When it happened, I was out-of-town on business, hundreds of miles away. It was a terrible feeling of helplessness.

My niece forwarded an email from her church requesting urgent prayer for a member who, following a heart attack and stroke, was fighting for his life.

“I know you think a lot of them and would want to know,” Nicole said.

Tom and Rita are our neighbors on the backside of the Rondarosa. They’re terrific neighbors. They keep their home looking like a show place and if we need anything, they’re only a call away.

Tom and Tink discovered a special bonding when they, and dozens of others, joined forces to fight a troubling zoning issue. Tom is an optimist and loving Christian who believes the best in everyone. When he had to see a disappointing side in a commissioner whom he knew and in whom he had tremendous faith, he was crushed like a child who watches Santa Claus disappear before his eyes.

It was somewhat refreshing, though, to see that someone in his sixth decade could still possess a childlike spirit and continue to believe wholly and innocently in the core goodness of folks. I wish I were more like that.

I called Tink. “Tom’s in the hospital in grave condition.”

“Oh no. I’ve had him on my mind for two weeks to call him to go to coffee.” I could feel the tumbling of Tink’s heart in the tone of his words. He took only a moment. “Let me throw on some good clothes, and I’ll go straight to the hospital. I have a call in 15 minutes with an actor, but I’ll cancel that.”

If you’re a born and long bred Southerner, this sounds perfectly normal. Tink, though, was raised as a nice but aloof New Englander. He believes that death and dying should be close family only.

Or rather, he used to believe that until he saw the ways of the South and how when a neighbor suffers, we jump headfirst into the suffering.

When Tom’s wife, Rita, saw Tink walk into the family waiting room, she stood up and started to cry. He stayed for three hours and visited in the ICU with Tom who, through his agony, said, “Tell Ronda I loved her series on Andy Griffith.”

Daily, Tink visited the hospital, toting along his laptop where he worked on TV scripts and business while he sat there in the waiting room, often alone.

I was so proud for I remembered his reluctance whenever a friend, family or neighbor was seriously ill and I said, “We have to go to the hospital.”

Or when death came and I said, “We need to put on our Sunday clothes and go to the funeral home,” he would seem paralyzed with trepidation. Gamely though not enthusiastically, he always went. Then it grew on him and he ceased to question it. He embraced it and welcomed the opportunity to show compassion and love.

Our neighbor up the road called last summer to ask a question. As we chatted, she said cheerfully, “Today’s my birthday!”

She told me her age — in the eighties — and said, “I’ve got a bad cold today. I wanted to cut my yard, but I don’t feel like it.”

Seriously, she might be up in age but she rides a lawn mower like a teenager, and she never met a weed she didn’t tackle. Her yard is picture perfect.

We hung up and Tink asked how she was doing. “Today’s her birthday. She had a very bad cold.” I paused. “She’s sad because she wanted to cut her grass today.”

Tink closed his laptop. “I’ll go over there and cut it for her now.”

I smiled, sighing with both happiness and pride. Tink had shed himself of aloofness and picked up the mantle of Southern neighborliness.

Give that guy his own personalized casserole dish.

Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of There’s A Better Day A-Comin’. Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.

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