I recently picked up a book that I lost at one point and so lost the momentum in reading it. I was lying in bed a couple of nights ago, feeling very tired, but unable to sleep and thought, “I need to find a good book.” I carefully got myself out of bed so as not to disturb Dawn and walked to the big bookcase in our living room I made for Dawn last Christmas. It holds all of the literature that we’ve unpacked so far. I was glad that Dawn had taken the time to alphabetize its contents because it made it very easy to find the book I was looking for: Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry.

Berry is the definition of a “man of letters” in my opinion and can write in a way that I don’t think all of the teaching in the world could lead most of us to. He is a poet, a novelist, an essayist, and man of ideas that I love. He seems to be able to write as ably about sustainable agriculture as he does about the memories of a simple life, as in Jayber Crow.

But the reason I bring him up now is a quote of his that I read from a 2006 interview with him just today:

“Once you confess to yourself that you need other people, then you’re in a position to look around your neighborhood and see how neighborly it is, starting with how neighborly you are yourself.”

The line is so rich, laden with the bare truths of life that many of us never take the time to learn.

When I read it, it made me think of some things that Dawn and I talked about today — things that come up when you find yourself in a situation like this. You talk about (not) taking things for granted, about accepting, living in the moment, you talk about how no matter what happens next all you can do is do the best you can and live on. And sometimes, you talk about your fears, and words that can sound disheartening to an outsider crop up. Words like “nightmare” and “unfair.”

The thing is, if cancer has taught me a damn thing, it’s taught me about all of the good that keeps going on in the world all around you, whether a crucial part of it is falling down flat or not. And though we’ve only lived in our new house for two months, our nearby neighbors have proven themselves yet another example of how one’s community sort of swells up around you in times of need. Several of our real-life neighbors have proven decent, helpful, friendly people that are nice to have around, but a few of them stand out above the rest.


Gene has lived in the house two doors down toward the bay for fifty some years. He’s retired and in his own words likes to have things to keep him busy. One day, after we’d lived here for only a couple of weeks I drove into our driveway and noticed Gene in our backyard. My first thought was, of course, “Oh no, we’ve got one of those neighbors.” Such a cynic. It turns out, Gene had told Dawn the night before that he’d be over (totally unsolicited) the next day to pack up all the yard debris we created in trying to clear up our rather ragged back yard. He trimmed everything down, packed it up in his van, and hauled it off to the city station for yard waste. He’s been doing stuff like that ever since.


Lydia is a breast cancer survivor that lives across the street and one house over from us in one of the nicest little houses on our street. She has been welcoming since the day we closed on the house and showed up to have a look around. Since I have been sick she has had us over for a night of games, cooked us food, brought us things to plant, and is always there with a kind word and a smile. She’s also one of three neighbors that have let us take showers in their homes — since we’ve never ever had one of our own in this house!


John is one of these people that shows up in your life one day and it feels as though he’s been there all along — perhaps living far off for a time, but always there. It’s kind of strange how well we get along with John, a single freshly retired (old hippy, I guess you’d say) guy. He has a tremendous sense of humor, and has never hesitated to make us welcome in his home, cooking us dinner, making us food and bringing it over, even giving me a couple of rides to the doctor since I went back into treatment.

Maybe I shouldn’t have singled out three specific neighbors the way I did, but I wanted to be sure to thank them for the kinds of friends they have been to Dawn and me in the last two months, and especially in the last three weeks or so.


I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank my sister-in-law Cara for the kind entry she posted on her blog that included some very nice things about me. It was also the subject of some discussion today, and made me feel very good.


One Response to “Neighbor”

  1. Thank you, Mike, for such a timely and valuable message to me (and probably to other people)! On Tuesday, I was told by an otolaryngology doctor that I probably have a permanent damage in my left year, and I was devastated… (I’m having a hard time hearing low sound such as my husband’s voice, and my ear aches worst when I play the flute!) I’m waiting for the authorization from the insurance company so that I can have a CAT scan, because they need to know what is happening behind the eardrum. So I was crying most of the past couple of days. But you know, the lesson you have learned, that truly applies to me, too, and at this very moment when I need it most, I was able to read your message. I think this is a blessing. It is so true that lots of people are trying to help me out right now.

    Thanks again,


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