Little Riley, the boy from next door, rang
my doorbell and asked to use my trowel,
which I had left out in the front yard, and
which he saw as a Very Useful Tool,
if only he could get permission to
use it. I was impressed with his language:
trowel is a very specific word,
and a very useful word if a small
boy wants to dig with a neighbor’s garden
tool. The word dug at my heart, as did his
polite asking, and I could not say no,
although I liked that trowel, as it was
sturdy and thick, and had been given to
me by my other neighbor, who grew too
old and sick to get out and dig with it
anymore. I knew that the trowel might
not survive this lending, and the truth is:
it didn’t. When the boy came back to ring
my doorbell again, to tell me that he
had broken the tip of my tool as he
tried to pry up a stone from his yard, and
when he looked at me to see how my face
would turn with this news, and I could see that
he was ready to receive whatever
words might rain down, I was impressed again.
It’s okay, I told him. The trowel was old
and I have another. Absolution
was not what he expected, because he
hesitated, and asked how much it cost,
calculating how he might make this right
with me, the kind neighbor lady who smiled
each time she opened her door, even when
his little brother rang my doorbell for
the third time, to offer me another
fig leaf he had just plucked from my own tree.
He knew my disposition towards small things.
There are Many Useful Things: Tools, yes. But
words, too, and everything underneath them.
It is possible to plant kindness with
a broken trowel.