This year I’ve taken up story telling. It started on the first day of my fiction writing class at Colgate. So when I got my first assignment for Channel Kindness, I thought “What better way to communicate the importance of kindness than through a story that everyone could relate to?” Full disclaimer: this isn’t a fairytale. This story is completely true. And its truth makes it all that much more powerful. So here it goes, my first Channel Kindness story. It’s unofficial title: The Good Neighbor.
It was January in Laguna Beach, California. Jim and Elizabeth Chapel crammed Panorama Drive with kids, grandkids, dogs, and moving trucks, eager to move into their new home. Norman Powell, the Chapels’ eighty-one-year old neighbor, had lived alone on that street for two years and had never seen so much commotion on his otherwise peaceful street. That day in January, Norman stood across the street from the Chapels’ watching the chaos unfold in front of him.
In the midst of this chaos, Elizabeth, the mother of five, noticed the confused man standing across the street. She had never seen Norman before, but his expression at the craziness around her was all too familiar to her. Elizabeth put down her boxes and smiled at Norman.
“Hi I’m Elizabeth Chapel you’re new neighbor. I just want to assure you this mess is only temporary. My husband, Jim, and I are the only ones moving in. But I think you’ll like us.”
“Oh okay. I’m Norman Powell,” he said.
Elizabeth was clearly needed at the house, but her attention was on Norman and she asked him more about himself. Norman told Elizabeth that he was a UCLA grad, like Elizabeth’s parents. He told her he moved into that red house on Panorama Drive with his wife, Armina, and that they painted their cabinets “lipstick red.” He also told her that Armina was the love of his life and that she had passed away a few years ago and that they had no children. Their conversation lasted only a few minutes, but it was enough to show Elizabeth what a wise, intelligent, and loving person Norman was.
According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, an organization dedicated to informing the public about loneliness and inspiring community action at the national and local levels, “63% of adults aged 52 or older who have been widowed…report feeling lonely some of the time or often.”
When Elizabeth introduced herself to Norman, she probably didn’t know this statistic. And yet, it was Elizabeth’s genuine desire to get to know Norman, not her pity for him, which has caused Norman to regard Elizabeth as “the kindest, most thoughtful person I have known.”
Since that day in January three years ago, Elizabeth has invited Norman to her infamous Sunday night family dinners. She has brought him cupcakes on Easter with a note saying, “I made these for my family. I hope you will enjoy some too.” She attends yoga with him at the local senior center, unfazed by the fact she is, by far, the youngest person there. All these incredibly selfless acts were motivated by a single random act of kindness: a genuine introduction.
Sadly, introductions are pretty much habitual. A lot of people can’t even remember a person’s name seconds after they’ve introduced themselves. We can get so caught up in our daily routines that we aren’t present to observe the people around us. While it’s sometimes hard to get out of our own heads, Elizabeth Chapel is living proof that if we actively take an interest in the lives of others, we will find that everyone could use a little more kindness.