The other day, while I was sitting on my deck, talking to my dad on the phone, I suddenly saw my broken front gate swing open and a man started walking in with gardening tools slung over his shoulder. I’d never seen him before. He didn’t speak much Hebrew, mostly Arabic. But I figured out that he was walking the streets looking to work for pay to feed his family of 7.
Before I could even really decide whether I wanted to let him in, he walked across my garden with determination and started raking up the dead leaves off my lawn.
“What about payment?” I asked. “Pay me whatever you can”, he said, “we just need to eat.” He got back to work, sweating and puffing and muttering to himself.
I very rarely have any money in the house. But I had recently arranged a fundraising ‘Carnival’ in our back garden with my son, and had digitally transferred all the proceeds. So I still had some of the coins left, in a big plastic bag.
I rummaged around in the bag of cash. I managed to find 50 shekels. A bit pathetic; I didn’t realize how much of the cash I had already spent. But obviously it would be better than nothing.
I told my daughter what had happened. She said 50 shekels wasn’t going to be enough. She would go upstairs and give him some of her money. So together we managed to rustle up 150 shekels. My daughter handed over to him in a plastic bag. He took it and said, “can’t you find me more than that?”
She was a bit taken aback but she brushed it off. Maybe we were expecting words of gratitude? Maybe a few tears? A smile? But the non-ego part of me knows that when you help someone who is desperately in need, you can’t do it from a place of ego. You can’t do it because you want a round of applause a metal, a pedestal, words of platitude and gratitude. You have to just do it because you know it’s a human thing to do. Right?
Easier said than done though.
It’s not that we mean to bring our egos into situations like this. Ego has a way of turning up unannounced. A bit like this gardener.
After he finished off pruning our trees, hacking at my beloved rosebush whilst I stood watching with my fist in my mouth trying not to tell him to stop, he then went on to sweep up our front yard.
Only in Israel, would you find a man who wanders into your garden unannounced, does gardening for you that you don’t really want, and then complains and tells you how messy you all are (true) and mutters “why can’t you tidy up after yourselves?”
I almost explained to him that we just had a carnival in the garden. And these are all the leftover bits of paper and tickets and burst balloons. And then I realized I don’t have to explain anything.
“What’s this doing in the pile?”, “Why have you left this lying around?”, “What’s this nonsense?” “Can I get a glass of water? And maybe you have some more money for me. Did I do a good job?”
I waited for him to leave and texted my husband while I was waiting. “ A stranger wandered into our garden looking for work and he still hasn’t left.”
I have to admit, I was slightly nervous to have a strange man in my front garden. First of all because he’s a stranger. Secondly, because I’m not used to having people walk around touching things. It’s been a long time since I’ve let a stranger in. And I realized how germaphobic and fearful i’ve become recently.
He started gathering up his tools to leave. “Did I go do a good job?” “Yes” I said, “Do you have a spare mask I can use? This one’s got really dirty” “Sure” I said, and pulled a new disposable mask out of the box.
“Thank you.” he said, and looked me in the eyes for the first time. He muttered something that I didn’t understand. “Where did you use to work?” I asked him. “No work, no work, no work long time” he answered in Hebrew.
I left it. He didn’t seem to want to talk much. I think my head is still in the movies, where a strange man walks into your garden and you strike up a conversation and get into deep discussions about the meaning of life (not sure which movie that would be) But he didn’t really want to chat. He just wanted money to feed his family.
Slowly he wandered back out through our broken gate. “I really need to get that gate fixed” I thought to myself.
Next time he can knock. I would say next time he can ring the buzzer, but that’s broken too.