A few days ago I shoveled about two inches of snow from the driveway and sidewalk before running a few errands. When I returned I found two neighborhood boys playing “king of the mountain” on the huge bank of snow between my sidewalk and the road. You can imagine what my sidewalk looked like. They looked at me, then the sidewalk, and got that unmistakable “uh-oh” look in their eyes. I gave them what I hope was a friendly grin and asked if they wanted to play a new game, this one involving shovels. They leaped at the opportunity. It would have been faster and easier to do it without their “help,” given that most of what they shoveled slid right back onto the sidewalk, but that was not the objective. I am working on the ongoing spiritual discipline of being the Friendly Older Neighbor rather than the Grouchy Old Man.
When we moved into this house some 23 years ago, we were one of the few families with young children in a neighborhood of retirees. The people from whom we purchased the house gave us but one bit of advice – they pointed to a house on the other side of the street and cautioned us to make certain that our kids never allowed a ball to roll into that yard. It was the home of the designated Neighborhood Grouch. He was extremely fussy about his lawn and had no great affection for children. Something in me vowed then and there that I would never be like that.
We are now the older couple living in a neighborhood with many young children, all of whom are fortunate enough to have parents who understand the importance of unstructured outdoor play, especially in warm weather. It is a safe neighborhood, and the kids roam the block freely. Our driveway is alive with bikes and scooters much of the year, a good thing to remember when backing out of the garage. Chalk art on the sidewalk sometimes greets us when we come home. Children knock on our door seeking a snack or asking if we have anything fun for them to do. One day, when I was working at my desk, two little girls dropped me to announce that they wanted to take a tour of our house. The cautious part of me wondered if a man home alone should really be playing host to little girls, even for a few minutes. But the world they are growing up in is ugly and confusing enough, and I did not want to add to either by telling them it would be better to return when my wife was at home. They pronounced our house “boring” because it had nothing in it but grown-up stuff, sat at the kitchen table for a snack, and hopped back onto their bikes.
The costs I pay for the joy of having the neighborhood children as a part of my life are very modest. Sometimes my carefully-raked leaves will need to be raked again after they jump in them or ride their bikes through them. I will do more snow shoveling than I would do if I lived in a retirement community (kids are constitutionally unable to walk home from school without kicking, climbing or sitting down in snow). When my lawn is soggy after a heavy rain it will occasionally sprout grooves the width of bike tires.
We have a term for all this. We call it “the goodness of life in community.” And each time I hear high-pitched voices squealing with joy and excitement, I am reminded of what a wonderful blessing it is.
Work and Dementia
2 years ago