About six years ago this neighbor of mine stole a bunch of stuff out of my house. He had been doing some yard work for me and had the code to my garage. Stuff slowly disappeared—at first from the garage—and he stopped waving to me, all at the same time. Seemed fishy, but I did, from time to time, leave my garage door open far too long. It could have been anyone, really.
One day, my laptop went missing from my office. Later I’d discover that my DVD player, hedge trimmer and a tool set were also gone. This was the last straw. I went over to where he lived and told his sister that I was terribly sorry for making the assumption, but that if my computer, the source of my lively-hood, didn’t show back up in the next 30 minutes that I was calling the police. 20 minutes later he showed up, with my laptop. It appeared that he was in the grips of crack addiction. He yelled to me that he had bought my computer “from some crackheads down the street”. I was pissed. I tried to shame him but he just held to his story. His sister bought me a new DVD player and kicked him out. About two years later, he moved back in… in a wheelchair. He had had a stroke.
He spends a lot of time on his porch, smoking cigarettes. When I’m outside, he seems to glare angrily in my direction. I imagined that he did this to avoid guilt or shame, by holding really tightly to his story about how I wrongly accused him of theft.
Yesterday, I was delivering the neighborhood newsletter. His house is on my route, the first house, actually. He was smoking on the porch when I stepped up, coming face to face with him for the first time in 6 years. I said “hello” and called him by name. He said “hi”. He didn’t have a free hand and I asked if I should just put it on the door. He said “yeah”. I asked him how he was. He said “good”. I said “have a nice night”. He said “thank you”. His voice and his face softened with every reply.
The rest of my route and my night I felt light and free. Where there had been a quiet bit of resentment, there was compassion for the whole world and myself.