The other day I came home from work and there was a fruit basket waiting for me as a thank you from a mom and dad for helping their daughter with her college essay.
I was surprised. As far as I was concerned, no thank you was in order. While we’re not particularly close, we’ve done each other many small favors through the years. The father coached my sons in soccer and lacrosse, driving them to games when we couldn’t make it. My wife counseled the mother on a medical matter. We’ve chipped in together to buy food for friends when there was a death in a family.
These are the small things people do for each other that make a geographic locale into a community.
In this system of barter, writing is one of the few useful skills I have to offer.
I certainly wouldn’t have been able to dismantle the old, rusty basketball hoop in front of the house without Mike McCarthy and his set of adjustable wrenches; or cut up the spruce that fell down in a hurricane without Kevin Peers and his gas-powered chain saw; or get one of my beloved sons out of jail when he was arrested for under-age drinking without Thea Capone’s legal expertise.
Each of these favors felt huge to me. (You can’t imagine how huge, until you’ve stood before a judge who sounds as if he’s about to give your kid 30 years for violating the open container law.)
People feel I’m doing them a big kindness when I help with the essays. They come to me browbeaten and defeated. They ask if it really is true what the 19-year-old campus tour guide told them that most people have a first draft by eighth grade. They are convinced their child’s future depends on this. They have blown up the essay until it’s as big as the complete works of Leo Tolstoy.
So much worry for 250 to 500 words about something important that has happened to them.
It helps that I’ve been through the process with my four kids. And that I’ve been in the community 30 years and know many of the youngsters since they were little boys and girls. Often, I know the family dramas…