My affable, cordial, compassionate neighbors have become friends. We are not extremely close, but we are becoming closer. They have friends who have known them for nearly fifty years; understandably, they are closer to those friends than to me. But our six-plus-year acquaintance is deepening. I am very slow to open up to people, probably for fear that I will disappoint—or be disappointed. Though I can pretend to be relaxed around people with whom I am not especially close, my nature is to be cautious and reserved. As time goes by, I feel my comfort with my neighbors grow and my tensions in their presence ease.
My neighbors are the kind of people one hopes to stumble upon when moving into a new neighborhood, a place about which one knows virtually nothing. I think they view the role of neighbor as one that carries responsibilities. They define neighbor in this way, I think, the fourth-level definition of the word: a person who shows kindliness or helpfulness toward his or her fellow humans.
Last night, I had dinner with my neighbors. They have invited me over to have dinner on their deck several times in recent months. They offer wine and a satisfying meal and conversation. It helps, of course, that they are liberal/progressive. They label themselves Democrats; though I almost always vote Democrat, I do not attach that label to myself (for reasons too convoluted to go into at the moment). Often, we talk about and bemoan the fact that the current occupant of the White House is utterly inept, running the once-proud country we call home into the ground and causing people around the world to consider him, and us, a laughingstock. But I digress.
Though last night’s dinner had been on our respective calendars for a few weeks, I was not looking forward to it. My experiences during the last few days have left me worn and beaten and depressed; I did not feel like “being with people.” But I went anyway. And I am glad I did. Despite feeling the same guilt I have had every time I’ve enjoyed myself lately, last night peeled away a layer or two of the angst I’ve been feeling. Simply being in the presence of two extremely generous, kind, thoughtful people helped lift my mood.
Perhaps what most helped elevate my mood was the fact that our meal was both extravagant and extremely casual. We enjoyed snow crab clusters, requiring us to use shears to crack and cut the shells and deal with dripping juices and fragments of crab shells and sticky fingers. The only way to eat crabs presented in their shells is to be informal. You have to abandon any pretense of elegance. It’s a bit like a picnic on sand; it will be messy, no matter how hard you try to avoid messiness. I felt absolutely comfortable in the presence of two good people spraying themselves and one another with crab juice. I forgot, for a while, the stress and the worry I have been feeling. Though they are both back this morning, I think a brief break from my fractured mental state may have kept me sane for a little longer.
I returned home in time to turn on the Vice Presidential debate, which erased all evidence of serenity. But those few hours with friends and neighbors were like a lifeline. Today will be another battle with the world. It will start with my “fasting labs,” which required me to cease all food and drink at 8:00 p.m. last night, and then move on to my Thursday morning parking lot meeting at church. From there, I will try to communicate with my wife.
The stress I have been feeling will no doubt increase as I attempt to figure out how to care for her when she returns home, which apparently will be sooner than I thought. I will have to provide for a hospital bed, a Hoyer lift, and various other pieces of equipment. I will have to figure out what to do with our four-poster bed and what to put in our room for me to sleep on, next to the hospital bed. I need to arrange for professional home-health assistance and other general household help to assist me. Despite all this, though, I think I came to realize last night that an occasional break is what I will need to maintain my sanity. It may also drown me in guilt, but I might have to drown to survive. My neighbors’ compassion and generosity could well have kept me from the brink of madness. I will always appreciate them for that.