Today I assigned a writing assignment for the Polite Pirates (my 3rd grade students) to complete during their sequestered online-learning experience during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The prompt was simple: “Tell of a time you helped someone.” In the instructions I told that this ought to take them a few days. I gave them a planning paper, loads of directions for using the writing process, and clear expectations.
As is always inevitably the case, several students submitted their work on the first day. On first glance, it looks like more time and renewed encouragement would be in order. It dawned on me that rather than say, “You must have at least five sentences,” an example text could be more useful. I sat down to put together something to share with them, and the following story, seemed to seep from my skin.
This is probably the classiest thing I have ever done, and it is so simple. What is the classiest thing that you have ever done?
When I was a kid, my dad and I raked leaves a lot. We would clean up the leaves in the fall, of course, but we would also rake the yard in the spring. Because my yard had many large, mature trees, there seemed to be endless leaves to collect. Needless to say, I had a lot of practice raking.
There were two houses whose backyards butted up against mine. One had a fence around it. The other belonged to an elderly gentleman, whom I’d only seen a couple of times. He lived alone in a small, one story ranch. The yard was small, too, and it sloped downward, toward mine.
One day I was just messing around in my backyard, when I noticed my elderly neighbor attempting to rake leaves in his backyard. He had a hunched back, which is to say, he could not stand up straight. Even though there were only a few, it looked like he was really struggling to pick up the leaves to put them into a yard barrel. He moved so slow! I knew I could clean up his yard in a fraction of the time it would take him. I went and got my rake out of my garage. Without ever saying a word, I began to help the gentleman rake and pick up his leaves. It was a breeze for me, being a spry 9 or 10!
I never said one word. I just joined my neighbor in his task. He never thanked me. I wasn’t given anything for this sacrifice of playtime. It felt pretty good to use the skills and experience I’d acquired over the years to help someone who really needed it.
This story would be over, but for a unique experience I had when I went inside my house to get a drink. I’d just finished helping the old man with his leaves, and put my rake away. As I entered my house, I found my mom in the kitchen, looking out a back window with tears in her eyes. Although I hadn’t known she was looking at the time, I now realized that my mom had seen what I’d done when I helped our neighbor. When she looked at me, I could tell that her tears were trophies of pride. She didn’t say anything to me. She didn’t hug me or get me a drink. Now that I am a parent, I understand that she was so swollen with happiness that she would have popped if she had moved.
I never shared this with anyone… ever. My mom and I never talked about it.
The moral of this story is that it is classy to share the skills that you have learned and develop to help others, regardless of whether you get anything in return. Don’t do it, thinking that someone could be watching. Do it in order to grow into the best person you can be.
I didn’t share what I witnessed in my mom’s demeanor in order to boast. In fact, now that I think about it, I imagine that deep down inside I knew that this was something too special to speak of flippantly. It was the kind of goodness that is too holy to talk about. It is the good that radiates from the marrow of a classy person’s bones.
I stumbled upon it that day. Make no mistake: This was an accidental good deed. The lesson cut deep, though. I’ll never forget it.