Our neighbour’s daughter-in-law has Cancer. They found a lump a few months ago and they decided to cut it out and treat with chemo and all that stuff. I don’t know the ins and outs. My neighbour is an old woman and her social skills need working on, but she’s nice enough. I don’t think she knows how to express herself so that people understand her. She told me it was very sad that her daughter-in-law was ill because now it means that she’ll have to deal with the maids herself, when previously her daughter-in-law did it and managed it so well. Obviously she’s going through more than that but she can’t open up to a virtual stranger about the fear and dread and sleeplessness she’s experiencing on behalf of her son and her grandson.
We live in our tiny worlds, these four walls that separate us from one tragedy to the next. I have no idea about these people, about the woman across the corridor and her newborn or the woman who tutors in the flat opposite. What dramas must they be experiencing? I’ve only met them all once and that was to gauge their opinion about the ‘muzac’ the building authorities decided to play at full volume through the PA system every morning. I’m a very grumpy person without sleep and the previous night I had very little sleep! So the theme from Titanic playing over and over again (a whining instrumental version) just grated on my nerves. I needed to find out what the neighbours thought and they were ok with it, actually. It was only me who had a problem. It didn’t occur to me that they probably had much bigger, troubling issues to tackle, like whether their newborn would sleep enough in the day to allow them enough time to prepare dinner and take a shower. Or whether their grandson’s mother would live to see her own grandchildren.
We’ve lost the art of being neighbourly. I’m the worst for it. I hide away in my room, typing and reading and judging. I wish I was brave enough to meet the people who live only a few feet away. I wish I could be bothered to visit and offer help. But everytime I pluck up the courage to do that, I’m met with suspicion and the firm assurance that ‘no…everything is absolutely fine.’ Relationships and trust need to be built over time, not through a disingenuous one off query of concern.
But we need to ask ourselves…do we want be involved through all the heartache and dirty diapers? We’ve experienced enough of that already, right? But the bigger question is, in order to live a life that means something do we NEED to be involved through the heartache and the dirty diapers of our neighbours? I think perhaps we do.
Otherwise what’s the point?