Being a Neighbor

By Joe Kay 8-05-2014
Neighborhood concept, abeadev /
Neighborhood concept, abeadev /

Let me tell you about Steve the neighbor.

When my sister and her family moved some years ago, they quickly learned that they had a lot of retired people as neighbors. Steve lives next door, a former postman who had to retire because of a balky hip. Big and strong, a little rough with the language — all part of his charm.

Steve and two retired buddies on the street spend a lot of time together, grilling together, helping each other through the many challenges that come with getting older. And if anybody needs assistance with anything, they are there to help.

They often say: “We’re neighbors. It’s what we do.“

Steve knows when my sister’s children get home from school, so on snowy days, he’ll rev up the plow and clear her sidewalk and driveway so they can get through without getting stuck. He does it without prompting. Anything else I can help with? The garage door is shimmering? There’s a shrub that needs to be dug up? Be right there with my buddies.

You know those people who make you feel better just because you’re around them? How their upbeat attitude rubs off on you? You leave them with a smile on your face? That’s him.

As my brother-in-law puts it, Steve is a perfect neighbor. Concerned, but not nosy. Willing to help, but never pushy. No payment is accepted. The feeling that they’ve helped someone is thanks enough.

They’re neighbors. It’s what they do.

You know the story about the good Samaritan? It starts with a question: Who is my neighbor? Steve and his friends show what it means to be a neighbor to anyone who needs help.

And he’s still doing it, even as he spends his last few days in a hospice.

A week or so ago, one of Steve’s neighbors got some of his mail by accident. He rang the doorbell and noticed something wrong. The side of Steve’s face seemed to sag. Steve couldn’t grasp the envelopes when they were handed to him. It appeared he was having a stroke. They called 911.

A scan found two tumors in his brain. Inoperable. The doctors have given him less than a month to live.

They took him from the hospital right to hospice.

Just like that.

It’s a moment that snaps you back into reality and puts everything into focus. Reminds you that this phase of life is limited. And that things can change really fast. One day, you’re helping a neighbor fix a garage door. The next day, you’re in a hospice bed.

We get only so many days.

Only so many chances to embrace someone you love and tell them how you really feel.

Only so many chances to remind someone of the many ways they are remarkable.

Only so many chances to make a new friend and hug an old one.

Only so many chances to plow the neighbor’s sidewalk, fix the garage door, trim the shrubs.

Only so many chances to make a difference in your neighborhood, in your community, in your world.

Only so many moments to transform with your unique expression of love.

And that’s the truth of it. So don't waste them.

Over the weekend, my sister and brother-in-law visited Steve in his hospice. As soon as he saw them, he broke into a big smile and stretched out his arms in welcome. Said a few words the kids shouldn’t hear, too. But that’s OK.

He wanted to know what was going on in their lives and whether there was some way he could help, even as he was confined to a bed. He understands what’s happening to him, how the tumors will quickly overrun his brain and it will soon be time to move on to the next phase of life. He’s trying to wrap his arms around that, too.

“Can’t worry about it,” he said. “What am I going to do? Besides, I have a nice room with a nice view.”

He’s turning his last few weeks into one more gift, a lasting reminder of what really matters.

We’re all neighbors. Never miss a chance to do what neighbors do.

Joe Kay is a professional writer living in the Midwest.You can reach him through his blog at

Image: Neighborhood concept, abeadev /

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