Maybe once, twice a month someone visits my next door neighbor in his tiny efficiency. Cockeyed with several missing teeth, he works at one of those second hand stores run by a charity. The pay is not great. Dwight’s a poor man; lives alone. Probably always has lived alone.
Once, a long time ago, he had a girl over. I could hear them chatting with wondrous enthusiasm all through the night (Sound survives the thin walls of this old building). But the next day, after she’d left, Dwight shook his head and said something to me about her having “issues” or “mental problems” or something like that, and she didn’t come back.
Dwight talks to me like we know each other. But in three years he’s lived across the hall, we’ve spoken fewer than a dozen times. We’re like two hermits in neighboring caves. Becky knows more about him than I do.
Becky is my oldest friend in town and one of the closest friends I’ve had in my life. She’s more than a little curious about everyone, and not the least bit bashful about meeting people.
She’s incapable of passing through a check out aisle without befriending the cashier. She’s the only person I know who’s sat out on a curb for two hours waiting to meet her garbage men — simply because she wanted to make the acquaintance of the folks who took away her trash every week. She’s self-employed as a housekeeper and in some ways knows more about her clients than they know about themselves.
And Becky is generous. Whatever she learns about you goes into her head and sooner or later comes out as some perfect little gift tailor-made to your tastes or needs.
She’s never asked for a raise from any of her clients, but her clients are always giving her raises. In the first place, she cleans your home as well and conscientiously as she’d clean her own. But she goes way beyond that.
She knows when your niece is coming to visit and — incredibly — she’s even got a feel for which sheets your niece might want on her bed. And if not that, then she’ll at least arrange for you to have a fresh baked apple pie or homemade rolls the day your niece arrives.
Once by chance she ran into Dwight on her way to visit me. Of course, she introduced herself and right on the spot struck up a conversation with him. Now when she comes to visit me, she sometimes looks up Dwight too. She knows more about him now than I ever did.
So, it was a bit strange last night when I was the one to tell Becky that Dwight had been to a doctor and come back diagnosed positive for colon cancer.
It just happened that way. In a normal world — a world not turned upside down — it would have been Becky who found out first and then told me. But I’d ordered a pizza last night and it happened that Dwight came home at precisely the same moment I opened my door for the delivery man.
Dwight always talks to me like we’re confidants, and last night he launched himself into telling me about the doctor and the cancer tests and how he’d shorted our landlord some money this month to pay for the tests because the tests had to be paid for up front. So I got the full story as I stood there with a pizza in my hand and nothing I could say really to someone who is almost a stranger despite our living as neighbors.
When I called Becky later that night she was left speechless for a bit.
I’ve known people who will come up with all sorts of stock phrases and platitudes at a moment like that, but Becky isn’t one of them. She was simply speechless. So, after a few moments, we changed the subject to something else.
If I know Becky, though, she’ll soon be busy figuring something she can do for Dwight. Becky expresses herself more through actions than through words. If she’s concerned about Dwight — and she probably is — she’ll arrange something for him. Some gift she’s figured out from her conversations with him that he might appreciate.
Becky herself would never call her actions “expressions of love”. But I’ve never figured out what else to call those actions — unless to call them “compassionate”.
I think it’s important, however, not to confuse her kind of freely given love — or compassion — with sentimental affection. Sentimental affection is quite alien to Becky.
What she gives, she gives from her spirit, from her nature, as something natural to her. She does not pity people. She does not seek their approval. She does not give from attachment to them. She will not give to you anything she doesn’t feel comfortable giving. And she is never manipulative through her gifts.
For all those reasons and more, her gifts are authentic and beautiful expressions of her self.
There is very little Becky can do for Dwight, but I doubt that stops her from doing something.