It has been a day now, so I suppose his family has been notified. Anyway, I heard about it from a second source, so I suppose the news is in the mainstream of local conversation. I’m not going to use his name, anyway.
Yesterday my neighbor Bill drove down to the main road to guide the sheriff in, so I knew something was wrong. One of our other neighbors, it seems, had died in his sleep, probably over the weekend.
He was younger than me (in his 50s), reclusive, addicted to prescribed pain medications, and (if you ask me) he had a screw loose on top of it all. I’ve been told that he’d been kicked out of a couple area hospitals, but another source told me he’d been discharged normally. He’d told me he worked a succession of dangerous and shitty jobs for low pay, and that his father was always predicting he’d screw up (and was disappointed when he didn’t). He’d lived a hard, unhappy life.
A few years ago, his attitude towards me took a sudden and unexpected turn, and he began ignoring my greetings at the mailboxes and he cussed me out once at the bank. I had done nothing at all to warrant such treatment, and I resolved to ignore his behavior and continue greeting him civilly. I don’t know if this strategy was working, but he actually seemed nice to me the last couple times I saw him.
But the truth is, it didn’t matter to me how he had behaved. As the old saying goes, the only behavior you can control is your own, and I know that I never knowingly had done anything to arouse his animosity. If that was how he chose to behave, it was on him, not me.
There was an exchange yesterday between my neighbor and me that got me to thinking. After I had learned of our neighbor’s death, I said, “If there’s trouble in the neighborhood, I want to do my part.” And my neighbor said: “No trouble.”
Everything is fine in the neighborhood. So I realized that he rubbed everybody the wrong way, even people who got along with him.
Everyone has their own take on the neighbor’s passing and how they feel about it. Everything is eventually summed about us in the end, and this is the beginning of that process.
Now why am I telling you about this incident? The comments to yesterday’s post related to receiving different feedback, or no feedback at all, from some of the young people we support, and how it might affect our own continued support. About sending books and letters into a “black hole” from which you can expect no feedback, as personally satisfying as that feedback might be… if it would only come.
I won’t presume to tell you what to expect or to feel. That is up to you. I can only tell you how it is for me.
First of all, I don’t provide unsolicited support to anyone. Someone, whether it is the kid him/herself, a friend or advocate, a parent, must desire, request, and agree to it. So you’re not delving into places where you haven’t been invited.
Second, our support is unconditional. For me, that means that I have no expectation of personal gratification from any transaction. The satisfaction for me is in the giving, not anything I get in return. As they say, my behavior is the only thing I can control.
I know that each of these kids is dealing with their own circumstances, and that my satisfaction doesn’t figure into their calculus.
For example, Paul Henry Gingerich is not allowed by his jailors to reply to anything he receives–letters, books, etc. It is enough for me to know (indirectly through his father) that he knows the role I have played in his life. Maybe he will thank me one day, maybe not. It really doesn’t matter.
Right now one of my kids is mad at me because of something innocuous I said a while back in the blog. As a result, I haven’t heard from him in a while. He is dealing with his own situation. Last night I received an email from him requesting my phone number (he had misplaced it). So apparently I will hear from him soon.
However the conversation turns out, my only goal is to assure him that my support for him is truly unconditional, and is not affected by whether he is mad at me or not, does or doesn’t do what I suggest, whether I hear from him or not, etc. I’m with him, no matter what he gets himself into.
The third thing I have learned is this: You have to be patient and just wait. Everyone else is living life according to their timetables, not ours. Their issues and priorities. That’s what makes this work so interesting.
I knew that our dead neighbor would eventually be judged “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” by everybody who knew him. I knew the kid who is mad at me would eventually call. All comes to him who waits.
I will make the gentle suggestion to the kids I talk to that they should be sure to write “grandma or grandpa a thank-you note” if they can, but I can’t guarantee a result that it will square with your expectations or desires.
I’ve found that the easiest thing is to expect nothing at all in return, and be surprised and delighted when the feedback does come along. I’ve learned that what you do is noticed and appreciated. It’s not exactly like these guys have fan clubs and a lot of people caring about what happens in their lives. Kindnesses stand out in a world of hurt.
The feedback will come. Just wait.
Groove of the Day