The day began with sourdough pancakes, warm, aubergine cardamom plums and hot, caramel-colored coffee in a fancy new black and white cup; the last of the Sugar Maple leaves had fallen – thousands scattered across the lawn in varying stages of decay. Today was the last day to rake, bag and mulch before the weather turned and the rain rolled in. It was a pretty day with sunshine and blue skies, yet chilly enough to wrap myself in a hoodie before saddling up the orange horse with four rubber wheels and circling the lawn one last time this season.
Sunglasses in place, my eyes watching the front of the mower in case there are stray limbs hiding underneath the leaves. I notice one of my neighbors crossing the street towards our yard but didn’t think anything about it because our mailboxes sit side-by-side; I round another corner and on my second pass, I see him and my husband talking, then the neighbor waves me over. ‘The guy who lives in that house there,’ he said, pointing to the house across the street and to the left of ours, ‘Well he had a heart attack and died on Sunday.’ And in that next moment, my world shifted. ‘He was only 45 years old, I think his son is 10 or so; I’m not sure what his wife is going to do – she doesn’t work.’ I stood there stunned. We’ve watched this family from across the street nearly every night this summer – father and son, tossing a baseball, shooting baskets, throwing footballs, while mom watched from the porch, shouting encouraging words.
We would often say what good parents they were, to spend time like that with their son like that – it is something we just don’t see happening anymore. And then I feel guilty; guilty because I didn’t know their names, guilty because in the years they’ve lived in that house, I’ve never once walked across the street to introduce myself; and now . . . now, he’s gone and I’m wondering what we can do to help. A few minutes later, she comes out into the yard, the neighbor who told us what happened, patted her on the back and said he was sorry about her husband. I stood there in the dirt and choked back tears to tell her how sorry I was that her husband was gone and how sorry I was that this is the first time I’m actually meeting her. I wanted to put my arms around this stranger and hug her – but I don’t know her so my feet stayed planted in the dirt and my arms stayed at my sides. The tears fell from her cheeks and all she could do was blink and nod.
I finished the lawn but cannot shake the feeling that I have failed; failed at being a good neighbor, failed at human kindness, failed at generosity, failed at life on my street. My social media world has replaced my real people world; I care deeply about my friends on social media – and they are real friends. We celebrate babies, we celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and weddings; we laugh together, encourage each other, we offer support and we grieve losses together as a community. It is rich and full and wonder-filled. But today . . . today I realized my street friends, my neighbors are just as important, they are worth investing in, getting to know, sharing a hello, a how-are-you, a smile, a cup of coffee.
Because I never want to find my feet rooted to the ground, arms pinned to my sides ever again.