Most of us, at some time, have experienced living next to someone who was perhaps not the best neighbour material. Maybe they were too noisy or partied too late or held a zillion street-clogging garage sales. But few of us have been embroiled in the kind of neighbour dispute that hits the national news, as a neighbour dispute in Fort McMurray did this past weekend.
I must admit I don't know my neighbours well. The neighbours on one side brought cookies to us on Christmas Eve last year, a remarkably kind act that I have not forgotten. And there was the amusing mix-up when we both received our very first order of eyeglasses from the same online retailer on the same day and our postal delivery person mixed up the delivery, meaning my neighbour accidentally opened my eyeglasses and realized her error as they were clearly not the ones she had ordered. No harm done, we exchanged glasses and the rather humorous incident ended well. I don't know the neighbours on the other side well either, although I know they have a pool table in their garage which they seem to enjoy on hot summer evenings and a dog that entertains my own dog as they bark and yip at each other. We may not be the closest of neighbours but we pretty much do our own thing, stay out of each other's way and respect the relationship.
My parents, on the other hand, were the super-neighbours. They lived in the same house for 28 years and in that time they knew everyone on their street. They mowed their neighbours' lawns, shovelled their driveways and sidewalks, kept an eye on their houses (and their kids), and in my dad's case always had a loonie for the neighbourhood kids and a dog cookie for the dogs. That they were respected on their street is not in question, but it was only as they aged that I began to understand that it was more than respect. When my father was in the final months of the lung cancer that stole his life and housebound as a result their lawn was mowed, the leaves were raked and the snow was shovelled. When ambulances showed up at their house, as they sadly did with increasing frequency in their last years, the neighbours would show up the next day with food and offers of assistance - because my parents had been the neighbours everyone wanted to live beside.
Perhaps that was the saddest thing about the story from this weekend. Neighbours can go one of three ways, really. They can be the neighbours like me, the ones who mind their own business but who on occasion will mow the neighbours lawn or find themselves the beneficiary of an act of kindness, like the secretive neighbour who has on more than one occasion rolled my garbage cans back up my driveway after collection day. They can be super-neighbours like my parents, the ones who become the backbone of the street and the ones who set the tone and tenor for the entire block.
Or they can be the difficult ones, the nutters who seem to exist to make the lives of others miserable. They can be the ones who end up in court, on either the sending or receiving end of court documents and complaints and charges. And here is the reality - life is too short to spend it that way, when it is so very simple to choose to live and let live, to allow others to enjoy a peaceful existence and choose the same for ourselves and to build bridges instead of building higher and higher fences to keep us apart. What kind of neighbour you intend to be is a choice, you see.
I may not know my neighbours well but I know this: I am damn glad my neighbours, even though I do not know them well, are not nutters. I hope they can (and do) say the same about me, too.