It’s a funny thing, but sometimes those who’ve seen the tougher side of life discover that helping causes ripples of goodness that spread much father than a single action—into memories, principles, and life lessons.
That’s how I remember Clint.
Clint was in his mid-fifties when I met him. Though his face was lined with life’s hardships, his blue-gray eyes were as bright with wonder as my three-year-old son’s.
A nasty divorce left him estranged not only by his ex-wife, but from his daughter as well. The harsh severing of family ties left him so disillusioned that he’d become clinically depressed and unable to pursue the executive career that he’d excelled in for many years.
Though Clint was unable to handle the pressure of high finance, he was unwilling to be idle while he worked through his sorrow with the aid of a doctor and a counselor. Though his family had cut him off, he found ways to reach out to others.
When I first saw him, he was dressed in a red and white checked flannel shirt and blue jeans that were shredded at the knees. His work-glove-covered hands held a hammer, and he whistled as he drove nails into a neighbor’s fence.
“Isn’t he sweet?” my neighbor called. “He saw that I needed a few new fence panels, and offered to nail them up for me. I haven’t been able to keep up with that kind of work since my husband died.”
“How kind of him,” I said.
I extended my hand and introduced myself.
Clint took of his right glove before shaking my hand.
“My back porch needs a railing. How much do you charge?”
“Oh, I just did this because Mrs. Trent needed it,” he answered simply.
“I baked him a big apple pie!” Mrs. Trent added.
“You seem to enjoy your work,” I said.
Clint grinned hugely, showing white, even teeth.
“I love it!”
“Well, let me know if you have time to look at my porch.”
I couldn’t afford to pay him much, but I was afraid my son would fall off the porch before my husband, who worked long hours, was able to fix it. Later that week I saw Clint at my neighborhood church. I learned he’d done odd jobs for several other widows besides Mrs. Trent. He’d accepted meals, baked goods, even fresh eggs from a woman who raised chickens. But he hadn’t accepted money.
He was quickly becoming a favorite of the older women in our neighborhood. But what I admired was that in his nature there was no sense of duty, of proving that he was a good person or of making up for the loss of his family. Though he grieved for his family, and yearned to be reconnected with them, that didn’t stop him from loving others. Especially children.
When he first saw my son, his eyes shone. He squatted to make his six-foot-three gaze level with Jason’s, and held out his hand.
“You’re a fine little guy! How are you today?” he asked as they shook hands.
He gave my son a lollipop and ruffled his hair before moving on.
The next week, I was hanging laundry on the clothesline that was suspended from my back porch when my poodle, Alex, began barking. When I went around front to see what she was barking at, Clint stood on the other side of my front gate. Jason darted behind my legs and peeked out at him giggling.
“Hi!” he called cheerfully. “Where’s Jason today?” he teased.
“I’m not sure,” I said, joining the game. “He was here a minute ago.”
“Well, too bad I missed him,” Clint said. “I had a hat for him.”
He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a red baseball cap. Jason squealed and jumped out from behind me.
“I’m here!” he cried.
“Well, then you may have this hat,” Clint said.
I opened the gate to let him in, and he placed the hat on Jason’s head.
“You’re a good little fella!” he cried as he watched Jason march around in his new hat.
“Now, let’s see that porch.”
I showed him where some of the boards had become cracked, and explained the railing I’d planned.
“My husband, Michael will help you, and we’ll buy all the materials,” I explained. “We can pay you for your work. We appreciate the help. Since I’m not a widow and Michael is working, people don’t realize that we need a little help sometimes, too.”
“Well, of course you do!”
He inhaled deeply.
“Mmmm. What’s that wonderful smell?”
“I just baked some brownies. Would you like some?”
“I love brownies!” Jason interjected.
“Me, too,” Clint said.
Clint seemed to enjoy his brownie as much as Jason. Though brownies are among my favorite treats, I’d learned to enjoy them in a more quiet, “adult” manner. As I watched Clint bite off huge pieces, laughing when Jason said his cheeks were so full that they looked like a chipmunk’s, I wondered at his enjoyment of the simple things in life.
When he showed up the following weekend, wearing his tool belt, his cheerful nature gave my husband the confidence he needed to work with him on the porch. They had the whole project done by the time I’d prepared teriyaki chicken kabobs for dinner.
“Have you ever had one of these?” Clint asked Jason when he picked up a kabob.
Jason screwed up his face and stuck out his tongue.
“I don’t like ‘em!” he cried.
“That’s because you don’t know how much fun they are!”
Clint made faces as he slid the chunks of chicken and peppers off the bamboo skewer with his teeth. Soon, Jason was laughing and picking at his own kabob. After Clint smacked his lips over the strawberry shortcake I’d made from the berries we grew, he rose to leave.
“What do we owe you?” Michael asked, shaking his hand.
Clint gathered my husband into a big, brotherly hug.
“How could you pay me more than you already have?”
As we watched Clint drive down the road in his beat-up white truck, we realized that when he lost his job and his family, that through his grief he had discovered what was really important in life. To love life, love people, and to love well. As we gathered Jason into a group hug, we realized that the work he’d done on our porch was nowhere near as important as the work he’d done on our heart.