Lessons from My Neighbors


Two moments of encouragement, hope and lift, courtesy of neighbors in incidental moments on the sidewalk this week.

I walked my middle schooler to the bus stop on the second day of school.  Not walked him there, exactly.  Because, of course, middle schoolers don’t need chaperoning, as they are want to let me know.  But, sometimes they do need just a tiny brush of assurance.  Especially when things are so new and directions still a bit shaky.

So, I walked in the same direction at the same time, as my middle schooler who happened to be on his way to catch his bus.  Then, I sat nearby but not too terribly nearby until a bus that he happened to be waiting for came.  At which time I got a subtle nod of acknowledgement and I was free to go.

I took a few minutes to gather myself up, not wanting to appear too obviously connected with the recently departing bus.  As I finally walked away, a middle schooler walked up to the bus stop and asked me what bus had just been there.  When I told her the number a shadow of disappointment fell over her face.  

“I’m sorry.” I said, “Was it your bus?”  

I was already feeling gut wrenching concern for her.  How was she going to make it to school now?  I was internalizing this as the problem it would be if my middle schooler showed up at my apartment door and said he’d missed the bus.  I suppose that was the scenario I was trying to avoid by being down there in the first place.

To my surprise, instead of breaking down, or even showing undue concern, she smiled a chagrined smile and said, “Yeah.” Then she added, “What time is it?”  

I consulted my watch.  Once she’d heard the answer, she marched resolutely up to the nearest city bus stop and began consulting the schedule.

I needed that.  I needed to see her resourcefulness, her independence.  I needed to see her self-sufficiency.

I’ve passed the same neighbor on the same stretch of sidewalk every morning so far.  Commuters dressed in slacks and skirts stream past him, tilted forward  in their hurry to catch metros and rides.  Families walk past, pushing strollers and bustling children to school.  In the midst of the throng he stands exquisitely erect, hands clasped in front of him.  A curved wooden cane hangs from the back of his collared shirt.  As the chaos of a morning commute swirls around him, he puts one foot resolutely forward.  Then, he shuffles the next foot up to meet it.  Step, shuffle.  Step, shuffle.  Claiming one tiny victory at a time, he makes his way down the  sidewalk.

I needed this, too.  I needed to see his determination, his perseverance.  I needed to see his patience and commitment.

DwellMicah Bremner