The workers came early, trying to get as much done before the temperature hit the 100° mark, the sweat soaking their shirts and pouring down their faces. I slowed as I turned the corner, wondering if my elderly neighbor was moving, maybe into an assisted living facility or nursing home. Taciturn and private, Bill’s health had deteriorated over recent years. A move like that wouldn’t have surprised me.
Our cul-de-sac of fourteen families is part of a larger neighborhood, with green space and man-made lakes, sidewalks and shopping, resulting in a stable base of residents. Bill and a few other “originals” evidenced that stability, along with others like me, who had moved in not long after the first contracts were signed over 30 years ago. We had a phone list of our 14 neighbors, had carved pumpkins together at the end of my driveway and generally looked out for each other, not an easy task in today’s frenetic world.
Summers in Florida are brutal, with humidity falling over us like a sodden blanket as the sun rises each day. We water the garden just after dawn and then retreat into our air-chilled homes, venturing out only to get the mail or drive to the store in vehicles with cold air blowing in our faces. We wave as we pass each other on the street, coming and going, but it’s not until fall that we emerge to enjoy cooler weather and spend a few extra minutes catching up with the news on the street.
It’s not unusual to lose touch during this season of our summer swelter. Bill had regressed to using a walker on his slow journey to the communal mailboxes at the end of the street. But most of us don’t check our mail every day any more, our traditional routines disrupted by email and automatic bill pay. Our paths just don’t cross very often for six months or more in this latitude of sub-tropics.
Finally, one day as I rounded the corner to our street, I stopped and opened my window enough to call to the neighbor who lives across the street from Bill.
“Did Bill sell his house?” I asked as the hot air ballooned into my car. “There’s a lot of activity on this end of the street,” I added, expecting to be told that Bill had indeed made the transition to assisted living or was now living with his son who lived somewhere in our area.
The neighbor, who I had known for over 20 years, came toward my car, a shocked expression on his face.
“Deb, he died nearly six months ago. He fell in his house, a stroke they think, and laid there for 4 days. By the time anyone checked on him, it was too late. He died in the hospital a few days later.”
I felt as if someone had punched me. My eyes filled with tears for this man’s death, dying on the floor in the midst of his “neighbors.” My heart ached for his loneliness and despair as he suffered alone and helpless. I count myself as one who could have done more. Should have done more.
I am also confused that no one told me when he died.
Community means being connected to others, either by living next door or down the street, or simply through our humanity.
The reverberations of Bill’s death continue to move through me.
A true community is not just about being geographically close to someone or part of the same social web network. It's about feeling connected and responsible for what happens. Humanity is our ultimate community,
and everyone plays a crucial role.