Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Be'in Neighborly


Be kind to children and animals, for God gave them the beginnings of thought. Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov


During a long drive, Tony asks his close friend, "How do you get along with your neighbors?"

"Well," the friend laughs, "let me tell you. Years ago, one of my neighbors called the police when my car was parked in front of my own house."

"What?"

"Yeah, one day a week, it's illegal to park on the street and he waited until that day to call and have my car towed. It cost $180 to get it back."

As for the neighbor on the other side, Tony's friend decided to be neighborly and roll his garbage cans off the street and into their place at the side of the garage. Seconds after he started the good deed, the neighbor came running out of the house, impaling him with swear words, demanding he take his hands off his garbage cans, and if he ever touched his cans again, he'd blank, blank him.

He never touched those garbage cans again, nor took him a plate of cookies, never waved a friendly hello.

Any neighborly camaraderie was spoiled by expectations of the worst. The grumpy neighbor didn't have it in him to think the rebuked action was only a friendly gesture. Those neighbor-needed reciprocations will never be realized: taking in the mail, watching for trespassers, borrowing an egg, sitting curbside to set off fireworks.

I'm thankful my parents instilled in me the need to be neighborly. When there was extra, we took it to Helen and Greg. When they adopted a baby girl, she became ours too. When my grandfather built the fence around our home, he lowered the wall to knee high where the backyards ended. He may have been directed by code, and if so, the city knew in order to be neighborly, one couldn't fence themselves off from their neighbors. Though not bound by familial relations, neighbors are in a unique way, family members by proximity.

When I look up the definition of family, I find a wide range of pockets into which family fits. First definition is the obvious--a group of individuals living under one roof and under one head, and usually of common ancestry. One's race is considered one's family. Certain shared convictions constitute a family. Even the mafia is listed as an example of family. I've always liked to think of my neighbors as a kind of family too.

Here I am, preaching about the importance of community family and I'm having a rough time with a new neighbor. It's a stray cat who's made its home under the deck. After incessant meowing, when I tried to  get close to assess its needs, it hissed and ran away. I don't want to get close or touch it for fear of worms or disease.

When Tony opened a can of tuna, the cat put his head in the bowl and didn't look up. He'd just wanted to be fed.

I'm tempted to call the pound. Tempted to resent it for bothering me in my morning office. Tempted to shoo it away, think poorly of it because it lacks manners or feline finesse. Its expectations, its abandonment, taught it to hiss first and expect the worse. Like our friend's neighbor, he'd never been shown neighborliness.

My already busy day includes yet another errand--pick up a bag of cat food.


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