Thursday, September 17, 2009
Another gem from Elizabeth:
Wow! Something really amazing happened this morning, as I was starting to write a little piece about empathy and human connection for this blog, as if I know all that much about either. But I’m trying to learn as I try to work toward mental and emotional healing.
But I scratched what I was trying to write when this amazing thing happened, because life gave me such a surprising gift. An adolescent boy, I’d guess about 16, rang my doorbell and presented himself as the cousin of a friend of mine, a 14-year-old boy I call V. This young man at my door, who I don’t know from Adam, said, “My cousin (V.) told me about you and asked me to come over and see if you need any help.”
I said to this young man at my door, “Well, not today, but thank you. Come back another day. I don’t have any money. But I do have this serious weed garden problem you could help me with when I have some.”
He said, “That’s all right, you don’t have to pay me.” He seemed a bit surprised by my presumption that he’d want to get paid.
I said “Thank you, thank you so much. Come back another day because I would have to pay you.”
I came back to my desk in total awe.
V. is motherless child. A few of years ago, his mother was shot and his father put in prison. He doesn’t quite know why, or he’s not saying. Until a couple of months ago, he was living in a house behind me with about twelve relatives. Now he lives in the inner city with his grandmother. Haven’t seen him in a while, and worry about him. He’ll show up again soon, I hope.
Now I don’t know anything about this adolescent who just rang my doorbell, except his connection to V.. but I have a feeling I will. But let me tell you the events that led up to this great blessing of a total stranger coming over to ask me if I need any help. For free.
I teach, so I have summers off. In my neighborhood, kids of all ages congregate at the yard next to mine to play basketball and noodle around all day. Built into the hemlock that dominates my back yard, there’s a ladder to a ledge about five feet off the ground, and a swing hangs from one of the branches. My front porch has a porch swing. So naturally, kids infiltrate my yard and porch.
Sensible people urge me to keep these kids off my property. “If a kid fell out of that tree, you could get sued,” they warn me. Of that little tree ledge, they say, “Tear it down. Legally, it’s what’s called an attractive nuisance.” I know they’re right, but I can’t help feeling that I would just be adding to the sickness of the world if I shooed these kids off my yard. I’m trying to heal my own sickness, and contributing to the insanity around me—in this case, the fear of lawsuits that leaves many of us in a state of paranoia—is just more than I can bring myself to do. At least not on purpose.
A couple of years ago, the neighborhood kids started started knocking at my door. They’d come in in flocks to see my cats and because I’m really bad at names, I just started giving them letter names. Thus the name of this 14-year-old friend of mine, V., who immediately dubbed me Z.
V. and I hit it off right away. He’s amazingly quick-witted and curious, funny and rascally. He started to come over by himself to hang out, look at the pictures on my walls, the weird chotskies and such I have too many of, and listen to music. As I’m writing this, I’m listening to Mozart’s Vespers, one of his favorites. He was fascinated by the food in my kitchen: I don’t eat much American food. He’d pull some mint out of my garden and we’d make tea, maybe play some Monopoly or cards, and I’d usually end up feeding him something and giving him a chore, so I could give him some pocket change. He’d end up buying food to share with his friends with that money.
I have serious depression issues, and some days when he came to my door I’d tell him I wasn’t accepting company. At my lowest, my depressions get so bad I’m afraid to answer the phone and quake at the sound of the mailman for months on end. I isolate. I can’t manage to get out of my bathrobe. I don’t want people to see how badly off I am. I have nothing to say and no way to communicate. No words but words of misery. V. would do his best to pull me out of my funk. “Let’s play Monopoly, Z.,” he’d say. “Let me in. Please?”
People told me, “Don’t let that child in your house. You could be accused of child molestation. He could steal from you.” Sensible people say I should have shut this child out of my life. He’s not your problem, they say. But V. isn’t a problem. He’s a delight. And he has helped me more than I have helped him.
What’s the point of this little story? As a dear friend of mine says, be good to people and the universe will take care of you. And as I’ve started to meditate on that and try to practice it, my view of life has become brighter. And even though life has dealt V. a pretty brutal hand, I hope the universe will take care of him as he tries to make it to manhood in the inner city.
Sometimes it seems that life is all about cruelty and swindle and pain, and the best thing to do is distrust and shut people out. Particularly during periods of depression.
But today, this adolescent boy, a total stranger, showed up at my house. He was sent on a mission by a 14-year-old orphan. He said, need any help? And I know that life is certainly not all about cruelty and swindle and pain.