Getting out of my car one evening in late January, I met my neighbor Theresa, who had seen me drive in. “Mrs. Taylor is in the hospital again,” she said. “I thought you’d like to know.” I had last seen Mrs. Taylor a day or two before Christmas when I took her a little loaf of pumpkin bread, and she came from the back room in her wheel chair to talk with me. Mrs. Taylor and I had been neighbors for 17 years. I remember the dog she and her husband used to have. They called him Beau. He greeted everyone who walked by, and Mr. Taylor loved him.
Most of my conversations with Mrs. Taylor had been incidental — impromptu visits by the mailbox, running into one another at the gas station where she helped me put air in my tire, quiet talks at the funeral home where we went to honor the memory of a mutual friend.
When my husband and I moved here with our four rowdy, laughing offspring, it must have seemed as if the peaceful quiet of the neighborhood had been forever shattered. We had little in common with the mostly elderly folks on our street. But they welcomed us warmly. Over the years they helped us love our children, picking them up when the bicycle overturned and sending them cards for their graduation. We have enjoyed the comfort of living beside people who help us when the tree falls on the fence and feed the cat when we’re away.
Robert Frost had a neighbor who insisted that “good fences make good neighbors,” but Frost was convinced that there is something “that doesn’t love a wall/That wants it down.” I agree with the poet. I believe that “something” that he talked about lives inside of me, too.
I want to break down the walls of loneliness that go up when we glide quietly into our garages and put down the door. Taking the fastest route to my back porch may be more efficient than meandering through the yard, but it leaves little room for interaction. When I was a child, I used to sit on the porch with my mother in the fading light and wave to neighbors out for an evening walk or drive. I learned in those days the joy of sharing — sharing seeds, sharing stories, sharing life. I believe it is time to recall the words of Jesus when he told the story of the good Samaritan, who took time to help someone along the way, and was declared to be the true neighbor to one in need.
Mrs. Taylor did not survive her latest set-back. Once again I walked into the funeral home to say good-bye to a neighbor. I remembered the barking dog, the chats by the mailbox, the friendly wave across the fence. I remembered, and I was sad, but I had no regrets. Now there is a new family moving into the Taylor place. I see children’s toys in the yard. It’s time to take a walk.