You Never Know When It Matters


The house across the street of us is occupied again. It happens from time to time — the landlord (who lives about two hours away) looks for somebody to buy the property, it sits vacant, they rent it out. Typically, it stays occupied for about three or four months (their longest renter stayed just shy of a year), until the renter stops paying rent, forcing the landlord to evict them and clean up the mess they made of the house. This moves the landlord to try and sell it, and the cycle repeats.

The family that lives there now just moved in last month, and already they’re showing the typical signs. What’s worse, they’re loud. They don’t just argue — they scream and holler to the point where we’ve almost called the cops on them. So we decided early on that they were the kind of renters that we wanted to avoid.

Yesterday afternoon, Mary and I were doing some gardening stuff in the front yard and we noticed the lady (wife? girlfriend?), her kids, and an elderly gentleman trying to get into the family car. Apparently, the lady had locked the keys in there. They were unsuccessfully using a coat hanger to pull the lock, so I went over to offer my not-inconsiderable real-life GTA skills.

Yeah. The neighbor’s that we had determined to avoid.

When I failed to unlock the car, I could easily have shrugged my shoulders and left the lady and her loud male counterpart to their own devices. I had done my bit for Good Samaritanship. Nothing was stopping me. Nobody would’ve thought less of me.

But I would have.

Mary and I have had a membership with AAA for almost five years now, and among other things, they unlock car doors. So I pulled out my AAA card, called the number, and they scheduled the local towing contractor to come out and see about the car. I didn’t mention that it wasn’t my car, and they didn’t seem to care. They said it’d be about an hour, so Mary and I walked around our yard discussing garden stuff while we waited. The lady went inside to finish working on lunch before her man woke up from his afternoon nap.

About five minutes later, her man woke up from his afternoon nap. True to form, we heard him before we saw him. He made for the car with purpose, feet thundering as he hulked, mouth thundering louder, spouting an impressive litany filled with words that we’ve told our kids never to say. He looked the car over for a few minutes before finally stomping off down the road, cussing the whole time.

No, I never got a chance to tell him that AAA was on the way.

The neighbor lady came back out, the look on her face a strange mix of stress and apology. She laughed his tirade off, saying that he gets this way and you just gotta let him go off. Mary and I stayed out there chatting with her while we waited, though it was more for her peace than for AAA at that point.

Thankfully, the towing contractor showed up about fifteen minutes later — well within the expected hour wait. The contractor got my card number and the information on the car, then started looking his job over. About that time, the man came back. His face went from angry to confused to anxious, as if he was looking at a locksmith payment that he wasn’t going to be able to make. I made a beeline for him and introduced myself, shook his hand, and told him that the contractor was there on my AAA membership. Yes, I called him. No, you don’t have to worry about a thing — I got it covered.

That’s probably the quietest that I’ve ever seen him.

The contractor got into the car in short order and was gone as fast as he’d come. The neighbor guy still had a confused look on his face. He said thank you again, and asked quietly if he owed me anything. No. I’m glad that I could help. I shook his hand again, gave him and his lady as genuinely cheerful a smile as I know how, and went about my business.

I thought that was the end of it, but this afternoon, I was in the front yard doing my best to leaf blower my pine needles into a pile. Not terribly efficient, to be sure, but it meant I didn’t have to use the rake to move the pile — just to bring in the stragglers. Caleb and Madi were riding their bikes in the street and I saw the neighbor guy inching his way out of the driveway. Of course, they made their way to the curbs as I’ve told them to do. I half-expected the neighbor guy to peel out when the coast was clear, as he was wont to do, but he sat at a dead stop while the kids passed. As he slowly pulled out of the driveway, he honked his horn at me (as if I hadn’t been watching the whole time) and waved at me through the sunroof.

I honestly don’t know what impact I had on him, or how long that effect will last. All I know for certain is that I made an impact of some sort. Maybe he was just as quiet inside the house as he became outside. Maybe they had one less argument last night. Maybe my call to AAA spared him the straw that would’ve broke the camel’s back — at least for one night. Calling AAA on their behalf cost me nothing, but who knows how much of a gift it turned out to be?

For the record, I am NOT telling this story to toot my own horn. Lord knows I’ve got far too many fails and have demonstrated far too much selfishness to give myself laurels that I don’t deserve. The point of this story, rather, is to demonstrate that what you do may seem pitifully small to you, even insignificant, but to the person who receives your pitiful gift, it could make all the difference in the world.

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