Clean Your Side of the Street
brown wooden brush
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Clean Your Side of the Street

Summary:

When someone I care about asks for help with a problem, I have space for them. I know how to identify what I can do for them, what only they can do for themselves, and what we can do together. Neither of us feels alone in our struggle, and we both feel safe and loved.

low section of a person sweeping leaves
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Many years ago I was rocking my newborn daughter as she drank her bottle, looking out the big picture window in our living room, watching the lady who lived kitty-corner across the street sweep her front walk. The rhythmic swish of her broom was soothing to my sleep-deprived mind. I marvelled at her energy as she proceeded to sweep her driveway as well.

Baby changed and put back to bed, I was curious, so I looked out the window again to see if my industrious neighbour had finished her task. She had indeed finished her driveway and had moved on to the street gutter. She then crossed the street to the bus loop and started sweeping that out as well.

Several questions sprang to mind, starting with Why? What was going on in her life that day that sweeping the bus loop was a good use of her time and energy?

  • Maybe sweeping the bus loop was a better choice than tackling a hair-clogged drain.
  • Maybe she was facing a difficult conversation and sweeping helped her to collect her thoughts and formulate persuasive arguments.
  • Maybe she was angry at her husband and sweeping calmed her nerves and kept her out of jail.

Whatever her motivation, our neighborhood public transit commuters enjoyed a very tidy bus stop that day. That scene sprang to mind occasionally over the years, usually in the context of “Maybe I am crazy, but at least I’m not sweeping out the bus loop.”

Recently I was reminded of it again while my friend and I dissected the quandary of codependence.The lady sweeping the bus loop became a metaphor for healthy boundaries. My friend shared with me a nugget of wisdom she has learned…

Clean your side of the street.

This hit home for me as I remembered how I behaved before I understood codependency and healthy boundaries.

Someone I cared about was struggling with a problem. I believed I had a solution to their problem, but they hadn’t asked for help, or even sought out my advice. Codependent me barged right in to fix their problem without invitation, and then felt hurt that they didn’t appreciate how I had just tried to rescue them. I ignored the mess on my side of the street, tried to fix their mess instead, and in the end made the mess on both sides of the street worse. I meant well. I was just trying to love them, but codependent love is not helpful, and I hurt the very person I was trying to help.

I behave very differently now. Healthy boundaries me now cleans my own side of the street. I do the work needed to maintain my own mental health. I see my therapist when I need to. I have safe people who will talk things through with me. I have the tools to self-regulate when I experience big emotions, so I don’t take them out on innocent bystanders. I have faith that God loves me and is working in my life for my good.

The greatest thing about cleaning my side of the street?

When someone I care about asks for help with a problem, I have space for them. I know how to identify what I can do for them, what only they can do for themselves, and what we can do together. Neither of us feels alone in our struggle, and we both feel safe and loved.

Maybe if I hadn’t had a newborn daughter to tend that long-ago day, I might have grabbed my broom and crossed the street to see if my neighbor wanted some help. I’d like to think so. It’s nice to imagine that she would have smiled and said Yes. We might have learned one another’s names and shared our stories, eventually becoming friends over steaming mugs of coffee.

A more likely outcome might have been her telling me to bug off. I can respect that boundary.

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