A Weekly Column
Joseph Walker


Let’s be very clear about this right up front: it was not Geoff’s job to remove that dirt.

It was his job to take the complaint and to notify others of the constituent’s legitimate concern.  And he did so.  Several times. Each time with increasing urgency.

But it wasn’t his job to actually remove the dirt from the elderly woman’s driveway.  There’s no doubt about that.  He wasn’t part of the construction crew that left it there.  In fact, he wasn’t part of a crew at all.  In the blue collar world of road construction, his collar was decidedly white.  It would probably be a violation of some union rule or regulation for him to move anything anywhere.  And the last thing he needed at this point in his career was trouble with some union boss somewhere.

And it wasn’t as if he hadn’t already done a ton of stuff for this woman.  He heard from her often, and he always responded. Even when she threatened to chain herself to a sign.  Or a tree.  Or whatever it was that she threatened to chain herself to. Geoff always responded patiently.  Kindly.  Graciously.  That was his job.

Even if moving dirt wasn’t.

But this time his efforts to address the woman’s concerns were unsuccessful.  He tried going through channels but never got anywhere.  Everyone was too busy or too apathetic or too unwilling to accept responsibility.  None of which mattered to the woman.  She just wanted that pile of dirt removed from her driveway before the snow fell.

And according to the TV weather person, snow was on its way.  That night.

Geoff made one last attempt to get the people responsible for creating the dirt pile to move it.  “We’ll get to it – eventually,” he was told.  “But we’re awfully busy tonight.  There’s a storm blowing in.”

“I know,” Geoff said.  “That’s the point.  We need to get that pile of dirt off her driveway before the storm hits.  She can’t shovel her driveway if that dirt is still there.”

“We’ve got other priorities.  We’ll get to it if we can.”

Geoff understood that tone.  He’d heard it before.  It meant: “She’s on her own.”

And to Geoff, that was unacceptable.  This wasn’t about turf or responsibility or job descriptions.  This was about a frustrated older woman who might get stuck in her driveway if somebody didn’t come move the pile of dirt.  So he grabbed a truck from the motor pool and had his wife bring his shovel and broom down to the office. At the same time as everyone else in the office was going home, Geoff hopped in the truck and drove 25 miles to the woman’s house.  As the first squalls of the first winter storm of the season billowed around him, Geoff shoveled the dirt pile into the back of the pickup, swept the last of the dirt off the woman’s driveway and hauled the dirt back to another project that he knew could use the material.

And yes, he sweated a little under that white collar – swirling snow notwithstanding.

In a perfect world, the woman would have seen him working outside her home and come out to thank him and warm him with hot chocolate.  Or the workers would have finally showed up and helped him finish the project, apologizing profusely.  But she didn’t, and they didn’t.  As far as I know, neither the woman nor the workers even know what Geoff did.  But Geoff knows.  And now, you do too.  I wanted you to know because as far as I’m concerned, the world is a little better place every time one of us sees a personal, human need and addresses it in a personal, human way.

Even if it isn’t our job.

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— © Joseph Walker

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