Thursday, November 26, 2009

Consequential Stangers

Yesterday I saw my neighbor Steve return home after weeks in the hospital. My husband and I weren't sure if he had passed away or not so we were happy to see him come home. He was brought home by ambulance. Two hospital supply vans unloaded a wheelchair and various medical supplies to turn his house into a makeshift nursing home. My husband and I have both been there before with our parents. You are happy that your family member is well enough to come home from the hospital but you are also sad because you know that your home life will be forever altered to accommodate your new patient. When we saw another ambulance pull into Steve's driveway this afternoon we wondered if it was all too much for them and Steve's family decided to send Steve back to the hospital. Unfortunately Steve's wife had taken ill and the ambulance had come to take her away. Two car loads of family members followed the ambulance down the road. Some of them carried plates wrapped in aluminum foil with hopes of salvaging their Thanksgiving dinner once they arrived at the hospital.

Steve lives directly across the street from me so it is difficult not to notice things going on at his house. But I make it a point to notice; I have an interest in Steve's well being. I have only had a few conversations with Steve over the years. I'm guessing that Steve is in his early 90's. He likes to sit on his front porch and observe the neighborhood. I wave to him when I walk my dog and when I pick up my mail. We exchange a few cordial words about how great/terrible the weather is now and again but we are essentially strangers.

Steve is a consequential stranger in my life. I heard a story on NPR a few months ago that described a consequential stranger as someone that you barely know who has a big impact on your life. The mailman, your favorite waiter, the guy that waves to you every time you go to the park- these are all consequential strangers. You might not even know their names but they become a part of your life.

When I had storm damage to my house a few months after moving in Steve came over and introduced himself to me. He gave me some pictures that he had taken of the damage, a piece of paper with his phone number and extended an offer for me and my pets to come over to his house if my house wasn't safe to live in. Most of the other neighbors just slowed down and stared at the house as they drove by. A few came over and knocked on the door but it was just to give me their business cards and try to make some money off my situation. Steve was the only one who seemed to genuinely care about how I was doing. Ever since then he has been my favorite neighbor. I have become accustomed to observing his daily routine through my picture window. I missed not seeing him for the past few weeks while he was in the hospital.

Now Steve is too sick to come outside and sit on the porch. We see nurses and family members going in and out of the house but we don't see Steve any more. I know that it is only a matter of time before he passes away. The thought of never seeing Steve again makes me sad. Eventually his kids will sell the house and some young couple will move in but it will always be Steve's house. On this Thanksgiving day, I am grateful for my friends and family but I am also grateful for the many consequential strangers who touch my life every day.

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