A neighbor from down the street walks his dog, too. Now and then we see each other and keep the strutting beasts apart, but we raise a hand in greeting or call out a hello. He’s a keen reader, this neighbor, and he knows that I read and write, and only when we’re clobbered by a book do we stop and recommend it.
But this isn’t quite about books. It’s about what makes a person, neighbor or not, look up and make eye contact. What makes them, in a time on earth of such preposterous hurry and distraction, slow down a bit and sanctify a moment by honoring someone else’s dignity.
Last month I was worried about my health. Too much work-related stress, and then too much worry about the alarming effects of stress on the body. Hell, it’s no way to live. Walking the dog each day, I eventually found myself more aware of sensory impressions. Cyclists and drivers and their tricky choreography. The scent of pinched heliotrope. My own beating heart.
I noticed more, also, the encounters with other human beings. The gap-toothed “Good morning” from the roofer with knee pads over his jeans. The smile from an early gardener. The truck driver’s solemn nod of acknowledgment as I crossed the street with a leash in one hand, a bag of poo in the other.
It was just one of those times when suddenly you find yourself standing outside of your normal way of being. A stillness comes, and it’s then that you remember. These daily moments we often simultaneously experience and don’t quite experience? The quotidian impressions? They matter. So much. Off-the-charts much. How often in my distraction, hurry, and worry do I skim past the little but fortifying exchange, or say, the cheering snapshot of a crow and a blue jay side by side on a wire like they’re the best of pals? How often — and as importantly, why — do I overlook the moments, persons, or scenes that, if they were taken away from me, I would sharply and deeply miss? Versions of an ancient question.
There’s this other neighbor I’m thinking of now, he lives on the next block, and whenever our paths cross we never say hello. I’m not sure how this pattern started. I don’t know the gentleman’s name, he doesn’t know mine, and from his perpetual frown he seems troubled, wounded, near-broken even. He looks to be in his mid to late seventies and he likes to mow his lawn or rake leaves a few times each week. We’re now several years into our habit of not acknowledging each other, not even with a manly nod, and so maybe what I’ll do next time is, I’ll just look at him and compliment his new push mower. He may well start bellowing, but that’s all right. At least the moment, like too many doors too often, won’t have gone untried.