Discover more from Notes From an Unruly Quaker
And noticing whether they've rolled their bins out
In Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, everyone was welcomed and valued. Mister Rogers helped us appreciate and respect others. He opened his door to all, and warmly invited them to share their talents and ideas. He showed us the power of kindness and compassion, “You are special and so is everyone else in this world.”
A sad, sad thing happened on our little block in our little neighborhood this week.
Friday morning, my phone chirped with a text from my lovely two-doors-down neighbor.
I’ll call her Melody.
Melody: Hi Jen, do you happen to have a spare key for Bonita’s [not her real name either] house? She missed putting her bins out, and hasn't texted me back for a few days… I called in a wellness check but the police said they can only enter to check if we find a key.
Me: Oh goodness! Yes I do!
Question: Do y’all have keys to your neighbors’ houses?
Teen has several keys for petsitting.
We also have keys for popping packages from porches into houses, checking if pipes froze, borrowing hand tools, those sorts of things.
To be honest, regarding Bonita — I had been meaning to return her key for months. Maybe even a year. She had lent it after she’d hit her head badly. I wanted to be able to check on her if she didn’t return my texts.
Returning her key had been on my to-do list.
I was SO glad I had procrastinated.
Cops, wellness checks, and probable cause
It makes sense that cops won’t enter a locked house for a wellness check.
They need a key unless they have probable cause. An unanswered doorknock is not probable cause.
And fair enough: you don’t want a random neighbor to be able to make a random phone call to the police and have them break down your door.
A digression because I’m procrastinating. (Again.)
You know, for a long, long time, I’d naively thought someone —the government, the police department, someone— must be required to reimburse you for damage caused by police or if you were a victim of crime.
Let’s say the police do kick down your door. But you didn’t do anything wrong. Surely they’d have to pay to fix it.
Or something way worse than that. If there is violence in your home. If someone gets hurt.
I thought surely there was an automatic process, a fund that helped you make repairs. Or cleaned up the grisly crime scene, all that blood. Reimbursed you for damage.
Oh, sweet little naïf.
No. In the U.S. there is no structural support for that kind of help.
There is N.C. Crime Victim Compensation money that covers up to $45,000 of medical expenses if you are the victim of a crime — which sounds like a lot but imagine someone hospitalized with a life-threatening gunshot wound, and then imagine how little $45K would actually cover.
The NC CVA also allows $10,000 to bury your dead if they are a victim of murder.
It is not an easy process to get the money, there’s paperwork to fill out, and there can’t be even a whiff of suspicion about your loved one being involved in the crime or in anything “shady,” but at least the fund exists.
But nothing covers property damage.
So for this among many other reasons, we didn’t want the police kicking in Bonita’s door.
Okay, back to the texts.
Melody: Amazing! Can I come pick it up from you?
Me: Mos def
Melody: Thanks, I'll be right over
I was already opening the door when Melody came over. I gave her the key and asked her to please keep me posted. I didn’t go with her to Bonita’s; I was in the middle of something important with Teen.
Of course now I wish I had gone right over.
30 minutes later, Melody texted again.
Melody: Police were able to get in and check. Unfortunately they found her dead.
Me: Oh my God.
Me: Oh my God.
Melody: I'm sorry. I think the police need to get your information, they may head over in a few minutes.
Me: I'm just making myself somewhat presentable and will be right out
I went outside. We stood together in Bonita’s front yard. It was stiflingly hot. We shaded our eyes from the sun as we talked with the police. We waited for them to contact next of kin. Sweat rolled down our backs, dampening our t-shirts. Eventually, I went home again. I sent up prayers to Bonita and her loved ones. For an eased passing, for comfort around her unexpected, untimely death.
My point in writing this sad story
Is NOT to deny that death is a part of life. It is, absolutely and always, a part of life.
One nit I’ll always pick is when people say, “If I die, I want such-and-so…” or “I should probably write a will for if I die…”
SPOILER ALARM: It’s not a matter of IF you die. It’s a matter of when.
Best to make peace with it.
We can start in a very simple way. We can start by changing that little word “if” to “when.”
“When I die, I want such-and-so…” or “I should write a will for when I die…”
My point is —
To share that Bonita, even though that’s not her real name, was a lovely human. She was a talented visual artist, loved both cats and dogs, held a day job where she was valued and beloved. She had good friends and a rich, interesting life.
I also want to share something she taught me years ago.
The first time I talked to Bonita was 12 or 13 years ago. I was braiding daffodil leaves in our front yard. I had read that this was a good way to tidy them after blooming, and that braided leaves made good temporary fairy houses.
My young neighbor Elsie [not her real name] was always fascinated by this process.
I have since learned that this isn’t so good for the daffodils.
