If you pick up a copy of today’s New York Times and read it through you will have learned in volume as much information as a person in the 1800’s learned in their whole life-time.
We live in a remarkable age. If I want to know something…anything…I just pick up my Blackberry and Google it. If I want to catch up with what friends are doing, I log in to facebook. If I see an accident, I can snap a picture and tweet it before the police even get there. Yes it’s a remarkable age but at what expense?
When my daughter was little, I was working full-time and often long hours, at a local non-profit organization. By the time I got home I was tired. Pressing deadlines, back-to-back meetings, speaking engagements, writing for newsletters and other informational pieces and ‘putting out of fires’ at work, along with news headlines and other world goings-on often resulted in information overload. Then at home, I would be busy making supper, helping with homework, cleaning up and finally tucking my little one in for the night. This left little time for anything else but to drop exhausted into my bed.
I live in a small 2-storey, 10-unit apartment building . It’s a quiet street and one would think that I should at least know some of the names of my neighbours, but I don’t, except for the older couple right next to me. Somehow my social butterfly of a daughter always did and she would tell me about the nice lady that lived across the hall and let her wait in her apartment until I got home when she lost her key or the people upstairs with the noisy twins. She even knew the guy down the street with the spotted dog. Apparently he was cool. For the life of me, I could never figure out when and where she got to know all these people! At Christmas time, she would arrange a plate of Christmas goodies for Don in unit 102. Don? Who’s Don? Well Don is the old man who lives downstairs she explained. He’s all alone. He’s got no family and by the way he says hi. I’d seen Don a few times myself. He was quiet and kept to himself. As far as knew, he had never been married or had children. He was shy and would duck into his apartment when I went downstairs to do laundry. I may have said hello to him a handful of times in the 19 years I’ve lived here.
Yesterday I ran into one of my neighbours (I don’t know his name) in the parking lot and he said to me, “Shocking news about Don eh?” What news? What’s happened? Well it turns out Don died. He died alone. My neighbour was stunned that I didn’t see the police and the Coroner out front on Wednesday around 5:45 pm. I was in my kitchen cooking dinner – clueless to what was going on in my own immediate vicinity.
I find myself wishing that I had taken the time to know Don while he was alive. I don’t want his life and passing to be in vain. Unsure if there is anyone to share his story I feel compelled to tell the world he lived and contributed to his community. Here’s what I’ve been able to piece together since yesterday. My landlord made it a practice to call Don, a senior citizen who has lived in my building since 1963, once a week just to check in on him. He had capped Don’s rent many years ago as Don was living on a Veteran’s pension. When Don didn’t answer his phone, my landlord became concerned about him and came to see him in person. He rang the doorbell – no answer. Then he entered his unit to discover that Don had passed away. I am sad, not so much because Don died, but because he died alone and virtually unnoticed by anyone. I am sad because I didn’t take the time to get to know him and hear his life-stories and his experiences while serving his country – my country. I am sad that in this remarkable age perhaps my priorities are skewed. Yes, it is true, I can learn in one day as much information as a person in the 1800’s learned in their lifetime, but I wonder who is actually better off. I can’t help thinking that back in the day folks had the blessing of knowing and caring for, and being known and cared for by, their neighbours.