Off the Board, Opinion

Tolerate thy neighbour

I don’t consider myself to be a selfish or ignorant person. I take some pride in keeping up to date with current events, because I think it’s important to know what’s going on around me. I’m even prouder of the fact that I know most everything there is to know about the people who belong within the narrow radius of my inner circle. Even so, it’s never even occurred to me to pay attention to those individuals who occupy the intermediate space between my loved ones and the world at large.

I met Camille the day I moved into my very first apartment. My parents and I were in the midst of hauling boxes up its rickety, winding staircase when, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed an older woman walking urgently in our direction. She introduced herself as the tenant living in the apartment opposite from mine, and told us that we should knock on her door if ever we needed anything. After she left, my mom and I remarked on how kind it was that she had introduced herself. It seemed like a nice neighbourhood, we agreed; there was a real sense of community.

In the months that followed, Camille was like gum on our proverbial shoe. Once a week or so, she would find a reason to knock on our front door. Sometimes, during the winter months, it was a friendly reminder to shovel our front steps, or a quick, unsolicited lesson on how and when to use our compost bins. She seemed to be everywhere—every time I turned a corner, she would appear, always with an armful of organic groceries and a litany of reminders about bike lock etiquette, the upcoming Daylight saving, or turning off the lights before we left the house. We could hardly believe her nerve sometimes.

Her ubiquity became something of a joke between my roommates and me. She was a fixture in our lives, always on the periphery, hovering over our shoulders. All things considered, it’s strange that it took three whole weeks for it to dawn on me that she had moved out over the summer.

I’ll be honest: I didn’t much like Camille. I didn’t dislike her, but she was just so preachy, so intrusive. Her persistent involvement in my life felt like a direct interference with everything I loved about being 20. It just felt so unfair that I’d moved so far from home, only to find someone new nagging me about chores.

Still, it’s strange to think I’ll probably never see her again, and I find myself wondering if she’s okay. The other day I saw a woman with her same thick grey hair, and when I realized it wasn’t her, I was almost disappointed. Maybe it’s guilt that I’m experiencing. Occasionally, we’d come home to find that the sidewalk in front of our apartment had been shovelled, and I’d always suspected that it was her who did it. Last November, she gave us her kid’s leftover Halloween candy, and I barely even thanked her.

You can tell a lot about a person by how they treat their neighbours. Certainly, the fact that I’d always seen Camille’s endless gestures of good will as acts of trespassing rather than generosity says more about me than it does about her. It’s sad to realize that maybe I’m not as compassionate as I once thought I was, but, then again, growing up is a selfish, all-consuming process. If, when it’s all over, I’m half as thoughtful and generous as the strange lady who once lived across the street from me, I’ll be satisfied.

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  1. Saint Emerance

    This was so much better than the headline: to “tolerate” one’s neighbor is the minimum acceptable standard to start from in treating other people. The author seems to be trying to do much better than that.

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