Sobering lesson today. My wife Lisa Silvers told me a few days ago that I need to speak to our neighbour who I’ve never met after we moved in last September. She knows things like that. (Lisa spoke with the neighbour first about a week ago. (although she sensed something was wrong earlier). She has so much integrity that she didn’t tell me about her conversation with him, knowing that both he and I had to have our own experience. She only said, “You need to talk with the neighbour across the road.” When she asks that, I know there’s a lot behind the words.) Lisa had also mentioned that she had noticed an older lady in her late 80’s doing gardening across the road but then didn’t see her anymore after December. Today as I rode my bike home and began to pull the bins from the street curb, I saw our-across-the-street-neighbour lingering in his own driveway and I walked over to him. I just said, “Hi”. He talked for the next 45 minutes. He desperately needed to talk. He’s about 63. Four months ago he was driving with his mother when they had an accident. She didn’t make it. He was hospitalised with serious injuries for a month. While his mother lay in the morgue in the basement of the hospital.
Not. One. Person. Came. To. Visit. The. Entire. Month.
They had immigrated from Serbia and had no one else. As his eyes filled with tears numerous times while he shared, I resolved that I will ensure I meet all our neighbours every time we move and I will check on them. We did that when we first moved to Australia and then I lapsed in that practice this year. Never again.
I stood there as this man poured out his grief, “I drove carefully. We rested properly every hour or two. I asked my mother to wear her seatbelt properly. I didn’t speed. It wasn’t my fault.” As the tears began to well again. His eyes looking directly into mine earnest and asking for my belief. “It wasn’t my fault.” Then again he spoke of the loneliness of being trapped in the hospital with no one to care for the body of his mother or help with arrangements or to talk to. I tried to stay present with him compassionately yet I was distracted by my accountability.
There can be no doubt that if I simply said “Hi” to this man much earlier, his story would have been different. I’m going to meet my other neighbours over the next few days.
One bright moment though. Towards the end, when his grief had emptied he asked what do I do. I found myself saying a phrase I don’t recall hearing myself say, at least not to a suburban Melbornian, “I serve healers.” The man’s face lit up with a smile and he said, “I’m a healer!”.