Neighbors and stories

As I’ve been reflecting today about Gordon B. Hinckley’s legacy, I returned to what an old friend said about marriage as he wedded two of our close friends, that it’s the stories we create about, the “attributions” we assign to, people’s actions that both determine and reflect the quality of our relationships. In that vein, I was moving many pounds of life-giving precipitation from my snowy walkways today. Because I like to shovel snow and because it is a quick and neighborly gesture, I generally open a walking corridor for my neighbors while I’m doing my own walks. Sometimes, capriciously, I don’t bother with the walks of one neighbor, a pleasant young couple, who I assume can manage their own snow removal (I focus on the convenient walks of older individuals and single people). Today that seemed petty, so I added their walk to my super-quick shoveling routine. As I finished, the woman arrived, thanked me effusively, and explained that her husband is out of town and she’s not great with the shovel, thereby toppling the easy-to-construct narrative of the young freeloaders that had lubricated my pettiness in the past. Thank heavens for reminders that we are none of us quite as dark as the rest of us selfishly imagine, nor as invulnerably self-absorbed as we seem.


  1. Mark Brown says:

    I’d shovel your sidewalk anyday, smb. I’m convinced that doing favors for neighbors is one of the great pleasures of life.

    I heard a story about Marion D. Hanks that I cannot document (Margaret? Somebody. Help!). It is said that, on snowy evenings, he would take his teenage children and a tow chain and drive aroung the bench areas of Salt Lake City, looking for cars in snowbanks that needed help getting back on the road. The fact that Mormonism produces such people is as much a testimony to me as anything else.

  2. A guy in my neighborhood has an ATV with a snowplow attachment, and he plows the sidewalks in our cul-de-sac and several more blocks each time it snows. With this year’s crazy amount of snowfall in eastern Washington, he has been out at least once a week! If that’s not righteous justification for an ATV, I don’t know what is.

  3. The only thing better than shoveling snow for neighbors is not having to worry about shoveling snow at all!! :) (Sorry, I just had to put that Florida jab in there somewhere!)

    It’s funny how we can exclude helping certain people because we think they are doing fine. We once had a next-door neighbor who would generally ignore us, so one night, my wife suggested after making a huge cake that we give half to the neighbor. Initially, my stomach was opposed to the idea, but we decided to do it anyways. We never became great friends with that neighbor, but she was always pleasant after that.

  4. Now if your neighbors are ever asked about you, they’ll have something other than “He was such a quiet young man. I never imagined him capable of something like that” to say.

  5. dpc, I hear ya. I was on the phone with a customer after a big ice storm last month. While some software was loading, I asked if he could hold on for a minute. I got back and said, “I needed to turn the air conditioner on.”

  6. What a great story. We never can assume to know the whole situation, can we?

    I’ve lived in this ward for almost one whole year. I have no idea who my visiting teachers are, or if any have ever been assigned to me. I know I should just go ask for some, but it’s awkward for me to ask for help (I’m very independent, strong, one of the “faithful” ones). I think I might do it now, although when I needed VT the most was 6 months ago while I struggled agonizingly with PPD. And the RS knew about my struggles. Yet I never received a phone call or a visit. And asking for VT in the deep throws of PPD? Yeah, not easily done. Of course, now that I’m “better”, I feel confident in asking (it’s a vicious cycle).

  7. I used to live in an inner-city gang neighborhood where the people you’d see everyday out on the sidewalk were drug addicts, prostitutes, gang members and drug dealers. Our lawn mower was stolen from our back porch one day. (Which we found rather humorous, since it was an old beat up thing that wouldn’t shut off unless you grounded out a particular loose wire. We laughed at the image of whoever had it trying to use it.)

    When I mentioned to our neighbor, who was a nurse, what had happened, she had her adult son come over with her lawn mower, and he mowed our lawn. It meant a lot to me that they would do that.

    There were a lot of desperate, sad people in that neighborhood. And there were a lot of kind, generous ones, too.

  8. Matt G- where about are you? I’m in EW, too.

  9. One of the greatest tests for me is struggling not to be resentful when other people don’t respond in kind after I make a thoughtful gesture. I’m ashamed with myself for feeling such acrimony, but it’s a deeply-imbedded character flaw that I’m sure will require attention for the remainder of my mortal life. For example, when I retrieve my garbage cans after the truck’s been by, I’ll bring in my (totally capable) neighbors’ cans in as well. But on days when I’m gone on trash day, or come home late, I’ll find my cans sitting there alone. A black cloud suddenly appears in my head and then I have to chew myself out for even going there.

  10. Tracy,

    I’m in Pullman, which is now being buried under the next layer of snow strata as I write this….

  11. annahannah says:

    i loved #4. too funny. and the one about PPD–yeah, i know all about that.

    One time, I, who never asks anything from my VT, asked them to please come do my dishes. it sounds petty unless you know the whole story. Our dishwasher was broken and there was a pile on the counter. My husband and I had spent all day and 1/2 the night getting our son admitted to try to prevent suicide. It was just too much to see them there on top of the stress, and i knew i’d be spending much of the next days at the hospital. The husband of one of my VTs actually called the bishop about this request cause hey, i had a son and a husband who could help me. Then the bishop called us and reamed us out for not being self-reliant. i was in tears. i called back both vt’s and said they could not come under any circumstance and told the RS president to never give me VTs again. My friend found out and insisted on coming over that night (late) and did my dishes. And the rs pres became my vt after about 6 months.

  12. We’re up between Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. Same thing here- I’ve never seen anything like it.

  13. #11-
    Holy cow! I’m so sorry you went through all of that. And over dishes? What a simple request. I’m glad you let the RS be your VT, though. I’m sure the Bishop felt awful after learning of the whole story. Which proves, again, that one should know the whole story before making assumptions, eh?

  14. Or one should just show up and do the dishes, like the friend did. Holy. Cow.

  15. annahannah says:

    actually, the bishop has never apologized. So, when I went to him to ask forgiveness for my hard feelings (again probably 6 months later…it took awhile), he said, yeah, when he heard what was going on he realized that he was..not wrong, cause he never admitted that, but that maybe it could have been handled better. But I only knew that because “I” went to him.