Sunday, August 2, 2009

Being Inspired by Others

The house that I live in is one that my beloved brother, Peter, bought when he was a young man. He passed four years ago and I have lived in the house for about two years. It is in a solid middle class suburban city just north of Detroit that's lined with massive oak trees that could tell many stories of the neighbors who have lived there for a very long time and those like my beautiful brother who have now gone on. Both of my neighbors have lived in their homes for the past 35 plus years and have raised their kids there. I have known their children for years.

I knew both neighbors quite well before I moved in, as I would visit my brother who was determined to stay in the house that he loved in spite of his much increased income. He worried not about keeping up with the Joneses or the Ellis's for that matter. (I think I have this same gene.) My siblings had all bought much larger homes that were further out in the suburbs. Peter always scoffed at moving and simply smiled at his siblings. He did not need a larger space; his space included a very large heart.

Both neighbors are seniors. They often tell me how wonderful Peter was. He shoveled their snow, took their trash out, and was their handyman whenever they needed one. Their eyes still moisten with tears and the few lines in their forehead increase a bit more when they speak of him. On Thursdays I take out their trash and recycling bins and collect them too. Mrs. Berber's recycling bin, the neighbor on the left, is often full of clanking wine bottles and because I knew Peter loved her and supported her especially, I pop over there more often to make sure everything is alright. Her husband passed 10 years ago.

Sometimes Mrs. Berber calls for me in the wee hours of the morning after she has fallen. (My numbers are on her refrigerator so she can find them readily.) I rush right over. During the day she is quite the elegant functioning alcoholic and her Sunday go-to-meeting getups are spectacular. Most would probably not even recognize her at night. She leaves all of her shades on my side up on purpose and I watch and listen for her. I visit the other neighbor less often but I still pop in. I am very careful not to mention one to the other.

My neighbors are fierce rivals who were once best friends. I gather from both of them that what happened between them cannot be forgiven. As with most long-held grudges, they're made of silly stuff. But as they are my elders I do not mention this. Earlier on I tried to interject the goodness of each. Both of them were simply not hearing it. Each was wicked and untrustworthy if I only really knew the other. But I find them both rather nice, even though both have their ways. Everybody does. I wondered how Peter dealt with this situation. Being quite wise, I'm sure he probably said absolutely nothing to one about the other. I decided to do what he might have done and refused to be dragged into their dispute. It has served me well.

As I pulled up in my driveway last week, the neighbor on my right, Mrs. Barnes, calls for me. I had just been to the gym so I was really sweaty.
"Judith, come here" she says in her thick Jamaican authoritative accent. She is quite bossy.
"Hey, can I come over in a minute," I ask, gently. With her you never want to match her energy. Plus, most times she just wants to talk and I listen. You can barely get a word in edge wise usually. "I'm just in from the gym and I'm pretty funky."
"Yeah, I noticed your ass has gotten a little bigger." She laughs a loud hearty laugh. There is nothing gentle about her. "That's fine. Just come."
I don't laugh, but I go over. She can be more than a bit aggravating and wearisome. She yells to the neighbor across the street who has also lived in the neighborhood for many years. When I moved in he came to introduce himself to me. He also loved my brother.
"Hey, are you going to come and see Charles, she asked the neighbor? "He's up now but we don't know how much longer he's gonna last."
"How are things," I ask? I'm not expecting anything really bad. She's so dramatic.
"Charles is dying."
"He's dying," she responds impatiently. "They can't do anything else for him. It could be tomorrow, next week or next year. He's on hospice."
"Dying?" I had been over just last week; she had not mentioned anything to me. I knew he had some health problems but he seemed fine. He was just out walking about in the garden a few days ago. He is soft spoken and kind. I have always liked him and he has always looked after me, interjecting when his wife said things inappropriately. He would wink at me and I would bite my tongue.
"YES! You heard me!"
"Where is he?"
"Right there," she said loudly, pointing into the guest room where the hospital bed had been brought in. I had not noticed such being brought in.
"Shh. He can hear you."
"He knows he's dying," she says, not lowering her annoying voice in the very least.
"Whether he knows it or not, you should not say it." I kiss her on the face and go in to see him. He smiles and I rub his bald head and kiss it. He seems happy to see me.
"Hi Mr. Barnes. How are you feeling?"
"I feel real good."
"You look real good."
"Looks can be deceiving," she interjects.

I do not acknowledge her words. I do not take my eyes off of him. I rub his clean shiny bald head. He has a beautiful complexion. He's 85 and his brown skin has very few wrinkles. His head is tight and perfectly round. We talk a bit. I see that he's getting tired so I kiss him again on the head and leave, gently grabbing his wife by the arm, leading her outside into the garden. She grabs the machete and starts working. I gently take it from her. Everything with her has to be done gently. "Please listen...I don't care if Mr. Barnes is dying or not promise me you will not say so aloud." Her face changes immediately. A knowing is revealed. There is no sarcasm. She loves him dearly. Looking into her eyes, I see a deep sadness. I hug her for a long time, forgetting how sweaty I am and give her a kiss. "I'll be back later."

