My neighbor’s wife had a stroke, not sure how long before I moved here. He is her full time caregiver and maybe in his early seventies. On a rare occasion, when the weather is warm, he brings her out to sit in a lawn chair in the garage and feel the sun. He will listen to talk radio or in baseball season the Rockies losing badly to someone. Every day he walks his chihuahua who barks as if he were a pitbull about to take your leg off. Though the sound can be grating, I can’t help but be impressed by the bravado of a creature that would be a single gulp to a real pitbull. My neighbor shares with this tiniest of fellows the only walks of freedom he knows all day away from his wife. Sometimes he leaves his dog out on the porch below mine late at night and the dog barks persistently to come in. I realize without seeing that my neighbor has likely fallen asleep in front of the TV and forgotten the dog. I wake him to bring the dog in by knocking at his door. He always seems so embarrassed, but I can feel his exhaustion, as he stands in his T-shirt at the door. I’m not sure how to say I’m not worried about the dog, just him.
The neighbor caddy corner to me never opens their shades. I haven’t a clue who or how many people live there, but the lights are on each evening. Winter, spring, summer, fall… Always down. I used to wonder if such people are hoarders, but over the years I’ve learned some people see only a world within, while still others fear the world without.
Two doors over and a flight down a grandfather comes out regularly with his golden retriever and grandson. Oh how the boy giggles and delights in the golden hip dip in snow. Across the parking lot a man stands, cigarette in his mouth, and watches without any interest; never looking away, but not looking at them really either. I wonder what he sees in the ring of smoke that circles his head. I don’t think his wife lets him smoke indoors. This is also true for my neighbor to the west. She sits in her running car, in the garage, with door open, smoking at all hours. I once approached thinking she’d accidentally left her car running. Given her irritation with my query as to whether she was all right, it was evident she’d been asked this before. Opportunities to a smoker to smoke are oddly sacred things, since it’s become an ordeal to do it. I used to smoke, so I get it, but listening to her react I realize how much I don’t miss it.
The planet is covered in billions of lives. Each person carving out their own patterns and habits. Living out stories we know nothing about. It’s not our business what all these people do, but sometimes it’s worth bearing witness to what we don’t know about so much that we see and take for granted as pieces of our own weird little world’s. My neighbor two doors down is as mousy a person as you could ever meet, but her penchant for holiday lights, banners, window displays and colorful decorations year round goes unmatched. She a gray mouse has a vibrant dragon inside her soul that pours out all over her front stoop. I rarely see her out, but I will return home and Valentine’s Day is gone and a lucky clover leaf greets me as I walk up. She is both a caricature of dime store decorations and someone entirely unknown to me beyond my random observations.
Who am I, I wonder, to all of them? What do they see as they see me come and go day to day? Am I acting out of blind habits I’ve performed a thousand times or am I mindful of who I am in this moment and who I am becoming? So many moments pass with little attention that I cannot take back. Somehow it seems very important to really see this moment and feel what is happening in it. It may make no difference to my neighbors, but I’m thinking it should make a great deal of difference to me.
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