"I'm going to say hi to Don," I said, tossing the keys to the house over. "I'll be in right after you."
I walked through my grass and into his more lush and full lawn. He wasn't there. I followed the sidewalk around his house and looked into his side yard. He wasn't there, either. Disappointed to have missed him, I stepped into my own living room a few short seconds later.
"He wasn't outside?" The Boyfriend raised an eyebrow at me. A smirk teased the corner of his mouth.
I was sad. Summer was ending. I didn't get a chance to ask him when I should cut back my peonies or tell him to watch over my house on those nights he can tell I'm still at school. Don. My neighbor. A widower that tells me all the time that "His Evelyn" has been "at the cemetery" for twenty eight years. A former insurance salesman that lives in a tiny house he and His Evelyn bought from her dad in the seventies. A man that wears worn shirts with holes under the arms and a belt from 1988, but has five garages all over town. A man that often brings me ice cream sandwiches when I'm outside watering or mowing, and as he hands them to me, his thin, worn wedding band gleams in the soft afternoon sunlight. A man that remembers The General at Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. A man that awkwardly, but lovingly, pats my shoulder in greeting.
A man that you can tell just aches to give his love.
"Old Flywheel" - his best friend Herb - visits occasionally in his beat up car, with ripped up seats and threadbare tires. Herb is a private pilot, also an old insurance salesman, and has a farm outside of town. He is the biggest flirt I've ever met in my life and that twinkle in his eye has snarled more than one woman - I'm positive. Together, they stand out in the driveway, their eyes often fixed out over the road at something, as their low voices carry across the peonies that His Evelyn planted -- the ones she brought over from her daddy's old house.
One thing I just would never forgive myself for if I screwed up.
He has never met a stranger, of that I'm sure. Every person walking by his house stops to talk to him and I'm sure he has to be a town treasure. He's restoring some kind of car from 1930 - rebuilding it from scratch. I have no idea what any of it means when he talks to me about it, but dang if I can't help but listen. Because every word out of his mouth matters. They seem to carry weight as they tumble out of his thinning lips and laugh lined jaw.
I don't know where he goes for Christmas Eve dinner, or even where he goes to church. I know that he's got two children at the cemetery next to His Evelyn, and one more down the street that he sees "sometimes". I know that he worries about me, asks about my parents ... and Tuck - my sweet little boy that is so incredibly shy - hugs his legs when we say bye. From the moment we say hello, Don doesn't stop smiling (or bouncing on his toes). And when you see someone like that? You can't help but smile, too.
It's been such a lesson for me. In the shadows of the last two years - the moving, the changing, the growing - people like Don have walked into my life - and I'm sure it's no accident. Quiet teachers that listen to me sputter about dandelions overtaking the 'hood, wasp nests in my front shrubs, a boyfriend, a toddler, or parents that live too far away. Standing in a front lawn, helping me in five minute bursts of conversation. Watchers. Comforting keepers. Evidence collectors.
These are neighbors. People that say, "Yes. I see you over there. I see you trimming back those peonies. I see you meticulously cutting them into rustic bunches with your calloused fingers. Your clumsily held scissors. And I know where you're taking them. I can feel your devotion radiating off of your stooped shoulders and your velcro shoes."
These are neighbors. People that say, "Yes. I see you. I see you across the street sitting on that beautiful wrap around porch practically keening after your daughter pulls away for college. Swaying back and forth on your porch swing, Dogs at your feet. Orange birkenstocks pushing you back and forth, back and forth, and back and forth. Your ache permeates the air around your house. Around our street. And I see you."
These are neighbors. People that say, "Yes. I see you. I see you get in your car every morning and go to work still lost in the chasm of grief from when your momma passed away. I see your hands tremble when you get the mail, and I hear her voice in every greeting. I think about you and I see you."
These are people that say, "Yes. You were here. I saw you when you were here. You left a mark when you were here. And you will always be here. Because love."
Jesus wasn't lying in Mark when he called us to love our neighbors. He wasn't kidding when he said to love them as we love ourselves. He called on us to treasure each other, to give to each other, and to really see each other.
Turns out he knew a thing or two.