One day last summer, while I was kneeling in the dirt planting seeds, an elderly lady stopped her van to see what I was doing. She was a sweet elderly lady, the kind you would want to adopt as your grandma. Now using your best quivery grandma voice, imagine her telling the story of how she and her husband use to plant gardens together for years. She reminisced of years of planting flowers and vegetables in the damp soil. Clearly, this was a treasured past time in their marriage. A tradition now ended due to her husband’s death and her daily struggle with arthritis.
“I think I’ll stop by your garden again so I can watch it,” she tells me with excitement in her voice over finding another kindred spirit. Off and on through the summer, I saw her van drive by. I didn’t know her name, only that she loved to garden and drove a white van.
Through the following year, I randomly visited her house with little gifts of welcome. First, it was green beans from the garden, then pumpkin bread at Christmas in the snow. She often responded with “well, bless you” and seemed delighted. She was still my mysterious elderly neighbor, with not much known except her religion and her love for gardening.
This spring marked the year anniversary of us first becoming “friends”, and just as naturally as the first time, her white van crept up while I was tilling the garden. “What are you planting now? I need to plant mine.” And as delighted school girls, (her being delighted to find help with her flowers, and me being delighted to make a new friend) we exchanged numbers and names. With eager delight, I awaited the opportunity to get to know this mysterious neighbor who stopped at strangers’ gardens.
When I visited her a couple weeks later, she shared most of her life story with me. Pining for someone to talk to made her pour forth a wealth of history when someone finally listened. She told me of her deceased husband, her time as a nurse, stories of her grand kids, and how she used to be able to plant. Mind you, this was all shared in the first two days we met this summer. She is a feisty one, full of determination not to live in a nursing home. “I’m going to fight it, kid, I am!” She often called me kid, or dear, or a version of my name. I didn’t mind, it was like having my grandma live down the street.
I had to laugh when she kept inviting me to borrow this or that, or to come over again. “You and your husband are welcome anytime, don’t worry about dressing up, I’m just like this, this is who I am.” “You and your husband can come and we’ll roast marshmallows, then you don’t have to be lonely up at that big house.” “Do you want to borrow a puzzle? Then you can do it on lonely nights.” It was evident from her frequent use of the word ‘lonely’ that it was a familiar emotion to her. All of her family lived out of town, and I doubt she had many visitors.
With an almost giddiness, we bustled around the yard planting morning glories, moon flowers, lilies, sedum, and more. For four hours, she ambled around the yard and talked non-stop, while I planted her flowers. Our conversation was a hilarious one, for she often didn’t hear what I said and she just kept talking to me unaware when I moved somewhere else to work. But no matter where I moved around the yard, I would keep hearing the ‘thump, thump, thump’ of her cane as she tried to kill the hated dandelions. 🙂
As we walked to the garage, she made a brief comment that made my heart stop and think in it’s tracks. “You are so dear to me.” (me? dear? we hardly know each other) “Why?” “You were the first to knock at my door, just to say ‘hello’.”
The first to say ‘hello’….
In a world where we bustle around to each activity, rushing to get our to-do lists done, do we miss the ‘hello’s’ that mean the world to someone?
I admit, making phone calls, writing letters, and planning visits is one of my biggest struggles/weaknesses. I hate my inability to maintain contact with those I love dear, and desire the Lord to continue to grow me in this.
If not to say ‘hello’, why are we here? For ‘hello’ is the beginning of demonstrating we are Christians by our love. It is the start of the Great Commission, the seed to every relationship, the dawning of a new opportunity, the origin of the deepest talks. Too often I leave missed ‘hello’s and passed opportunities for hope for the sake of something seemingly more important.
Lord, teach me to say ‘hello’ more often. To the widowed lonely neighbor, to the kid riding his bike down the street, to the lady across the street sitting on her porch, to the man tending to his landscape…all in need of a simple ‘hello’.
As we ended our time that day, she for the first time complained of being tired. No wonder, as for four hours she had hobbled around the yard telling me stories, and stamping out this or that weed. But you should have seen her eyes…..her eyes glowed with a new life as she got to participate in her favorite past time once again. “I think I can make it through the winter, as long as I have you to give me new life.” Yes, dear one, and perhaps…Jesus.