I’ve spent much of my life in a small town. “How small?” you ask. About 50,000 if you include ants, but the humans number 3,000 and change. Are you from a small town? You might be from a small if you couldn’t buy cigarettes because the store clerks all knew your age. You might be from a small town if running from the cops meant hiding in a corn field. You might be from a small town if you thought it was normal to have an old man drive a riding lawnmower around town, or if a night on the town took about four minutes.
Few things are more exhilarating than a small-town newspaper’s “Police Beat” section. Here are a few samples. I’m not making these up. “Thursday at 3:20 PM a resident who needed help opening a jar called police for assistance. The police opened the jar.” “1:03 PM, a sick raccoon was reported in the 600 block of Pleasant Avenue. The raccoon appeared to be healthy. No action was taken.” “Friday night, police received a report of suspicious behaviour on Marshall Street. Turned out to be four males with flashlights comparing facial hair.” “October 29: Pumpkin taken from Mountview Drive property and returned carved.”
Wherever we live, there are opportunities to carve other people’s pumpkins, to practice kindness, to be in community. One day our doorbell rang and a five- or six-year-old kid was standing there. He lifted his finger to show me that it was bleeding. “Ow,” he said. I washed the tiny cut, put a Band-Aid on it, and waved goodbye. “What’s your name?” I asked. But he was gone. I have no idea who he was.
As the sun set one night, a friend from church came over in a panic. His very young daughter was missing. The last thing she had said to him was, “I’m gonna run away.” I called three friends who called three friends and within 20 minutes half the town was scouring the streets with flashlights, searching the darkness. Those who couldn’t search prayed. We found her, hiding beneath the long branches of a pine tree. And I thought to myself, I almost missed this little miracle because I am a busy guy who considered not answering the doorbell and filling my time with less important things.
One small town newspaper had a “Deaths” section. But no died that week, so they just put “Deaths are coming.” They were right. “Teach us how short our lives are,” wrote the Psalmist, “so that we may be wise.” Wherever we are, let’s make time to reach out. When we bring joy to others, we bring it to ourselves as well. It won’t make headlines, but then again, you never know.