Like a Good Neighbor
Ms. P—a tall, soft-spoken woman with shoulder length hair and a wardrobe that rivals my midlife sense of fashion—is one of my favorite clients on my weekly Meals on Wheels route. Most weeks, we share a familiar routine as I depart singing “see you next week!”
”God willing“ is always her optimistic reply.
Two weeks ago, my breath caught in my chest when I saw a note taped to her door. I desperately wanted God’s will to be another Friday I could see her smile and thankfully, the note didn’t spell tragedy. It innocently asked that I deliver the meal to a neighboring apartment. I took a few steps to my right and knocked on the door. A kind-faced woman answered and informed me that, due to a water leak, Ms. P had been temporarily relocated to another building. This neighbor had been delivering her meals along with her mail all week long. I expressed how nice it was of her to take care of her neighbor. She was just grateful the complex manager was being so generous to Ms.P. “We have to count our blessings,” she said with a smile.
Because my last stop is at the same senior living facility, I made my way across the parking lot to see Mr. B. This mischievous man has dementia and I often wake him up from a nap at eleven in the morning...sometimes in a state of undress. I don’t judge the hours anyone keeps, much less someone who can’t remember who I am from week to week. I'm always hopeful he'll answer, but more than once, I've received assistance several times from a spry little woman who lives across the breezeway. That day, no sooner had I rung the doorbell than her head popped out from the door behind me. She crossed the ten foot gap in a flash and barged right in with a “dude, are you here?” which made me chuckle. After finding him curled up asleep, she placed the food in the fridge and accompanied me back outside. "Men are helpless," she said as she rolled her eyes. I know she cares for her own husband who is bedridden with Parkinson's, so I admire her compassionate spirit and her willingness to step into that care-taking role.
This past week, I noticed the same note on Ms. P's door, but the kind neighbor intercepted me as soon as I rounded the corner. She felt compelled to share with me that Ms. P was doing quite well in the new building and had been participating in more resident activities. As someone who watched her own grandmother descend into a sedentary life and then be overcome by dementia, this news made my day. My hope is that Ms. P will be settled in soon and I will get to see her gentle smile, but my surrogate client has certainly been a pleasure to visit with each week.
Once again, I made my way across the parking lot and approached the small courtyard leading to Mr. B's apartment. I passed the elderly couple who often sit out there with their dog, Molly. I know her name because the tiny Yorkie barks and snarls at me ferociously every time I approach, followed by the familiar reprimand, "oh Molly, stop!" Mr. B opened the door after just one ring, so I was relieved he was awake and I didn't have to wait too long while Molly protested my presence. I turned to leave and nearly ran right into the spunky, petite neighbor from across the hall. "I just wanted to make sure I didn't miss you if you tried ringing my doorbell instead!" I assured her he had answered and that everything was fine. When I reached the sidewalk, I turned to look at the small crowd of people gathered to chat. Mr. B's head was extended out the door, likely in his own protest of the canine ruckus. But hopefully, somewhere beneath the confusing thoughts that swirl in his head, he recognized this band of people who are all looking out for his well-being.
It‘s easy for me to think that these people have a strong sense of community because they were raised in a different time. However, we were blessed to have great neighbors of all ages on the street we just left and are finding that to be true at our new place. I delivered a jar of jelly once and discovered a small world connection that led to future vacations with my friend, Crystal. Friends who just moved to Virginia have already fallen in with their neighbors, even though they are in a rural area—all because of a willingness to say “yes” to a dinner invitation.
A few weeks ago, we passed a couple opening the gate to a property at the end of our weekend country road. We tried to exchange pleasantries but couldn’t communicate over the din of barking dogs, both ours and theirs (I never held Molly in judgment). On our way out that weekend, we left a note on their gate apologizing for the awkward exchange and encouraging them to stop by some time. A few weeks later, we had one on our gate with their phone numbers, like a rudimentary version of a pen pal exchange. We look forward to the opportunity to meet them in person.
Having good neighbors does not come without being a good neighbor: returning a wave, offering assistance, making introductions. Lifelong friendships can be born from a simple “hey, neighbor!” and I even have a neighbor to thank for my sobriety. During a time of so much uncertainty, it’s nice to find a sense of community in our very own backyards.
”I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.”