After dinner with my bride at a local tavern, she saw a neighbor across the room and went over to say hello. We would see this woman and her husband now and then at restaurants and joke that we never seemed to see them in the neighborhood, where they lived just across the street from us. This time she was having a drink alone, and she explained that her husband had passed away in July with express wishes to not make a big deal of it.
A big deal of it… We were shocked at his passing and wondered how we’d missed the signs of his absence since then. Construction project at home, a new puppy, friends staying over for a time, and vacation time all conspired this summer to make us less aware, but so unaware that we didn’t notice the absence of a neighbor for three months?
It turns out we did notice—we just didn’t put it together. Different people mowing the lawn. The trash barrels rolled out at a different time than they used to be rolled out. The pickup truck no longer in the driveway. All of it washing over us as we made our way home.
When you live in a place for years, you get to know some of the neighbors quite well. You watch their children grow up and move out, you watch relationships end, new ones begin, and people pass away from this world. When you think back, most of the time we’re just a witness to the passing of time, not an active participant in the lives of those around us. Some people leave their struggles behind closed doors.
The details mattered a great deal, and we reflected on what we missed. How we might have helped more had we only known. We are each on our own journey, shared with others but in the end ours alone. We have some touchstone moments with our fellow travelers that resonate more than others, but it’s up to each of us to weave those into a tapestry of connection. When our time ends, all that remains is the memories and moments that linger with others.
Our neighbor gave us a sign: Help needed. Too late for her husband but not for her. One more touchstone moment connecting us to someone just across the street but seemingly so far away.