I visit Mrs. Barnes more often now in spite of her rudeness, dividing my time between him and her. She needs to talk about how bad he's doing so I do not talk to her about this in his presence. We walk into her beautiful garden. He, on the other hand, just wants to smile and be happy so we talk about small stuff, the stuff he remembers when he lived in Jamaica. He too has retained his very thick accent. As there is a steady stream of hospice workers coming in and out as of late, there isn't much that I can do. But I go over anyway and ask if I can do anything. "Yes, you can go to Walgreens. This medicine that I paid for I should not have. I have a letter here from Beaumont Hospital that says that I should be reimbursed. Take this letter along with these receipts and get my money back," she ordered. "OK."

There is no line at the pharmacy. I'm happy that I'm helped right away. But as the pharmacist talks to the insurance company there seems to be a problem. Others appear in the line and they seem to be getting impatient with the wait. She notices this and asks if I could wait while she takes care of these others. What? Why should I wait? More people are now in line. I simply step aside saying nothing. She does not tell me what's going on with the insurance company. After she takes care of three others in the line, I speak up.
"Excuse me. Can you please tell me what's happening with the insurance company?"
"I'm still on hold."
"How do you know that?"
"The light is still blinking."
But it didn't seem like she was on hold when those who were in line began grumbling. She seemed to have been having a conversation with the insurance company.
"Please take a seat. Your issue will take a while."

I'm getting annoyed. I thought that I would be in and out, especially since there was not a wait and after Mrs. Barnes read the letter from the hospital to me aloud. All I needed was the letter, the receipts and she would be reimbursed. It was only $30 dollars. Sitting there I thought that maybe Mrs. Barnes could just accept the $30 bucks from me. But I knew that this would not work. The problem would undoubtedly come up again if not resolved. I determined that I would calm down and take a seat as suggested. Shortly after I sat down I noticed that the light had stopped blinking. But the pharmacist continued helping others, one after another. Out of sight out of mind. I still do not say anything. It's good to practice patience I tell myself. Just as I was thinking this I noticed a tall slender woman who must have been in her late 70's or early 80's whose skin was beautiful and bright, the color of the darkest smooth chocolate. Her eyes are gentle and her face knowledgeable. She smiles my way. I smile back.

"Dear, the Lord knows those who are His," she says walking towards me and touching my face gently with a harsh rugged hand.
I smile.
"You are sitting here so patiently. The love of Jesus is just all over you, dear."
I was happy that I hadn't gone off on the pharmacist. This is what I wanted to do moments before I noticed her.
"Listen, I want to tell you something. There is nothing that you can do that He does not know. There is no road that you take that He is not walking along with you. You have all that you need to do exceedingly abundantly more than you can ever ask or think."
I continue smiling.
"You didn't think I noticed you, did you? Oh, honey, I see you. Even in difficult seasons be encouraged. Even when business opportunities fail know that there will be others."
I still say nothing. I have been having good success lately. But I listen anyway, knowing that a good word should never be rejected but stored.
"I know that things are going smoothly for you now and that in the past you have had difficulties, but the Lord knows those who are his."
Who is this lady? Tears began to roll down my cheeks. I'm not particularly feeling one way or the other but tears flow anyway. Her way is familiar.
"All of your hard work will pay off. All of your desire to do good will be recognized. After all, I see you and your years of patience are appreciated."
Ah, the familiar voice was like that of my mother's who often spoke to me when she knew that I was struggling with a thing. Mom always spoke encouraging words especially when she sensed an inner struggle. She often spoke not of what I was at any given time but who I could yet be. She had confidence in me. I wondered if my impatience was showing indeed.
"You have an inner calmness and knowing that draws. You drew me. Yes, I know you can be impatient, especially with ignorance. But I saw you immediately. Don't worry about all of the outer noise. The Lord knows those who are his. I see you and you, dear one, you are his."
"Mrs. Barnes. Mrs. Barnes," said the voice of the pharmacist.
"Oh, that's me." I forgot that I was there for my neighbor. I excuse myself.

The pharmacist explains the problem to me. But she needed to talk with Mrs. Barnes directly. She wouldn't be reimbursed, as there were only certain number of pills that were covered and she got more than the allotted number. I called Mrs. Barnes on my BlackBerry.
"Mrs. Barnes there is a problem with the number of pills. So, I'll let you talk to the pharmacist directly." Lord knows I didn't want to explain it to her at home while Mr. Barnes was just in the other room. And, frankly, I didn't feel like being yelled at.
"What are you talking about," she yells into the phone?! I guess I couldn't avoid it completely. "You got the letter!"
"Calm down please, Mrs. Barnes. I'll let you talk to the pharmacist."
I pass the phone to the pharmacist and she starts right out of the gate yelling at her. I could hear her through the phone. She's being abusive.

After 5 minutes or so the situation is resolved and I apologize to the pharmacist for the abuse received from Mrs. Barnes. She is my neighbor and is under stress. I look for the beautiful lady. She is no longer in the waiting area. I briefly look down each aisle. She is nowhere to be found. I look in the parking lot. Still, I do not see her. I want to thank her. I wish her Godspeed anyway and get into my car.

