Home Community Voices How to Carve A Well-Worn Path

How to Carve A Well-Worn Path

This is an installment of Good News & Good People, a column by Dana Hairston Hof.

Last week my friend Kathryn posted the unfortunate news that a beloved neighbor, Jim, died. It was an incredibly touching story about the bond that grew between a young family and a “seasoned” one. She shared the impact Jim made on their family as a friend, a fatherhood mentor, and eventually “adopted” grandfather.


This story challenged me to question if I have been a good neighbor and what it truly means.

I’ll admit, I am reserved and reticent when dealing with neighbors.

See? Unintentionally I just said, “dealing with,” like I am already ready for a fight or confrontation. Perhaps the episode of a former neighbor stealing my cat for the simple reason her daughter wanted it, jilted me against neighborly interactions. I’ll write about that one day, but just know it involved the police escorting the gray tabby back home. Bless it.

I’m concerned that someone will need something when I feel maxed out. Maybe I’m afraid that something will go awry and I am trapped next to them with no resolution. While those things are possible, what if the opposite turns out to be true?

The truth is that everything in life takes effort, especially relationships. Granted some take less than others, but what are we here for if not to be in relationship and community with others?

What better investment could we make with our time?

The beginning of my friend’s story began in a way that would’ve scared most people. She and her husband wanted to buy a lot owned by Jim and his wife, and adjacent to the property where they lived. He was particular about what home would be built on the property, a reality that would cause many people to bristle and retreat immediately.

Can’t you hear the common response? “Let me get this straight. I’m supposed to pay him money and he also gets to tell me what to build? I don’t think so.” No communication occurs. No patient listening. No graceful approach with the best in mind of the other.

But what sounded intimidating proved quite the gift in the end. Jim and Kathryn discovered a shared love of architectural style and design. Over time and as their relationship grew, Jim even reduced the price of the lot for the young couple, who were grateful for the needed reprieve on price. Because of the continued connection, he even paid for an attorney to redraw the legal boundary of the lot to ensure they had access to a pond on his and his wife’s property.

As time went on, Jim was no longer a man with a lot for sale, but a beloved member of their family. He shared invaluable wisdom on fatherhood, demonstrated an example of successful marriage to his wife, and became like a grandparent to Kathryn and BJ’s children, giving them money on their birthdays and teaching them gardening and fishing.

After the funeral was complete and it was time for Kathryn, BJ, and their children to leave Jim’s widow and head home, just next door, a symbol of Jim’s care for them remained.

You see, just last year, Jim carved an arbor from the tree canopy and formalized the path with stepping stones. What was once grass shared by one large lot, became a bridge between two families. A well-worn path, carved by one who took the first step and made deeper by the others that followed.

As the world is more divided and human connection becomes more strained, it will take little steps by us all to create a well-worn path that connects us. Had Jim only crossed that way once, perhaps the shrubs would’ve instead grown thick in between.

With a little grace and effort, two families are now forever changed for the better by the kindness of their neighbor.

If you ask me, that’s how we will change the world, by taking small steps that in time will create a path in between.




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Dana is an Arkansas native and a seasonal resident of the Gulf Coast since childhood. She was a Pensacola resident for 13 years, before moving to Gulf Breeze. Dana attributes her Mayberry-esque childhood in Warren, Arkansas, as enormously influential in honing her definitely Southern style of storytelling. She earned a degree in Journalism, Advertising/Public Relations from the University of Arkansas (Woo Pig Sooie!). In addition to writing, she loves photography, art, adventures in the great outdoors, and spending time with her three children.