I got some advice from my mother when we bought our first home 5 years ago. "Make every effort to live in peace with your neighbours. In an emergency, they will be there before the police, ambulance, fire department, family or friends."
Sound advice. But I was quite sure I wouldn't need it.
The moment I moved into my house, I immediately liked my neighbour,Tracey. She was a single mother to three older boys. She was everything that I wasn't. Smart, funny, confident, engaging and perhaps the most practical person I have ever met. I admired her. Soon it became clear that we were more than just neighbours. We were friends.
Tracey and I lived happily alongside each other for four years.Then one day she decided to put her house up for sale. I was devastated. Who could possibly replace her? I wrote my feelings about her moving here
My new neighbours were a young Chinese couple in their thirties called Bill and Helen. They were joined by his parents who came straight from China. An elderly couple who spoke no English whatsoever. They seemed like really nice people. I liked them.
But a few months later everything changed.
My neighbours got a dog. A Golden Labrador. They called their dog Sunday. "Sunday". The very name suggests peace, calm and tranquillity. The dog was anything but that. She barked constantly. She barked loudly. I soon became very irritated with the dog. And with my neighbours.
I started to spend less and less time talking to them. Gone was the cheery "Good Morning." Gone was any advice about gardening and lawn maintenance. I no longer lingered on the driveway to chat after we finished grocery shopping. I made the excuse that I was carrying cold items that needed to be kept frozen. Which was partly true. I'd become cold hearted toward them. And freezing them out.
Now there wasn't only a privacy fence between us. There was also an invisible wall.
The emergency situation that my mother told me about happened late in the Spring. I was mowing the lawn and had to adjust the height of the blade. By accident, I placed my hand on the engine, badly burning three fingers of my left hand. My husband was gone for the day with the children and I had no car. Even if I did, I wouldn't be able to drive because of the extent of my injuries. I began to panic. I needed help fast. My neighbours!!! But instead of going to Bill and Helen, I bypassed them and went to the next house over. I would like to say it's because I knew Tiziana better (which is true, as our children have played together for years) but we all know that isn't the reason. It was because of the dog. It was because of the wall.
Although I could still hear my neighbours and their dog, I'd built a wall so I didn't have to "see" them.
Early in June I was out one morning watering my garden, when I heard a strange sound. It was a soft and rhythmic sound not loud or annoying in any way. But once I realised it was coming from my next door neighbours, I became irritated by it.
Intrigued as to what was making the noise, I peeked through the slats in the fence, and saw the elderly couple trying to sand the deck by hand with tiny pieces of sandpaper. Their deck is bigger than my deck, and my deck is huge. It was already about 30 degrees in the shade and the forecast promised it would get much hotter. They shouldn't be working like that in this heat. It would take them forever.
I watched them in silence for a few moments, but I knew exactly what I had to do. I ran to my garage and found the electric sander and some medium grain sandpaper. I took it next door and handed it to the old man. I tried without success to explain to him what it was, but he didn't understand.So, I located the outlet, plugged it in and gave him and his wife a demonstration. I watched their faces change from bewilderment, to confusion, to understanding, to pure unfiltered delight.I will never be able to accurately describe the look on their faces when they realized that I'd handed them a tool that would cut their labour by about 90%. They looked at each other and laughed and laughed saying "Thank you, thank you, thank you." And they bowed. I was completely humbled.
And there was another sound. A quiet crashing sound. It was the sound of an invisible wall coming down. No one heard it but me.
I would like to say that from that day Sunday became a well trained dog and stopped barking, but that is the stuff of fairy-tales and this is real life. Sunday did continue to bark, but somehow I learned to tolerate it.
I began to see my neighbours for who they were, a sweet, kind, hard working and happy family, who just happened to have a noisy dog. Bill and Helen worked very hard at their jobs and his parents worked hard at home and in their garden. I would see the parents all over my neighbourhood taking the dog for a walk and rummaging around in the recycling bins looking for "treasures."
Last week the old man saw me running. I was running very slowly because I was recovering from surgery. He gestured that he wanted to run with me. So we did. And for around 2km we shuffled along slowly together. We didn't speak, but then again we didn't need to.
Two days ago he gave me the first fruits of their labour from the garden. 5lbs of tomatoes.
But then yesterday a terrible noise came from next door. An awful noise that I never, ever want to hear again. It was a scream, followed by loud hysterical crying. I looked out and saw the police in front of my neighbours house. They had come to deliver the news, that they had just pulled the old man's lifeless body from Bond Lake. He had taken Sunday for a swim and then had a stroke while in the water. He died at 8pm last night.
The crying went on all night.
And so perhaps now I can be to this family in death, what I had failed so miserably to do in life...
...be a good neighbour.
"Love your neighbour as you love yourself." Romans 13: 8-10