I mentioned in passing a few months ago that a severe windstorm had blown down a portion of our fence.
We share common fence with 6 neighbors, so everytime there’s a mini-disaster, we get together with the involved neighbor and hope that a fair and equitable deal can be worked out and that the neighbor will actually want to fix the fence without any coaxing on our part. We’ve never had a problem with any of our neighbors in this regard and Bill and I were talking about how lucky we felt to be part of this neighborhood.
Anyway, this time the part of our fence that gave up the ghost was a part that’s been standing unmolested for 18 years; consequently we had never met the neighbor attached to that part of the fence. To our delight, we became acquainted with Bob, a French man who has been our neighbor the whole time we’ve lived here and we had no idea who he was. A tall, large boned, blue-eyed fellow in his 60’s, Bob arrived at our front door one weekend and offered to build the fence back himself if we would pay for half of the materials cost. We agreed to this and offered to pay for his labor as well, but Bob would have none of it.
“I have a lot of time to kill so I don’t mind doing it” he said in his delightful French accent. He subsequently said that he wasn’t married, but since he also mentioned having children, I can only deduce that he is a widower living alone. I began to feel a little sorry for Bob and wanted to “adopt” him. I invited him over to have dinner with us. He thanked me effusively, but refused. He refuses to accept gifts of wine, gift cards, or being taken out for dinner as a thank you for his fence construction efforts. I became mildly frustrated until I realized that I was feeling bad for myself – I wanted to do something for this nice fellow and he did not want me to. At this point I realized that it became about me – I wanted to do something nice for him, but it was not something he wanted.
And besides, who am I to feel sorry for him? We cannot assume that just because someone lives alone that they are unhappy. Though my motives were pure, I made a judgment that was not necessarily true.
So as the final fence posts are set in place, I realize that I will probably never see Bob again until the fence blows down again, which is unlikely in his lifetime. I regret not getting to know him better.
Sometimes you can only give by not giving.