My Neighbor Joe
I moved into a house with a large rambling garden in need of a lot of clearing. My neighbour was a grey-haired, retired bachelor named Joe. We shared a boundary fence with a gap in the middle through which we walked one Sunday morning. Joe offered to help me clear my patch. He would tell me which part of my garden should be cleared next, I would agree, and we would set to it. Joe was a great help and we fell into a regular Sunday pattern of working in my garden. Joe was not much into talking and in the few years I knew him, I didn’t know him to have any friends visit or to go out.
I wondered if this was because he was such a pessimist.
“Morning Joe, it’s going to be a lovely sunny day.”
“Yes, and that means I will have to water the garden, the paintwork will dry around the windows and it will be so hot in the car if I leave it parked in the sun.”
“That’s not so bad Joe, surely it’s a lot better than getting rained on!”
He wasn’t convinced and continued to work on the tangle of bushes we were clearing.
“You get more car thefts when it’s hot, young guys wanting to head to the beach.”
I learned to turn a deaf ear to his complaints, suspecting it was indicative of an inner loneliness.
The next day the sun had fled, the temperature had fallen, and the rain was making the most of its chance.
“Morning Joe. You’ll be glad of the rain, it’ll save you having to water your garden, and perhaps your car will be at less risk from joyriders.”
“But look at the mud, by the time I get back from the shops the car will be splattered with it and I’ll have to wash it. I was going to do a wash and now I can’t hang it out to dry.
It seemed that nothing could cheer Joe up. I decided to try another trick.
“Morning Joe. The sun’s out. You’ll be worried about the paint peeling from your windows, and you’re going to have to water your garden. If you park your car when you go shopping it’ll be beastly hot when you want to get back into it.”
I tried again the next day.
“Morning Joe, I can’t stop and chat, it’ raining buckets, you won’t be able to put out your washing and the mud will mean you have to wash your car if you go out, and I know you’re concerned about a possible leak from your roof.”
It was almost as if Joe realised that I understood just how bad things were and was relieved that I was not trying to cheer him up. As a result, he was emboldened to say,
“Oh well, at least I won’t have to water the garden.”
Some people can be encouraged out of a down mood, others you have to empathise with first and then lead them out.