Like a Good Neighbour
I drive home from the office after another long day; it is close to 7:00 p.m., and as I approach my driveway I vaguely recall rolling my garbage and recycling bins down to the end of the driveway early this morning. I sigh inwardly, as even though it is a small task it seems monumental to roll them back up in the dark and cold. As my headlights shine on the driveway, though, my garbage and recycling bins have already been taken care of, nestled into their usual spots. This is far from unusual, as one of my neighbours – and it is a complete mystery as to which one – has now been doing this for months.
It is such a small thing, but it is one of those things that began sometime after we returned to our community in June, and it is one of those things that reminds me on a weekly basis of how a tragedy inspired us all to be better neighbours.
On May 3, 2016 when we fled our community we were all to some degree not only dependent on each other but on our neighbours to the north and south: the communities, large and small, that welcomed us, the work camps and industry partners that took us in, the people from across the province who hit the highways with gas, water and food for us and the many who offered simple words and acts of kindness during a dire time. I remember how even in the middle of mayhem there was no sense of panic as we worked together to evacuate our city; and this sense did not disappear when we returned to our homes. It was like suddenly we had a new sense of neighbourhood and a renewed understanding of what it means to be a good neighbour.
I see signs of it all the time in my little neighbourhood as my fellow residents shovel each other’s sidewalks and quietly mow each other’s lawns. I see far more casual and friendly conversations, and nobody seems overly worried about the neighbour with the barky dog, the neighbour with the noisy motorbike or the neighbour who occasionally has loud and late backyard parties; in fact, there seems to be a general agreement that we are all just so grateful to be neighbours again that we will accept each other’s little transgressions and choose to live in harmony instead.
I suspect that is because my neighbourhood got lucky, and we were essentially unharmed by the fire in a physical sense; but even in those neighbourhoods deeply impacted I see this same sense of community on their social media pages as they interact with each other. They lend each other support and offer advice, and they are the very essence of good neighbours, even when they are not currently in their homes and may in fact live far apart as their homes are rebuilt. And perhaps that is the key factor: maybe being neighbours isn’t about proximity.
In 2016 an entire region stopped seeing each other as strangers and began to see each other as neighbours, whether we lived in Beacon Hill or Timberlea, Waterways or Stone Creek, Thickwood or Gregoire. It didn’t matter how far apart our houses were, whether we shared a fence and if we were close enough to smell each other’s barbecue – all that mattered was that we were in this unprecedented experience together, and we became keenly aware that surviving it and recovering from it was only going to be achieved if we approached it as neighbours. And so tens of thousands of people embraced the concept of neighbourhood, reaching far beyond the traditional definition and stretching to encompass as far as our hearts could extend.
I sit in my driveway quietly, and I spy a house across the street where the garbage and recycling bins still await their owner at the end of their driveway. The lights are off; nobody is home yet. Under the cover of darkness I creep out of my car and quietly roll their bins into their proper place, shivering a bit from the cold as I do so. They will never know who has done it; must have been a neighbour, they will think. And so it goes in this far north community where neighbours have become every single person we encounter, because we know that there is nothing in life of more value than loving family, caring friends, a safe home – and good neighbours.