Happiness Sneaking in Through Back Windows

The year was 1975. I was twenty-one years old, and I’d just gotten my first teaching position as the Title 1 teacher for Wisconsin Dells. With only three days before the start of school, I was about to see my classroom for the first time.

Since Title 1 teachers have smaller groups, I didn’t expect a huge teaching space. It turned out I would teach in a 12’ x 20’ room between the two sixth-grade classrooms. I entered one of the rooms, introduced myself to the male coworker who was hard at work at his desk, and creaked open the door to something I had long dreamed about—my own classroom complete with a teacher’s desk.

I was greeted by desks—a mass of them—many piled on top of one another. An old file and rickety storage cabinet were crammed against the wall. Heavy boxes of discarded books sat on what could be a teacher’s desk. Boxes of what looked like junk filled any leftover space. I may have let out an uncontrolled cry.

Was I strong enough to lift a student desk off of the pile? Who did I need to check with to get approval to toss things? I sagged against the wall.

My coworker strode over. He said, “We can get this set up in no time.”

We? He was going to leave all the tasks he needed to do and lend a hand?

True to his word, he spent the next several hours helping me heft desks. Sneezing and straining, we carted unwanted items out to the hall where the custodial workers, hopefully, would make them magically disappear. By lunch time, my first classroom had taken shape. Shivers of excitement mingled with my gratitude for that neighborly act. Less than two years after that fateful day, I married one of his good friends. He was the best man at our wedding and continues to be a great friend.

Harold S. Kushner said, “The happiest people I know are people who don’t even think about being happy. They just think about being good neighbors, good people. And then happiness sort of sneaks in the back window while they are busy doing good.”

That act of neighbor helping neighbor resonates with me this month because of the serious situation in Texas. My younger sister and her husband live in Austin. Like countless others, they dealt with the rolling blackouts, bursting pipes, and the lack of drinking water. My sister, worried about her freezer—imagine a full freezer of thawing, rotting meat — was helped by neighbors who lent them their generator.

She reported that some of her neighbors opened up their homes to people in need. The nightly news was filled with good samaritans carting over food to the elderly; restaurant owners opening their doors, and skilled plumbers helping neighbors. The Salvation Army, the American Red Cross, and other such organizations helped out.

It’s tragic times like this that bind us together as neighbors.

My husband and I are fortunate to have next-door neighbors who are also dear friends. They bring in our mail when we’re gone and snow blow when we’re unable. We share equipment, tools, reading material, recipes, the occasional casserole or dessert and are willing to lend a hand when needed.

Whether it’s hefting desks for a coworker, sharing recipes with the neighbor, or lending generators to a friend who doesn’t have electricity, neighbors helping neighbors builds a strong community, one which has happiness sneaking in through back windows.

2 Replies to “Happiness Sneaking in Through Back Windows”

Sue Berk Koch

Lovely essay, Amy! I love your half full attitude and am happy that it’s contagious. Thank you for sharing this story!


Thank you for your comment, Sue. I’m glad the column resonated with you.

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