SLOWLY FORWARD until the bush was pulled up, roots and all.  Repeat process for every bush in the row - each time facing safely forward and applying the gas in moderation.  Within an hour or two, we had a bush-free yard and happy neighbors.

Fast forward a couple days:  Another neighbor across the street - we'll call him Mr. Miller in honor of the beverage he had been consuming when he hatched this plan - decided he no longer cared for the large evergreen shrub in front of his house and he was going to borrow Dave's tree-removal method.  Let me help you visualize this.  The bushes on our property looked much like the picture on the left.


The evergreen Mr. Miller wanted gone looked more like the pic on the right. 
Ok, maybe our bushes were slightly larger and his forest was slightly smaller - but only slightly!

Unfortunately, Mr. Miller did not request help from anyone except his friends, Bud and Schlitz, so his tree removal did not go according to plan.  Problem # 1:  He hooked the chain to the FRONT of his pick-up so he was pulling in reverse.  Why?  No one knows.  Problem #2:  The stinking tree is too big!  It has roots at least 10 feet deep.  You would think common sense would have told him that - but obviously common sense and Mr. Miller have never met.  Problem #3:  Rather than aiming the vehicle down the street, he pointed it straight out from his house, perpendicular to the street.  And do we remember what is across that street? 

So, Mr. Miller puts his pick-up into reverse and presses gently on the gas and, of course, the shrub doesn't budge.  He presses harder on the gas.  The shrub doesn't budge.  Now the pedal is nearly to the floor, engine racing.  The shrub doesn't budge --- but the chain does.  It snaps!  With the evergreen no longer keeping up it's end of the tug-of-war, Mr. Miller and his pick-up barrell backwards across his lawn, off the curb, across the street, over the next curb, through our yard, through my rose garden, through a nine-foot plate- glass window and the brick wall surrounding it, and come to rest in our living room.  To be fair, the entire truck wasn't in our living room, just a portion of it's back end.

I know you are asking the same questions we asked at the time.  Well, maybe you're not screaming "What in the hell are you thinking, you #$%^;????"  But after that, we wondered, "Why didn't he stop?"  It's not like the houses were only a few feet apart.  There were two decent-sized yards and a street in between - ample space to apply the brakes.  Then we wondered, "If he had been facing forwards, would he have seen the house coming and attempted to stop?"  There really are no answers to these questions except that this guy doesn't possess sound reasoning skills and his reflexes were a little...uh...delayed.

Now there's more to this story - like the fact that our son had been sitting in front of that window only minutes before the crash, or that the police failed to note Mr. Miller's "friends" or that he left the scene and attempted to hide his vehicle in his garage (Cause they'll never think to look there!), or that we had put this house on the market just two days earlier, or the long fight with an insurance company who believed that our house had jumped in front of their client, or that our daughter moved in with a friend and refused to come home for three days because our house looked embarrassing - but that's not the point today.  Our point is back at Ronnica's post.

While the police filled out forms and the insurance agent snapped pictures and half the town drove by to rubber-neck, people began to offer their platitudes:  "It'll be ok."  "Good thing you have insurance."  "We'll be thinking about you."  Some even offered their prayers, which we greatly appreciated, but we're still standing here with a gaping hole in our house.  One couple didn't offer words, they just quietly began to pick up bricks.  They saw that we didn't need cliches, we needed help.  They stayed after the crowd was gone and helped clear the debris so we could assess the damage and get the hole temporarily patched with ply-wood. 

I am currently listening to the audio version of Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs.  When the protagonist is offered an overused chestnut of wisdom, she observes, "That's a sh***y line that people tell you so you don't fall apart and make things messy for them." and that we often "...try to pass off a lame pep-talk as compassion." 

I'm inspired by Ronnica's words to not do "the easy thing".  Our life has been full of changes lately - not all of them by our choosing or to our liking and some of them blatently "not fair" - but Ronnica encouraged me to look around at others who are also having a tough time and see where I can "pick up a brick".

If you want further encouragement and proof of how far a small gesture can go, check out A Secret Gift by Ted Gup.  I learned about this true story from an article in the New York Times and it's now sitting near the top of my TBR pile.


  1. Good Lord! What an unbelievable story. Unfair is so many ways. I hope the couple who just picked up bricks get a special reward in heaven - on earth would be good too. A very good message from you and Ronnica. :

  2. That is a nice way of relating things - picking up bricks. Turn the other cheek didn't mean look the other way when someone is in need after all...

    You can't always rely on others to recognize and help in times of need - but those that do are always remembered strongly. Thanks for the reminder to take the tougher path.