What does it mean to be active in your community? I live in a small town not far from Toronto and there is a 90 year old gentleman named John who lives two houses down the street from me.
When my wife and I first moved into our house, John and another elderly chap came to our driveway and introduced themselves and welcomed us onto the street. They were very friendly and curious about the new neighbors and we reassured them that we were ok. A few years ago one of the gentlemen passed away, but John and I have become good friends through the years.
John was a farmer before he moved into town. Every spring John plants a garden beside his house and sometimes he has help from his neighbors to rototiller the garden. He is out in the garden for hours planting carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers and beans. He tells me he loves being out in the garden and every day he writes in his diary about all his activities.
When the crops are being harvested, John walks down to my house to put a few vegetables in my mailbox. My wife and I are tickled and honored that he does this. John is a great reminder on how to cultivate and nurture warmth with one other and to be generous and kind.
John was not well this year but he is feeling much better. I make a special effort at least once week to sit down with him and talk. Elderly people do get lonely. Here in the west we put our elderly in nursing homes out of the way into cold environments, away from family and neighbors. The healing benefits of being surrounded by caring people are being eradicated by an industrial world whose aim is to keep everyone separate.
This reminded me of another story. When I was growing up in Ireland, I used to chat with another elderly man on my way to school before catching the bus. Pateen was in his 80’s and I remember him in the field cutting hay with a scythe on early summer mornings. The gentleman was as strong as an ox. It was said in the village that when Pateen was a young man and was on a bicycle, he had to brace the crossbar with a broom so it would not bend. He was “heavy boned” which is a local expression from Connemara .
I was frequently sick with tonsillitis while attending school. One time I was home for three weeks because I was so sick and I think my inner child sometimes found school to be detrimental to my well- being. I would have taken more time off school but the headmaster would come to the house to see where I was!
Pateen’s house was a few hundred meters from our house on the same “bohreen”( which means road in Irish). One day, the old man came down to the house walking with his cane and he stopped at the front of the shed and spoke briefly with my grandfather who was working there. These two people grew up together and knew each other very well. My grandfather said, “ah thanks for coming down to visit me” and Pateen said, “actually I am here to see Paraic”. It must have been funny for my grandfather to hear this because he was assuming that Pateen was there to visit with him. Anyhow my mum came into the sitting room, and said “you have a visitor Paraic”. I walked out and was amused to see who it was. Pateen was sitting at the kitchen table, talking to my grandmother. He then told me that he was worried and concerned about me because he had not seen me in the mornings when I would walk to catch the bus. I said “I am feeling much better now and will be going to school next week.”
I remember this story as clear as though it happened yesterday. It warms my heart when I write about it. It is a great reminder to take time out and not be scared to talk to each other. I knew his wife as well and they were beautiful people. They are both in their graves now but looking back, I think he appreciated me talking to him and taking the time to stop and always share a story or two.
In a world of fear, separation and oppression, the cultural paradigm does not encourage people to connect with each other. During times of despair and darkness we only have each other to nurture and comfort.
It is time to make a special effort and take an interest in our neighbors and express our kindness and love for each other. Do not be afraid to speak to your neighbors. Be yourself and take five minutes – whatever time you have. It has an extraordinary effect on people. Perception teaches me that the mystery of life is at your fingertips through acts of love for one another. It is so simple and it is beautiful.