We have lived in our house for over 25 years. For most of these years, we have been blessed with great neighbors on both sides--people with whom we've had more-than-cordial relationships, people who we have helped, people who have helped us, people we've laughed with, communed with, dined with, and so forth. At the same time, we have always respected each others' privacy--maintaining a cordial distance, as seemed appropriate. We're not in each others' face, or business.
A couple of years ago, a new couple moved in, and we attempted once again to reach out, to be welcoming and friendly. Perhaps our reaching out was a bit much by their standards. So although they seem to be fine people, we have not gotten to know them very well, at least not nearly as well as the others who have lived in that house before them, and this has left an unsettled feeling in me--as if an empty spot of unknowing lies to the south of me. The story I am about to tell relates to this empty spot.
A few years back, I flew to San Francisco to visit my sister. On the airplane, I was seated on the aisle (my favorite position), a man was seated at the window, and the middle seat was empty.
I was thinking that that the look of this guy was somewhat generic--the shaved head (a lot of guys have them these days), the largeness, the headphones. Which could have been an argument for or against. But I was thinking that I too have a somewhat generic look--that everyone sort of does when it comes down to it. It's only by really looking into the face of another, engaging with them, that we are able to recognize all their unique characteristics.
I could not bring myself to say, "Excuse me, but you don't happen to me my neighbor by any chance?" So I sat. I focused on my book. I focused on my withdrawal techniques. I tried to steal looks at him without seeming like a weirdo.
Now, today, a couple years into being neighbors with these people, I do believe I would recognize the husband on the street (or an airplane), but the wife . . . I don't think so. And this is not a happy thing for me.