I glance up from a kneeling position, where I’ve just spent the last five minutes shoring up a clutter of handbags on a bottom shelf.
“Is this purse on sale?”
She thinks I work here.
“Oh! Sorry. I don’t work here.”
Appearing perplexed, the woman wanders off.
Who can blame her? Most people get paid for straightening store merchandise. I’m the nut who does it for nothing.
Like many women, I consider myself a “fixer” of things. I visit doctor's offices and straighten pictures on the wall. In line at the grocery store, I spruce up the magazine racks. Just trying to help.
There is a downside to this proclivity, however. A “fixer” often loses sleep, bites nails, and drives the family and sundry acquaintances bonkers, but it is my nature to want to help other people—often to the extent of going way beyond the call of duty and common sense.
Once I gave away a very nice bedroom suite. When the recipient informed me she was having trouble finding someone to come get it, I said no problem, and volunteered The Man and his truck to be the deliverer. However, after discovering she lived 30 miles across town, The Man flatly refused. The woman was getting the furniture free, he said. Couldn’t she at least come get it?
He had a point, so we came up with a Plan B, but I would have delivered it—and smiled all 30 miles home. Just trying to help.
I used to love hearing my grandfather tell of "the good old days" when neighbors were neighborly. If a storm blew your fence down, neighbors helped you mend it. If the baby got sick, a neighbor fetched the doctor for you. People often dropped in with a fresh pie or a mess of butter beans, just for the sake of helping out a neighbor.
Across the street from us lives a retired man and his wife. The day we moved into our home, Lynn walked over, introduced himself, and said, "Now if there is anything you need, just let me know. You need to borrow a phone, come right on over. Anything at all, just ask."
It was like a breath of fresh air. And in the 26 years we have been neighbors, Lynn has remained neighborly, and we have enjoyed returning the favor.
There is something mysterious that occurs when people help each other. Suddenly, instead of thinking about your expanding girth, the shape of your nose, or the terrifying fact that you inherited your mother's hips, you feel at peace with yourself. Content. Happy.
The great humanitarian, Albert Schweitzer said, “I do not know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”
Perhaps Mr. Schweitzer is right: Serving others is the key to true happiness. Perhaps it is the only way to uncover the excellence within ourselves.
A version of this essay first appeared in The Dallas Morning News. All rights reserved.