We live in one of the older neighborhoods in Baltimore city and are surrounded by huge old trees.
In 2003, Hurricane Isabel deposited one of those trees, an 80-foot oak, on our house.
All it takes is one tree falling on your house to change the way you look at trees and storms. After that incident, whenever the winds would begin howling we would look skyward. One tree in particular began to get our attention. It was another giant oak. It was located on the property of the people living behind us—and by 2009 it was dying.
We watched that summer as the leaves fell prematurely and watched the following spring as no leaves appeared. It was dead—dead as a doornail. We realized with its shallow root system it was only a matter of time before it would come down on somebody’s house and we were certainly within range to be one of the “somebody’s.”
Realizing something needed to be done I knocked on the door of the people behind us and introduced myself. I explained to the gentleman who answered the door who I was and my concern.
“I know about the tree,” he said “But I was just laid off from my job so there isn’t much I can do.” I appreciate that you lost your job,” was my reply. “You still have a dead tree that is going to fall on someone’s house.”
And with that I left. Being somewhat frustrated and a little annoyed, I went on the offensive. I contacted our insurance agent who wrote a letter to the occupants and established their liability. That resulted in a phone call from the owners of the dead tree. They explained they were “working on taking care of the problem.”
I didn’t want someone “working on the problem.” I wanted the tree cut down.
I began to judge them. “How can they afford two satellite dishes?” “They just built a new shed! They could have saved that money.”
And on it went as my frustration and judgment grew. And it might have continued that way if it were not for the letter that arrived in our mailbox in late May.
It was a hand-written note from the people living behind us.
“Dear neighbor” it began. It started by thanking us for our understanding and continued to explain how times had been tough but how they had been saving money to have the tree cut down.
They were still $1,000 short and were asking the neighbors behind them and on either side to consider making a contribution to close the gap. They ended by saying they understood if we didn’t contribute but wanted to make the effort.
“You’ve got to be kidding!” was my first reaction. “I have a daughter going to college and another daughter getting married. I have my own money problems. It’s not my tree. Why should I have to pay to have it cut down?!”
And then I began to think about it from their side.
They were reaching out.
Asking for help.
They were working hard to solve the problem but were still not where they wanted to be.
And though it was “their tree,” it really was “our problem.”
We talked to our next door neighbor and the neighbor behind us.
We all decided to chip in. Our collective contributions actually exceeded the amount they requested.
As I was delivering our check and our neighbor’s check to the home of this gentleman, I had a warm feeling inside—the kind of feeling you have when you do the right thing.
Two weeks after they received the money the tree came down.
You will never see a more beautiful stump than the one behind our house.
And the people behind us are no longer “occupants.”
They are neighbors.
We do better when we gang up on the problem and not on one another.
Talking is always better than not talking.
If your problem affects me, it’s “our” problem—not just your problem.
You can be right and make a point or you can be effective.
There is always a solution.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
People really are good at heart.
The next obstacle you face with someone will probably not center on a dead oak tree.
Nevertheless, the lessons in this story could very well help you with your next big problem.
Put in the time.
Make the effort.
The results might surprise you.
And, when you reach that solution that works for everyone, the feeling is “tree-mendous.”