On my way home I wondered what the lessons were that I had just received. The first thing I thought of is that it's always very important to be aware of our behavior and attitude because there are always people watching, even people who you are not even aware of are often watching. This lady was obviously watching me. Also, I thought of how important it is to go beyond ourselves to do something good for others. In doing something good for my neighbor I received very inspiring and encouraging word from a perfect stranger. All is well. If I had not done a good deed, I would not have received a good word.


Bob Foster said...

Judith; what a beautiful post. I am not only inspired--I am comforted.

Thank you so much for this.

Judith Ellis said...

Bob - I am really happy that the story is inspiring and comforting. It was also both of those things for me too and I wanted to share it.

Bob said...

Your neighbors are fortunate to have you. But as you say. their need is a blessing for you too.

Judith Ellis said...

It's funny, Bob. I never looked at my neighbors as having needs. I love them. I believe that we are all helpers one to another, those we know and those who are perfect strangers. Thanks for your words. I like it when you come through. For those who have not read Bob's latest post, "Birthers and Deathers", please do so. It's thoughtful indeed.

septembermom said...

Judith, you are amazing. You are a true gift to this world. What a beautiful post about helping others in need. I wish they world was full of beautiful angels like you :)

Judith Ellis said...

Kelly - Thank you very much for your encouraging words. But I must confess to feeling quite impatient and annoyed with a great many matters. But as my mother used to say "don't be controlled by your feelings; be controlled by what is right and do that." Many times I am success; other times I fail miserably. But I keep trying as I know you do too. Peace and love to you.

Marion said...

Judith, how wonderful to live in such a close neighborhood where you can help each other out! Your description of both Mrs. Barnes and Mrs. Berber was awesome. I could just see them as I read your narrative. I'm so sorry to hear your friend is dying, but I was glad when you took his wife aside and gave her that positive advice. I totally agree with it. Words are mighty powerful, both positive and negative!

I thought the lady who spoke so sweeetly and prophetically to you at Walgreens was an angel. As I was reading it, I got goosebumps and cried, remembering many people who had touched me similarly. You are a special person, Judith, and I'm happy to know you! Blessings!

Judith Ellis said...

Marion - Thank you, friend, for your very kind words and I am glad that the post was inspiring. But I must say that I do not believe or feel that I am special. I do accept, however, that we all can become more of what we will yet be if we work diligently. It is the image of being better that motivates me.

I was most delighted to read that others have spoken into your life similiarly. Speaking into the lives of others is important. It's very good to "see" others and speak a good word. Family, friends, and perfect strangers have done so for me and I regularly do so for others. Love is the motivation.

I too, Marion, am happy to know you. Peace and love to you.

rebecca said...

I, too, believe the woman who spoke to you in such a nurturing and loving way in the pharmacy was one of God's angels. Oh, dear heart, she certainly was.

This beautiful post was the longest of any of your posts that I have ever read and I could have continued to read more. It warmed my heart with hope and joy, it gifted me with compassion and empathy, and it made me smile and smirk at that 'challenging' neighbor of yours that you are so very patient with. Your words calmed me and I felt I had a front-row seat to one of life's most important lessons: that that which we put out into the universe is returned back to us tenfold. Judith, you and your siblings were gifted with lessons your parents felt were the most important to learn and it is evident in the conduct of you and your brother: that of love and compassion and empathy and understanding. You are a shining star in this sometimes, very dark world.

For some reason, this post brought to mind my loving mother who was the epitomy of class and patience all of the time, but most especially in the most difficult of times. She was, unfortunately, striken with cancer later in life. The more debilitated she would get, the more strength of whom she was showed itself to us. Despite how ill she was and felt, she would always find a smile and a kind word to say to everyone. And, despite how ill she was, she never let me forget I was her child - regardless of how old I was - and impart lessons to which I still struggled with. Today, I only wish to be half the woman that she was. Your heart and kindness reminds me of her; your patience and willingness to help unearths many memories.

Thank you so much for sharing this with us, Judith. You have brought tears - beautiful reminders of the beauty that resides in the human spirit and heart - to this heart.

Blessings and much love to you,
dear sister, dear friend,

Judith Ellis said...


Thank you so very much for sharing the beautiful story of your mother with us. There is no doubt that she was all that you have described. As I get to know you, I clearly see the very same in you. Thank you, my sister, my friend.

May the light that was the brightest in your mom never leave you. May it forever guide you in peace and give you hope that the world can be a better place if only we each would try in some small way each and every day. Thanks again for your story. I love your mother.

Thanks also for your very encouraging words. I have tucked them away in a safe place and will unearth them during difficult days. I shall also be reminded and lead by the truth that "all things work together for the good to those who love the Lord who are called according to His purpose."

"The Lord know those who are his." You, dear Rebecca, are his.

Regarding angels, I do not know who the lady in Walgreens was. But I will leave you with this mindful scripture:

"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."

--Hebrews 13:2

Much love also to you,