Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why It's Important to Get to Know Your Neighbours

Why It's Important to Get to Know Your Neighbours
When was he last time you talked to your neighbours? The last time you checked to see if they were okay? The last time you even noticed that you had neighbours?

Last month we had a considerable build-up of ice at our driveways and along the channel of the curb in our neighbourhood. With the schizophrenic freeze-thaw cycles that marked the month of February, there were 3-inch thick icy patches that stopped the free flow of slush and melting snow.

The greatest accumulation of water was directly in front of my neighbour's house two doors down. And since he lives in the dip point of the mini valley of the neighbourhood, it kept getting worse with each consecutive day of the cyclical freeze-thaw, freeze-thaw.

I'm always up for projects that test my physical abilities. Especially during the frigid winter months. So off I went in search of an upper body workout, shouldering an ice chipper and shovel like the lumberjack I must have been in another life. My trusty 5-gallon pail came along as the makeshift sleigh to move ice from the road to the heap that was the snowbank across the way.

The intent was to open up a considerable channel to allow the backed-up water to flow freely. I started in the softest place I could find. Which was much further away from the curb than I had intended. But I kept chipping away. And chipping and chipping.

My 92-year-old neighbour--I'll call him Ed--came out to see what all the racket was about. He was more that surprised that his female neighour had come over to do what would typically be called  "men's" work.

When Ed got past the fact that he couldn't do the job himself, he kept coming outside to offer me what he thought I needed: ginger ale and a solid Kit-Kat bar. I've got to pick ice more often! I was grateful for his gratitude.

Three hours later, the entire grand patch of icy build-up was chipped and carried away to the windrow across the road.

And then, in what I know was a gesture of appreciation, Ed offered to loan me a book about the Korean War. A war he'd served in with the Canadian military. And a book where he was mentioned and quoted.

At first I told him it wasn't the sort of book I typically read. But Ed can be very persistent, which likely did him well throughout his life as a military man. Besides, I was taught to respect my elders.

How could I possibly refuse a man who was desperate to say thank you to me in his own unique way. A man needing to share with me some of the life that so many in our country could never fathom.

It was my turn to say thank you for his service: I accepted the book. And I read every despicable, sometimes funny, but mostly disturbing word.

Yesterday afternoon, I phoned Ed to ask if I could bring the book back to him. It took him 7 rings to pick up. When I got to his place, I was mortified to see that he had a one-and-a-half-inch gash on the right side of his chin. I asked him what happen.

Three days ago, he got up from his chair in the living room, took a few steps, then suddenly blacked out (the side effect of a new drug his doctor put him on), hitting whatever furniture and walls that were in the way. He was knocked unconscious. When he came to, there was blood all over the place.

Ed managed to make it to his phone to call a friend. But his friend was in a city more than two hours away. Since he couldn't come himself, he phoned an ambulance for Ed, requesting that they not arrive with sirens blazing.

The gash on his chin was not the only injury Ed suffered. He split the back of his head badly enough that he needed 22 stitches. And he was black and blue on his face and behind his ears.

I was two doors down from Ed, but he called a friend who was 2 hours away. It made me realize that I too, as much as I do outside stuff for neighbours, don't do enough to keep in touch with them directly.

As it turned out, Ed got the help he needed. Things could really have been so much worse. But it made me realize that I could do more.

In our busy lives, we've become a society where we value independence but forget the dependent. A society where we put up fences to keep others out but forget that the fence keeps us from reaching out. A society where we are supposed to mind our own business but forget the business of minding our own.

I'm surrounded by elderly neighbours. Neighbours like Ed, who seem to be mobile, but may suddenly be immobilized. Neighbours who have some of the most amazing stories to tell, but no one to tell them to. Neighbours who have been forgotten, but they themselves can never forget.

What would it cost me to check up on them every now and again. To give them a phone call to see if they're okay. What would it cost any of us. Except a little bit of of our time.

In the few minutes I spent with Ed, I learned a great deal about him that was quite interesting because I was willing to listen. I learned about the way he made a difference in the life I get to lead today because of the choices he made yesterday.

And though I deplore war and all that it stands for, I also have a profound respect for men like Ed (and women too) who have sacrificed more than can be imagined within a system that is categorically rigged and uncaring.

We all need connection in our lives in order to thrive. We all need to feel purposeful. We all need to know that we matter. This is true of the old, the young and the in-between. And though I can't change the worldview of how we treat our elderly neighbours, I can change it in my own world.

It's almost time to check on Ed, and a few others in my neighbourhood. Who can you check on today? Who can you make a connection with? Who's life can you make a difference in?


  1. You've convinced me. I'll be checking on my elderly neighbor today. Thank you for the reminder that we all need each other.

  2. It's true that we don't acknowledge our neighbors. It's time to change that. Thanks for this Darlene.


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