While I’m always grateful when someone does something nice for me, a recent attempt at doing a good deed at our home was more than a little perplexing.
With my wife at school during the day teaching and myself at the newspaper putting together a recent edition on a production day, my stepson dropped by our house after getting off work to let our dog out in the backyard.
Spending a few minutes there, he decided that the yard needed raking after the long winter months and so he found a rake in the garage and quickly amassed five large piles of leaves and branches.
I had been waiting for a warmer day to do that task myself, so when I got home from work that afternoon, I was surprised to see some piles of leaves and twigs sitting in the yard.
Entering the kitchen, my wife Nancy proceeded to tell me about the piles and that I probably wouldn’t be happy with what he had done while raking.
She led me to the window looking out on the backyard and beyond into the neighbor’s yard and pointed out a pile of leaves and sticks sitting on the other side of the fence.
Apparently, he had decided to rake up a large pile of leaves, twigs, and branches and then toss them over the fence to show his displeasure at having to perform the task. We do not have any trees in our yard, and he figured that the leaves that had fallen onto our property came from the neighbors’ trees near the fence and that they should be responsible for picking them up.
In my opinion, we somehow had to make the situation right, and it had to be done sooner than later.
I sent my wife over to the neighbor’s home to knock on their door and to let them know what had happened. As I began to rake the leaves into a manageable pile to transport back to our property, both of our neighbors came outside into their yard to talk with us.
Despite our utter embarrassment, they told us that they had so many leaves themselves it was hard to keep up with them, and that they had noticed the large pile when they had arrived home a few hours earlier that afternoon. They told us it was no big deal and to just let the pile go and they then laughed about what had transpired.
We apologized to them and I proceeded to drag the pile through a gate and into our back yard. By this time, it was nearing suppertime and Nancy and I decided to let the piles of leaves go until we could find the time to put them into bags for transport to the transfer station for disposal.
Turns out we had to go out of state that weekend for a funeral and the piles of leaves and branches sat in the back yard for a week.
On Sunday evening, my wife and I were able to bag up six large bags of leaves and extract them from the yard.
She reminded me that no matter what had happened, being grateful is about something someone has done for you and then expressing thanks for it.
Although my stepson was wrong to throw a large quantity of leaves over the fence, I texted him to thank him for his work in collecting and raking up the leaves in the first place.
In reflecting back upon the entire incident, I determined that gratitude for me was more than just expressing thanks for his help in cleaning up our yard. And I thought that gratitude doesn’t always come easy for me, especially when people do things that I didn’t ask them to do.
Expressing gratitude about incidents like this and similar ones that have happened over the years is truly about something that leads to a more sustainable form of happiness. Because I did not dwell on my unhappiness and embarrassment at having to retrieve the leaves from my neighbors’ yard and apologize for something someone else had done and then not yelling at or chewing out the culprit, I let it go and discovered a tangible peace of mind.
When all was said and done, Nancy and I laughed about the entire disconcerting episode, and she told me that she was happy that I chose to be grateful about the work her son had done for us rather than share my unhappiness with him for throwing the leaves over the fence in the first place and then arguing with him about it.
In my opinion, practicing gratitude shifted my mindset to a better place, created an opportunity to meet neighbors, clean up our yard and bring us all closer together. What could be better than that? <