February 10, 2014

Searching the Obvious

The e-mail arrived just as I was packing my belongings to head home. The subject line read: “Do Not Forget Your Personal Days!” I have two personal days accumulated. Therefore, I am encouraged to take a personal day before I lose them. I wondered if anyone is keeping track of the fact that I enjoy arriving at work on a daily basis. Why would I need a personal day?

* * *

If you ever come to visit, I will tell you to take the exit to Ponder and drive until you see the most beautiful rosebushes, then turn right. The home with the beautiful landscaping belongs to one of my neighbors. When I leave for work I see her watering the roses, the trees, and the beautiful herb garden. I see her almost every day and I don’t know her name.

* * *

I pull out of my garage. A new day. Where did all this haze come from? A light drizzle of rain prompts me to drive a little slower through my neighborhood. As I stop at the stop sign, something looks wrong. The perfectly landscaped yard is now covered in toilet paper. The trees, the roses, the herbs, everything is covered in toilet paper. I shake my head and turn onto the road heading to work. Who would do such a thing? What if she doesn’t have someone to help her? What if she cannot physically do this herself? Out loud I hear myself say: “What am I supposed to do? She’s a stranger, and I have to go to work.”

Silence. Exit. I am taking an exit and heading back toward my house.

I quickly enter my house and send an e-mail to work with a personal day electronic form filled out. Then I e-mail my students. I survey my garage to see what tools I have. None. Only trash bags. As if on cue, my phone rings. It’s my dear friend Annie. She asks if I am driving to work. No. She listens to my story and asks: “What makes you want to help this neighbor? You don’t know her.”

That’s why.

The line is silent for a moment. “Give me the address,” says Annie.

I drive to my neighbor’s home. I can see her standing with a rake in one hand and a trash bag in another. I walk toward her and ask if I can help. She shakes her head and says all is fine. Then she bursts into tears. I put my arm around her. The damage is worse than I thought. Her name is Debbie. I take the rake and begin working. She talks about her family and the wedding she is meant to attend tonight. As we talk, a familiar car pulls up. It’s Annie, her husband, Jason, and her two teenage sons. They arrive with bags, a ladder, rakes, and work gloves.

As we clean, Annie asks me why I am not at work. Personal day. She laughs. “Jason and I did the same thing. We called the school to excuse the boys from class today. This is an important lesson for them. Not one found in textbooks.”

Four hours later the landscaping looks almost as it did before. Jason collects 10 trash bags we have filled, while Debbie inspects the roses.

“You know, this morning when I was about to leave for work, I saw this mess and I called work and said, ‘I need a personal day,’ ” says Debbie. “I looked at this and said, ‘Dear God, how am I going to take care of this alone?’ ” She begins to cry. “Every week at church they ask us to share how we have been blessed this week. Well, y’all are my blessing. You are the angels God sent me when I cried out to Him today. The Holy Spirit knew just whom to inspire. I don’t know how to thank you.”

* * *

At home I stand next to the window watching the rain come down, glad that Debbie does not have to worry about her landscape, grateful for my good friends, and amazed at how God finds a way to fill up our personal days.