One small act of kindness can be a start in making a difference

Many years ago, the neighborhood kids in Mishawaka’s Windingbrook Park had this huge area to play right next door to us. We called it the Wilderness and it was a wooded area full of dirt paths, little secret hiding places, and forts made of timber and leaves.

It was a community thing, this Wilderness, and our entire neighborhood used it to get away from whatever was bothering us at the time and to just enjoy the wonders of nature.

As time went on, the land got sold off so that the medical establishment could build new buildings. Piece by piece, the Wilderness became a gigantic hospital, a gigantic VA facility, and 3-4 other supporting buildings.

As each part was destroyed by the bulldozer people, the dirt paths became unmanageable. My wife Wendy’s favorite wild flower spot simply vanished one day and was replaced, in time, by concrete and fence. Our favorite walk to a little hill where our old dog, Bailey, used to swim in a nearby pond was now cut off by DO NOT TRESPASS signs.

The result was that our little housing community had lost a big part of its soul. The Wilderness was gone. It was devastating.  

Then three years ago, my neighbor noticed that a neighborhood doctor (who he had never met) liked to walk to work at the huge hospital (100 yards north of our homes) and his path took him right past our houses. In doing so, the doctor had to navigate a weedy path sometimes covered with snow, just to get there. 

That is where my neighbor decided to save the world one little piece at a time. After watching the doctor literally trip and fall in the weeds, he went out and mowed the path for the guy. No committee meeting, no government permits, no picture in the paper, no self-aggrandizement. He just went out and mowed the thing to make it easier for one doctor to get to work. Simple and effective.

As time went on, more people, including me, would use his path to walk our dogs to the street where we could exercise them for a couple miles without having to worry where the animals “did their business.” The problem was that cars thought it was a freeway and it was really dangerous to walk there.

One day last spring, I was thinking how my father tried to do the little things to make his community better. He especially loved to get on the tractor and help people without tractors. I always thought it was a little bit crazy that the Bradford Boys would get volunteered to do stuff when all the cool kids just sat at home. But now, as I age, I see how easy it was for him to make people happy with only a little effort.

It suddenly occurred to me that my neighbor had made the walking doctor happy by making his life a little easier. Then it occurred to me that the hospital had created a pretty little retention pond where we walked  even though it was all weedy and a little hard to navigate. It also occurred to me that I had a small lawnmower tractor. 

So one day, I decided to break about 10 laws or ordinances and mow a pedestrian path around the retention pond. A month later, my tractor and I extended that path into a nearby field, creating a path for ANYONE to walk on and that would get them to a quieter street and keep them away from the speeding car danger.

 It took 15 minutes to create the new mown path and IT FELT GREAT. It felt so great I did it again two weeks later, and two weeks after that. I have never had so much fun breaking laws for the good of our community. 

Today, I watched two joggers come up our cul-de-sac, find their way through the tree line, and start jogging on our path. A few minutes later, a young family with their dogs strolled onto the path. I smiled. A lot.  People were being made happy. Our community soul was returning. All because of my neighbor… and my father.

These days, when there is so much perceived ill will in our country … when people of different races supposedly hate each other … when our U.S. government seems like a dysfunctional kindergarten … it is good to remember my neighbor and father. It is good to remember that our community is made better when each of us does one thing for someone else just because we want to. Not because we have to.

Each of us has our own version of a path to mow, or a tractor to use. I simply encourage everyone to take that opportunity to make our little piece of the world better. If not us, who? If not now, when?  It may make only a small difference to one person. But it may be exactly the thing that saves our communities for the future.