It was an easy phone call to make. I knew it would be. I called my neighbor who lives across the road, not the street mind you for we are country folks, and asked for help.
“I want to put in a couple of enormous trees this weekend and I was wondering if you would bring your back hoe over and dig the holes then help us get them in the ground. There’s no humanly way possible to pick them up.”
“I’ll be glad to help you,” Doug replied then asked what day and time. The day proved troublesome because he and his wife and young daughter had already planned something.
“Don’t worry,” I replied. “I’ll get my brother-in-law to help me. I was just thinking that it would be easier for you to drive the back hoe over than for him to load his up and come down here.”
An hour later, the phone rang. “I’ve got it worked out so I can help you. What time?”
“No,” I replied firmly. “You’ve already got plans.”
But he insisted. Many times, he and his wife will say, “It’s neighborly. We want to help you.”
And each time I hear that, I think back to the rural South of my upbringing and all the times I heard my parents or others proclaim, “It’s the neighborly thing to do.”
Daddy used to say, “You can only help someone when they need help. All the other times you think you’re helping, you’re just pretending for the sake of your own conscience.”
Like many things he used to say, I didn’t understand that until I grew older and wiser in the ways of the world. There have been times when someone did something gracious and unexpected for me and though I appreciated it, I didn’t need it.
Likewise, there have been times when I made a gesture of kindness to someone else and while it was appreciated, it was not needed. I felt good about myself because I proffered an act of compassion but finally I realized that unless I was helping when there was truly a need, I was just being a nice person not a completely selfless one.
I have also come to realize that usually when I thought I was being generous and helpful were during times of convenience, when it didn’t interrupt my own schedule so I had the time to be giving. I am certain that we must get extra credit and a bigger smile from the Lord Almighty when we put someone else’s needs in front of our own, when we change our plans to help a neighbor in need.
Once when I was a kid, Daddy was going to help a friend in another county. He had promised to plow his garden for him since the man was ailing.
“Why?” I asked, curious at 10 years old of the ways of adults.
“Because it’s the right thing to do. The neighborly thing.”
“He ain’t our neighbor,” I replied. “He lives a long way away.”
“The Bible says ‘love thy neighbor’ and that means anybody in the world,” Daddy replied.
One day I had stopped by to visit an older friend of mine but first I had called to let her know. We enjoyed our chat over a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. When I got ready to leave, she handed me a little brown bag with the top wadded down and, embarrassed, she explained.
“When you called that you were comin’, I hurried around to see what I had that I could give you. This is all I could find — these are some new potatoes out of my garden.” She blushed a little. “I’m sorry but it’s all I’ve got.”
I grabbed her and hugged her. “ Potatoes are my favorite. It’s such a neighborly thing to do.”
And so it was.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should).” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.