Differing Worldviews, or Help (Not) Wanted Part 1

I’ve noticed through the years that my husband and I teeter between being on the bleeding edge of technology (iMac in 1998, Hulu in 2008) or being Luddites (“why would I want a smart phone?”, daily newspaper delivery). I don’t know anyone else who still receives an actual newspaper. When I was growing up, newspaper delivery was a common job for early-rising teenagers (!) on bicycles. Now, we are on a long route traversed by car, our (yester)daily news delivered by moms working two jobs. (There is frequent turnover, but this characteristic stays the same.)

Our paper is tossed from a passenger car window, deposited somewhere in the vicinity of the uneven brick stairs that lead to our front walkway. Sometimes it lands in the ivy to the right or under the rhododendron to the left. When our paper began appearing up on our walkway instead of the bottom of the steps, I assumed we had a new carrier. Then one day I happened to look out the window and watched an elderly man in a bright orange safety vest stoop down, pick up the paper, and fling it onto our walkway. I recognized him as our neighbor, Earl, who is in his mid-eighties and walks two miles a day. Apparently, he had been passing our steps on his daily walks before we’d had a chance to claim the newspaper. Although watching him reach for our paper while balancing on his walking sticks made me nervous, his simple gesture warmed my heart. My hubby encountered him a few weeks later – when we were still finding our paper on the walkway – and told him how much we appreciated his efforts. He said that it made him feel good to help.

Some days later, I caught a glimpse of Earl through the window. I watched as he bent down, retrieved the paper, and tossed it onto the walkway. Before I could go out and thank him, he bent down again, straining to pick up something else. I wondered what it could be. When he stood back up, he held something in his hand but I couldn’t quite see what it was. He continued to hold onto it as he resumed his walk.

I had a hunch what it was, but I decided to wait and see if I could find what he had done with it. Later on, I walked to the bottom of the steps and my suspicions were confirmed. There was a fresh hole on one side where Earl had ripped out – ack! – a large flowering dandelion. Now if you know anything about me at all, you know how I feel about dandelions. And while I wouldn’t harvest from plants next to the road, I loved that particular one. It thrived at the base of the steps along the “wilder reaches” of our property. The sunny yellow flowers had brightened a dark corner and provided a favorite spot for pollinators.

I walked along the road, curious about what he had done with the dandelion. I seriously doubted that he was harvesting versus weeding, but I held out hope. When I came to our garden at the end of the driveway, I could see where he had dispensed with the plant – next to a small pile of other dandelions that he had no doubt been removing from the bottom of the steps after faithfully tossing up our paper.

As I stood looking at the mournful little mound of dessicated dandelions, I thought about how differently we can see the world. Whereas I can look at the dandelions and see food and medicine, someone else can look at the same plant and view it as a nuisance and lawn-wrecker, and perhaps even draw conclusions about me being an overworked/neglectful gardener at best or disrespectful neighbor at worst. (Full disclosure: I dug up my fair share of dandelions before learning about their history and ethnobotanical uses.)

While I was contemplating deep thoughts about differing worldviews, the Universe served up another synchronicity. Across the street, our neighbor’s German Shepherd decided (once again, indiscriminately) that I was an imminent threat and ran to the edge of his yard to noisily inform his owner of impending doom. It’s a daily occurrence. And annoying. And my Basset-Bloodhound answers him in kind. (“Omigod! I’ve got your back! Who are we barking at now?!”) Our neighbor, who is always outside if it isn’t raining, allows her dog to bark incessantly because it “keeps all the weirdos away.” I, on the other hand, constantly try to curtail our Bella’s “airhorn bark” to avoid terrorizing innocent pedestrians (or people standing in their own yards). For my neighbor, the racket is reassuring and symbolizes safety. For me, the barking brings up residual trauma from a different neighbor yelling at me to keep my dog quiet. (No word yet on why said neighbor has yet to raise the same beef about the German Shepherd.)

After some internal dialogue (and some external muttering), I concluded that we all had valid reasons for our opinions, whether about the plants/weeds or the barking/noise or countless other situations or issues, both monumental and mundane. I might disagree (even very strongly!) about someone else’s position, but I certainly couldn’t claim the higher ground or the right way or the Truth. Although I was disappointed about the dandelions, I understood that Earl was uprooting them as another helpful gesture. Part of me wanted to explain how I felt about dandelions, that I appreciated his efforts, but please stop it! Instead, I decided to just start picking up my own paper. Some days I arrive in time to greet Earl as he comes up the street. I just smile and wave since neither one of us can hear over all the barking.