When I was medically released to live alone, unsupervised, I had the great fortune of coming across an apartment that had just come available for rent. Centrally located between a hospital, a bus stop, my daughter’s house, and a park seemingly built just for Daisy, the place was perfect… almost too good to be true, in fact, and I became like a “man on a mission”, trying to find the fatal flaws of the neighborhood… the ‘chinks’ in the armor so to speak.
I looked askance at the new neighbors to determine if they were clandestine terrorist bomb-makers or serial killers plotting their next murder. I suspiciously peeked through my blinds or openly stared out my windows at the random jogger or dog walker or shady looking teenager that happened by. Sometimes I even sat on my front porch and glared defiantly at the mailman, the delivery guys, or anyone else who dared make eye contact with me.
Know what I got?
Smiles, nods, waves… and more than my fair share of handshakes and self-introductions and warm wishes of welcome to the ‘hood.
In other words… I made an ass of myself. It seems as if the more I set about proving that I’m right to hold the vast majority of the human race at arm’s length, and in moderate disdain, the more I find that my numbers might be off.
And so it was that, a few months after I got settled in, I started noticing an older gentleman… probably 10 or 15 years my senior… leaving his house at about the same time every morning and returning home from the opposite direction about 30 minutes later. Doubting that he was a mule for an international drug cartel, I assumed that he was simply taking a walk around the block. He never looked up… never looked around at cars or people pushing strollers or walking their dogs… and just went about minding whatever his business was that certainly was none of mine.
As the months passed, and I became accustomed to seeing him repeat this activity – like clockwork – three times a day, 7 days a week, I began to admire his commitment. Each morning right after coffee, each afternoon right after lunch, and each evening right after dinner I watched him walk every day – rain or shine – like a real man on a mission. In some ways he reminded me of that old catchphrase about the mailman and bad weather and nothing taking him away from his appointed rounds.
Even though he and I had never exchanged words I had developed a profound respect for him and his dogged determination and on those rare occasions that I didn’t see him, I found myself wondering where he was and worrying a little that maybe something had happened to him. In every instance it would only be a day or two before he was back at it and I was telling myself how silly it was of me to worry so much about a complete stranger.
My first Christmas in the new apartment came and went and almost another entire year more passed with little change to our routine. It sounds funny to say that now… “our” routine… because after a year-and-a-half living three houses apart from eachother he and I had never so much as exchanged glances let alone had extended conversations with each other. On paper, neither of us knew the first thing about the other, but of course that was only partially true because I had been that nosey assed neighbor that had been spying on him all along.
Funny thing about nosey assed neighbors though… it works both ways.
About a month before this Christmas that just passed I had gone up and over a block to the local convenience store to get a fix for my iced honey bun addiction. I was sitting in my favorite spot just outside the entrance to the park and scarfing down my snack (quickly, so I wouldn’t have to share it with Daisy) when I saw him walking toward me from the direction of the very same convenience store. As he approached he smiled and commented that it was a pretty decent day for November. I smiled back and cautioned that we shouldn’t get too cocky because things were bound to get a lot worse before they got better.
He agreed and asked me where my granddaughter was, noting that he sees her and I every day walking to and from school. I told him she was with her other grandfather and he asked why I hadn’t taken advantage of the free day and brought “that good looking dog” for a run in the park.
I was stunned. All this time that I had thought I was the only one paying attention, it turns out he knew just as much – if not more – about my comings and goings as I did about his.
We chatted for quite a while… him filling in a lot of the blanks about his life that I had only been able to guess. I had the age right, but couldn’t have known that he was disabled enough that he had to have his meals brought to him and was walking everyday – not because of his health or his doctor’s orders but- because he was”bored out of his fucking mind and could only stand to watch so much TV before he would go batshit crazy”. The daily visitor was not a home health aide but was, in fact, his daughter whose job it was to check in on him and bring him food and supplies.
In turn, he got the bulk of my story and a hefty dose of my righteous indignation about being helpless and having to depend on others. The transition to kindred spirits didn’t take long and, in no time, we were commiserating about the utter lack of options there are out there for guys like us that still have the will and desire to live fullfilling lives… and that somebody should do something about that one of these days.
About a month later, on Christmas morning, I was sitting on my daughter’s front steps watching the raging snowstorm and drinking a fancy cup of coffee she had made me for the occasion. I saw – through the near white-out conditions – a figure walking slowly up the street toward me and the convenience store across the way. As he came into view, with his head down and not looking around at cars or other people, my neighbor approached – right on schedule – as if it was just like any other day of the week, month, or year. In that moment two truths became crystal clear to me :
- 1. The only thing in life that is absolute is death.
2. The best lives are those spent fighting to disprove rule # 1.
[Images courtesy of Time & Rev. Peter Preble]