Hi there. I am so happy you can join me on our walk this afternoon. Here, in Hopkinton, New Hampshire, it is around thirty-two degrees, and the sun has been bright upon the snow. We have probably six or so inches of snow from the last storm on Saturday.
Last night when Dale and I were driving home with Molly who had been a day care all day, I drove down a favorite road near our home called Old Stagecoach Road. Now I had not seen a deer since hunting season opened last fall until last night. On the right had side of the road, there were two deer hurrying off the road into the woods. It is always exciting to see a deer in the woods, but especially when it is winter. It is then I always think what it might be like to live in the woods of New England in the month of January. Where do the deer huddle together; how difficult is it for them to find food? Then, I like to think of the Loving Hand of God who watches over us watches over – his other creatures as well. As God has given us “dominion” (Book of Genesis) over the animals, we have a great responsibility to take care of them. In a sense, we have a role as the Lord over the animals. We have much to do to if the animals of earth are to exist and be taken care of in our own backyard.
Now last week I told you this week on our walk I would talk about a neighbor who lived next to us when I was a child. He was not a neighbor well loved. Rather he was a neighbor that we children did not like for he often yelled at us to get away from his house.
Certainly Mr. N, like all of our new neighbors in Melrose, was somewhat shocked when my parent purchased their first new home. It was in a very nice neighborhood of much older people. Most of the neighbors who had children now had children in college or children who had left home. So, when Milton and Etta Boyle moved into their new home, they had five children. I was the youngest, and my mother was pregnant with her sixth. Truly, I think the neighbors were horrified by the thought of six very young children living in that once vacant house, especially the neighbor on our left side.
Mr. N had a driveway that sloped down to his garage under his house. On either side of his driveway were very high cement retaining walls. We had such walls at the side of our drive as well, but they were nowhere near as towering as Mr. N’s. When it began to snow in the winter, Mr. N. had no choice but to go out and keep pushing the snow to the city street where he piled massive piles of snow. On a snowy night, if you awoke at twelve o’clock midnight, you would hear a metal shovel pushing snow, and you knew it was Mr. N. shoveling his driveway free of the snowfall. You also knew in the morning there would be glorious mountains of snow at the end of his driveway. Do you know any young child that does not want to climb a mountain of snow? There was the problem. There were young children next door to Mr. N., and those children were going to be yelled at when they even walked near to those huge piles of snow. Of course, they preferred to walk on the top of the mountain not on the cleared sidewalk. How happy he must have been to have spring arrive and his mountains of snow melt. But even then, he would yell at the new children living next door.
If we played ball and the ball landed in his yard, when we went to retrieve it, he would scream at us to get off his lawn. If we made a large noise while playing hide and seek or hid in his yard, we would hear his loud holler to get off his land. If we made his life miserable, it seemed he made our lives equally unhappy.
Now, I must admit that we children were not beyond speaking back to him. One spring day, when the snow was still left on his snow mountains, but it had all melted off our lawn, my older brother and his friends wrote the words “Old Goat.” with snow letters on our brown grass with an arrow pointing to Mr. N’s house.
There came a day when my mother had finally lost her patience with both her children and Mr. N. He was outside yelling at us again, and my mother came out on the front porch and spoke very loudly to Mr. N. “You know what your trouble is Mr. N.? You have nothing to do all day but to sit by your window and watch my children and then yell at them. You need something constructive to do.”
This is how Mr. N. replied to my mom, “Well darn, well darn, well darn. You’re right! He might not have used those exact words, but he did not seem to yell at us much after that confrontation.
Now Abraham Lincoln advised that, “You should make your enemy your friend.” Jesus said, “You should love your enemy.” That is what happened to Mr. N. and to me. I do not know how it began, but Mr. N. and I began to speak to one another.
He asked me if I would pick up some branches that had fallen from his numerous oak trees and cut them up. After I finished the work, he paid me a dollar and ten cents. My brother told me he was a cheap skate, that did not matter to me. I had come to like Mr. N. so much; he was now my friend.
In Mr. N.’s yard, there was a circular bench around one of his great oak trees. Ever since I sat on that bench for the first time, I have admired benches built around trees. To my siblings, amazement, I would sit on that bench with Mr. N. and talk and listen to him for many hours. He told me stories about the neighborhood and how it was when he first built his home. There were not other homes nearby. We talked about his family and my family. I am sure I shared how much I loved Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. I look back to my childhood and know that Mr. N. is part of the reason I love to tell stories and to write them. It is why I like to walk with you and to tell you about my day and the stories I hold dear.
Have you had an experience like the one I had with Mr. N.? Have you ever found that someone you did not like at first later became a very good friend? Sometimes we do not even know that we have made a close friend when we have. That has come home to me many times when I have concluded a ministry and moved on in my life. I will receive a letter or have someone visit and speak to me of how much my ministry has meant to them. There have been times when that relationship has come as a surprise to me.
We need to be aware of those around us and make friends with even those we seem not to like at first. When we share life, our stories, we find that most of us are connected by our experiences with others. When we share similar stories, happy or sad we soon find we have a new friend. Happy events and sad events tie us to each other.
Recently I talked with a friend I have known over the years. I have been worried about her and made a telephone call to check up on her. Have you done that recently? Is there a friend you have neglected who would love to hear from you? You have a phone; you have the internet; you have the regular mail. Then why not make a connection that will make both you and your friend happy. And you know what? I will do the same thing. And we might even talk to someone who was once an enemy.
Jesus says, “Love your enemy.” Abraham Lincoln says, “Make your enemy a friend.” Ken says – That’s true – I learned that when I was a young boy, thanks to Mr. N.
“AND NOW MAY THE LORD WATCH BETWEEN ME AND THEE WHILE WE ARE ABSENT ONE FROM THE OTHER.”
Next week maybe we will talk about windows, the kind you look out of – not the ones on your computer. See you next walk. In Christian love, Ken Boyle.