So in the year we’ve lived here in Vegas, our dogs have helped us befriend a few neighbors, one older gentleman in particular which our cocker, Mabu, shamelessly adores. This fellow is always tinkering away in his garage while listening to radio talk shows. Over time, we’ve learned bit by bit about his colorful, full life, and the experiences this character has had all over the dang world. Every day, Mabu rather annoyingly pulls us all the way to his house and while he whimpers and rolls around in sawdust getting his fill of love, we are afforded an opportunity to catch glimpses of the beautiful projects underway in his “workshop.” There was a gorgeous cedar chest he made earlier this year that we complimented him on, and rather spontaneously he offered to make one for us. As payment, he said he would accept a 6-pack of beer. Really.
In the last 2 months, the chest he has crafted for us with blood, and sweat, and love, has become a thing of beauty, perhaps the most sturdy, well-crafted piece of woodwork that I have ever or will ever own. It is so spectacular, in fact, that I think it will motivate us to up our standards in the rest of the house :-).
Last night, he and I had a brief encounter as I walked the dogs by myself – my man has been away on business. Our friend said that the project was done, and added with a smile that it had kept him alive for the last 2 months. Then without warning, he began to cry. I knew that he had undergone chemo and various treatments but until that moment, I assumed he had beaten it, that he was a survivor. The rest of my night was filled with concern for this neighbor I didn’t know so well.
When I awoke this morning, I contemplated how I might ask someone who I liked a lot but with whom I wasn’t intimately close, how his health was. Seems easy enough, right? But folks, we weren’t going to be chatting about the flu. When we walked the chest back to my house, I noticed things I hadn’t seen before. Out of his element and now in my garage, he seemed suddenly frail, not able to balance very well, he was sweating profusely. Then he fell backward into the wall of the garage.
After I pulled him up, I carefully inquired. He replied that chemo had taken the feeling from his fingers and toes. The fingers had returned, thankfully. But the toes had not. The numbness went all the way up into his calves. That’s why he couldn’t balance. That’s why he had fallen just now. That’s why he was wearing a wrist guard, because he had fallen before. How had I not noticed all these things? How could I have been so effing clueless?
As I walked him back to his house, holding him around the shoulders so that he wouldn’t fall, he confided that he was pretty sure this was the last chest he’d ever make and that he really didn’t know how much more time he had. What a terrible thing to endure. I thanked him for this precious chest that will hold all our memories and that we’ll pass on to our kids. I did my best to smile and postpone my state of overwhelm.
The night before as well as on this day, with complete vulnerability and presence, he said as we parted ways, “I love ya’.” Now let me repeat, we don’t know each other extremely well. We are not intimate friends. But here’s the amazing truth about his sentiment. I could sense in my bones that the feeling behind these words was genuine and deep.
For me, today was a testament to the potential for ordinary people to open their hearts and love their neighbors genuinely. Fully. Now. My neighbor is profoundly aware of how little time he has left. But truly, as I’ve recently come to grips with in various recent developments in my own family, no matter what we do to preserve ourselves, we cannot assume tomorrows. This moment is all we truly have, all upon which we can depend.
What a gift I was given today, and I’m pretty sure that I need to sit with this experience a great deal longer. But I wanted to share it with you anyway. I’m going to think long and hard about what I can do to bring some joy into our neighbor’s life. I’ll try to keep you guys updated here.