An Old Hippie

He was an old hippie. At least, he appeared to be.

My wife Florence and I had taken a trailer load of “green and clean” yard waste to the transfer station/recycling center—mostly tree branches from limbing pine trees. We’d backed the trailer in and started dragging and tossing the branches off it into the “green and clean piles.”

I don’t recall the amount of material we had, but it likely was a half-ton or more. So, it was not the easiest of jobs, especially for my petite wife, to shuck the branches off the trailer – no matter how carefully one stacks them, they seem to magically become intertwined and interlocked.

Backing in next to us was a similarly loaded full-sized pickup truck. Two fellows got out and started pulling off branches and tossing them into the “green and clean” piles. The younger of the two looked perhaps in his 40s, about six feet tall, around 200 lean pounds, with a dark, well-trimmed beard and a baseball cap. His older companion, probably a half-foot shorter and quite a few pounds lighter, wore a headband and a tie-dyed t-shirt. More sinewy than his bulkier co-worker, with gray hair pulled into a ponytail, he was, by all appearances, an old hippie.

The two of them made fairly quick work of the top half of their load, then got a firm grip on the tarp upon which they had piled things and slid the rest of the truck. All the while, my wife and I were dragging and tossing.

After rolling the remaining material off the tarp and tossing it into the bed of their truck, those two fellows simply stepped over and started tossing things off our trailer. “Many hands make light work” was never more true. Fairly quickly, we had a manageable-sized load, and the “old hippie” and his companion grabbed the tarp my wife and I had placed under our load of “clean and green” and said, “Pull the trailer out from under it.” So, I did.

We rolled and pulled the tarp from under the debris as my wife got the broom to sweep the trailer deck. What likely would have taken us another 20 to 30 minutes was done in half the time or less, thanks to the helping hands of those two strangers.

We offered our sincere thanks, to which that old hippie said, “Think nothing of it; glad to help.”

That probably does not seem all that remarkable. But it happened again! Not exactly the same. But close.

Same trailer, same kind of a load of “clean and green,” with the addition of a whole bunch of deciduous tree leaves that had, unfortunately, gotten wet and, therefore, had become quite heavy, backed into nearly the same spot.

This time, the pickup was on the other side and had only one person. He was opening large trash bags of leaves (his were dry!) and dumping them out. My wife and I had gotten the tree branches tossed, and enough of the wet leaves pulled out with rakes that I thought I could roll the tarp over the remaining leaves and off the trailer.

It seemed like a good idea. And it was. Except those leaves had not only gotten wet, but they had also gotten a bit frozen. Consequently, there I was, up in the trailer, trying to lift and roll that load of soggy, partially frozen leaves off the trailer and getting nowhere. That’s when jumping up into the trailer and lifting and rolling beside me was the fellow who had been untying and dumping bags of leaves. Together, although it was a struggle, we got the rest of the stuff off the trailer.

My wife, thanking him profusely, started towards his truck to help dump leaves, but he politely refused her help.

Wow. Two times, two heavy loads of material, and strangers simply coming over to help. Neither time did they need to do that. And no one, my wife and I included, would have thought less of them had they not.

But the significance of it all was driven home to me a few weeks later in the grocery store.

Florence had had some foot surgery, so although ambulatory, it was easier if I did the grocery shopping. (I don’t mind shopping for groceries, but it is without a doubt easier for her to do it rather than answer repeated phone calls to get clarification on whether the “mushroom soup” she has listed is the generic brand, the house brand, or the name brand. Or whether “walnut halves” from the bulk section are okay rather than the packaged name-brand ones.)

I managed to make it through the list with only two or three phone calls and was looking for a check-out line that was not too long. I found one and queued up. A couple of folks pulled their carts in behind me, and two were in front of me. At the conveyor, a woman was unloading a cart and looking back at the line as she did so. Then, a woman rolled her cart to the end of the line, and the woman at the conveyor called to her. A brief conversation occurred between the woman at the conveyor and the person next in line, the next person saying, “Well, why don’t you call her up here.” After which, the woman at the conveyor called the woman at the end of the line to bring her cart forward.

In other words, essentially skipping ahead or “cutting in line,” although obviously, or at least apparently, they were shopping together.

Both women were profuse and overwhelmingly thankful to the person who had said, “Why don’t you call her up here.” And he, in turn, turned to the rest of the line and said, “Thanks for being understanding; they are shopping together.”

The man behind the “Why don’t you call her up here?” responded, “Sure. Think nothing of it. It doesn’t cost anything to be nice.”

Wow! What a joyous message that was. “It doesn’t cost anything to be nice.” Just like those fellows simply coming over and tossing “green and clean.”

Sure, doing so “cost” them (and those of us in the grocery line) a little time. And some energy shucking and tossing branches. And yes, I’ve seen folks scammed out of upgraded seats on airplanes with “I’d like to sit with my girlfriend; I don’t know why the airline separated us.” But that isn’t what was happening. It was simply “being nice,” and it didn’t really cost anything – but it made a big difference in the lives of someone else.

I have no idea whether any of the “being nice” folks in these stories thought of their actions in terms of expressing their faith. And I certainly don’t have an inkling of their faith expression – or if they have one. But I think there are some biblical injunctions that can be considered applicable. And while many of them express what our actions should be towards “foreigners” and “strangers”, Jesus, is clear that whatever we do for one another we do for Him, and what we fail to do for one another we have failed to do for Him.

I once heard that “you can make more friends with a snow shovel than anything else.” Yes, it might “cost” a little more time and effort, but it doesn’t cost anything to be nice.

As we enter the New Year, one which is sure to be filled with vitriolic speech, crass and “mean-spirited attacks on individuals and groups”, let all of us resolve to remember that we can have “courageous conversations” about contentious subjects. Our discussions can be civil and courteous. We can love our neighbor – even if we disagree with them.

We might not be on the national stage, or even a local one, on a televised debate, or in a town hall meeting, arguing for or against something to the county commissioners or the local library board or even expressing an opinion at the church conference. But in our daily lives, we will interact with people at the transfer station/recycling center, grocery store, barbershop, or hair salon. In each of those circumstances, we get to choose the image of our faith that we reflect and project.

It is my hope that I remember that and that “it doesn’t cost anything to be nice.”
John Townsend
Inland Missional District Lay Leader

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