When I was in the third grade, my family suffered a bankruptcy. We lost the house we owned and moved into a small rental house. Even though the rental house was much older and not as well maintained as our other home had been, my brothers and I managed to find the good qualities in the house. We thought it was neat that we had an old-fashioned bathtub that didn’t have a shower. I though it was fun to use a wardrobe closet since there wasn’t a regular closet in my bedroom. And my brothers and I were thrilled to see that our elderly next-door neighbor had a huge, smooth blacktop slab outside his garages. I could hardly wait to roller skate on the blacktop, and my brothers were eager to ride their BigWheels on it.
We didn’t think to ask our neighbor’s permission, however, before using his property. Instead, we raced out onto the smooth surface as soon as we had a free moment. While I was practicing my twirls, and my brothers were skidding their bikes, our neighbor’s back door suddenly flew open.
“What do you kids think you’re doing on my property?” Mrs. Jacobs shouted. “You kids have no right. I don’t want to see you steppin’ foot on my driveway again. You hear? Now get on home!”
My brothers and I tore across the yard to our house as fast as we could. As soon as we got inside, we told our parents what had happened. Mom went next door shortly afterward to try to smooth out the neighborly relationship with Mr. Jacobs, but he was furious and obviously determined to remain enemies with us. We did all we could do. We steered clear of him and were careful to stay off his property.
A few months later, my schoolteacher gave our class an unusual assignment. We were to each write a kind letter to someone who we thought could use a bit of encouragement. It could be a family member, a neighbor, or a casual acquaintance, but the point of the letter was to try to brighten someone’s day. I’m not quite sure why, but I chose to write to Mr. Jacobs.
I wrote him a simple letter, thanking him for being our neighbor and wishing him a very happy day. After school, I slipped the note in his mailbox then went home, not telling even my parents what I had done.
After dinner that night, Mom and Dad received a visit from a very tearful and humble Mr. Jacobs. He showed them the note I had written and declared that he hadn’t deserved it. He apologized for being so unkind to our family, and he invited us children to play on his blacktop any time we wanted – but we were to be very careful of him coming and going out of the driveway in his truck.
From that moment on, Mr. Jacobs was almost like a grandfather to us. He would sit outside and watch us play. He would occasionally bring us candy or other treats. And I’ll never forget seeing him totter down the receiving line at my wedding years later. He was wearing a tank of oxygen, and he looked so frail. As I hugged him, he rasped in a weak voice that he wouldn’t have missed my special day for the world.
I would never have guessed that my simple act of kindness could have accomplished so much, but now I never underestimate the power of a kind note or a soft word. My little note broke down the barriers and opened the floodgates of love between me and my neighbor, Mr. Jacobs.
Written by Addy Forrest. This article was published in the Winter 2006 edition of The Beautiful Spirit magazine.
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