It seems that wherever I live, I am somehow haunted by elderly men who are consumed with activities like keeping their yards clean or fussing over the state of their neighbor’s yards. My current home has been no exception; the old man next door, almost by clockwork, sweeping his driveway or clipping the leaves of some bush in his yard every 4 to 6 hours, every day, sometimes late into the night.
Today, we watched his body being removed from the house he no doubt lived in for decades. Yesterday, I noticed that he hadn’t been outside, and I wondered innocently enough if he had “gone on vacation or something.” This morning, my partner and I saw a police officer scoping out the house and we had a gut feeling that something was wrong. We told the officer that we hadn’t seen our neighbor in a few days, and that this was “very odd.” Less than six hours later, there he was in a body bag being hauled out of his house, while a lone family member (a brother I think) looked on.
Although we saw each other dozens of times over the past several months, the old man and I only had a couple of brief connections. A short conversation and a ‘hello’ wave. I think he had dementia, judging by how frequently he would clean the same section of his driveway and/or yard in the same day. He wasn’t too outgoing it seemed, and being new to the area, plus having this history of weird dealings with old men who had too much time on their hands, I didn’t reach out much myself.
And yet, I want to honor this man by writing this for you all. We didn’t know each other, and yet we were only a fence and a handful of feet away. Isn’t this true for so many of us? We live right next door to someone, and yet it takes something dramatic – like death – to bring us more together somehow. It’s like this in many of our communities; it’s like this in many of our nations. We live on these plots of land, in towns and cities, states and countries with imaginary borders, thinking we’re all separate and doing our own thing. But it’s all a lie, and nothing can make that as abundantly clear as bodily death can.
Our neighbor used to yell at the birds in the tree in my yard to “shut up.” They’re rather loud, but still – they, too, are our neighbors. We must find a way to love those who live near us, and also those who live further away as well. Because this planet is only a tiny speck in the solar system, and every breath is precious. Already, I miss him – the old man who no longer lives next door.
Photo from Flickr – some rights reserved