When I moved here to the MN prairies 12 years ago I thought it was so so strange that no one fenced their yard in. Coming from a place where everyone has fences, it seemed too open, too intrusive, not clear where the boundaries were.
I fought against it. I begged my husband for a fence. For years. He just rolled his eyes and moved the conversation to another subject.
And then..something happened to change my mind. I met some amazing people.
And this is the story of one of them….our neighbor named Lyle.
This sweet older neighbor passed away this last week. I cried. My kids cried. Even the Handy Hubby, in his big-guy stoic way, showed his pain at the news.
You see, this neighbor was one we had a tough back and forth relationship with.
We liked him, but wished we had set better boundaries in the beginning.
We invited him over for dinner, knowing he would remark on the house not being totally clean.
We gave him veggies and talked over the garden fence because that was common ground, even if it meant suggestions about how to garden more “efficiently”.
Those were the early years.
Later on, as the years passed the quirks seemed to pass with them. Instead we smiled and waved every time we found him working in his garden. We made sure to stop and chat knowing he was lonely, and his family relationships were challenging. We asked about his aging mother who he took care of full time at the end of her life, and then……we moved.
For more than 2 years we rarely saw him. He looked more tired, and older certainly, although still a young-old if you know what I mean.
Then we moved back, and suddenly, no one saw him for more than a month. His house next to ours is his secondary home, and we weren’t sure how to check on him.
A week later he was back, telling us of the death of his mother, crying as we hugged him and prayed for him right there in a snowy, gray driveway, and how he had been in the hospital hours away with a heart issue afterwards. That was this last winter.
And then, this weekend, we found he was gone. Just like that.
An unfinished, unharvested garden sitting right outside my window.
His mother’s lilies, newly replanted from her house, waving at us from across the lot where he put them a few weeks back.
We saw him literally days ago and did what we always do…a firm handshake or hug, and conversation on how his life was going.
Good neighbors are hard to find, readers. Hard to hold onto. Hard to let go of.
Fences don’t make good neighbors unless you want to shut out the world and close the door of your life to another human being.
BE the good neighbor. Take the time to ask how people are doing. To question how you can help them. Invite them for dinner.
Live in peace where you can. Set boundaries that are healthy, and abide by them. Accept that other people are messy, and have quirks, and so do we.
I am thankful for the many years we had Lyle as a neighbor. He was gracious to our girls, and made sure to tell them about his travels around the world, or his favorite books he had collected over his many years as a librarian. He always was in the mood to trade veggies across the garden fence if he had plenty of one thing and we had plenty of another. He gave his opinion on many things freely, and just as freely gave of himself.
Some day, soon, the family and I will visit his grave, and lay down some flowers in thankfulness for years of time spent side by side, learning what a good neighbor really is. Thankful he was one, and praying to be better ones ourselves.
Blessings to you and yours,