The fairies don’t seem to mind that I don’t do it anymore. But I miss the time with Elsie.
Anyway. I was braiding. Little Elsie was watching intently and repositioning our garden gnomes.
Bonita was walking her two retrievers on leashes. “Hi,” she said. “Excuse me. But are you a flight attendant?”
I looked up from braiding. “I’m sorry?”
“Hi Bonita!” my young neighbor said.
“Hi Elsie,” Bonita smiled. She said to me, “Someone was going door-to-door selling security systems. He said you are a flight attendant.
“He said you’re away a lot so you bought a security system from him.
“I’m Bonita, by the way. I live three doors down. The other side of Helen.”
“Ah. I’m Jen.”
“This is Jen!” said Elsie. “We’re making houses for the fairies.”
Elsie plopped into my lap.
I said, “I’m not a flight attendant, no. We definitely didn’t buy an alarm system from him.”
Bonita sighed. “Yeah. I figured. But there’s that saying, you know? About neighbors. Salesmen rely on people not knowing their neighbors if they live more than two doors down from them.”
“Huh,” I said. I thought about this. Was it true?
I knew my next-door neighbors. I was currently tending to Elsie, after all. And I knew the neighbors next to them, but only barely. I knew our across-the-street neighbors. But Bonita was three doors down. And I hadn’t bothered to meet her.
This was more or less true of the neighborhood where I grew up, too - except for houses with kids. The kids were a different story. All the kids knew all the kids.
“Yep,” Bonita continued, “and then they tell you that your neighbors have bought systems from them, to make it seem, I don’t know, more ordinary, or more socially acceptable or something.”
“Makes sense. Well. I’m glad to meet you now,” I said.
“Likewise,” Bonita said.
We stayed friendly. Teen took care of her cats. I checked on her after the aforementioned concussion, but not as often or for as long as I should have. We weren’t involved in each other’s day to day lives. The last exchange we’d had were texts inviting her to help herself to our front-yard tomatoes.
Had I failed Bonita? After all, I hadn’t noticed that she hadn’t taken out her bins.
God. How long had she been dead, alone, in her home? It grieves my heart.
I’m grateful to Bonita. And Melody. For their teachings, reminders, nudges.
Wait. Please don’t get me wrong.
I do not want to make Bonita’s passing into A Very Special Episode of Unruly Quaker.
This wasn’t some sappy, convenient lesson. This was a human life with a sad, untimely ending. I’d much rather she could live additional fulfilling decades and I wrote about something else this week.
But she did pass, and she left me with memories and gleanings. And I want to write and share them because that’s how I make sense of the world.
Neighbors. Not to be trite. But really. We are so important to each other. Do you know your neighbors?
Whom do you include when you think of your neighbors? Whom do you leave out? Are we an us and them? How can we become just a big ol’ we?
Two of my besties are REMARKABLE in their ability to reach out to neighbors. They know their neighbors for blocks. No lie. I’m in awe of them. And … and it makes me feel bad. Because obviously I could be doing SO much better than I am currently doing. I could be reaching out so much more.
Neighbors are our daily connections. The cops said this to Melody and me. (But I take no credit - this was all Melody.) They said that there is nothing, but nothing, so important as neighbors who care for each other and keep an eye on their neighbors’ routines. In a non-creepy way.
COMMUNITY IS WHAT KEEPS US SAFE, NOT PRISONS. (And not cops.) This is the tagline for Common Justice. And I believe it. Community keeps us safe, keeps us connected, makes us belong.
This doesn’t come easily to some of us. Me included. Personally, I’m a social introvert. This means it takes me extra oomph and energy to reach out. But the social part of “social introvert” is that once the ice is broken, I’m happy to chat. It’s that first part, that nudge to say hello that is difficult. But worth it.
Front porches. Front porches! Don’t get me wrong - I LOVE my back porch. I practically live on my back porch. But front porches? Front porches build community. Sitting on the front porch, sipping iced tea or a cocktail, there’s nothing like it.
As my dad liked to say, “What say let’s sit on the front porch and mind the neighbors’ business for awhile?”
If you don’t have a front porch, that’s ok! The pandemic taught many of us that it’s easy to just set out some chairs or sit on the stoop.
If you have neighbors who live alone, ask if you can keep a spare key to their house. Or if you can agree on a safe place to hide a key.
Especially if they are elderly or in poor health. I learned that being able to get inside is very important.
I’ve been reminded that we are all neighbors, in so many senses of the word.
I’m going to take a minute, a few deep breaths.
I’m going to sit with a renewed commitment to, as my dad would say, Sit on the front porch and mind the neighbors’ business.
Join me, won’t you?
And please join me also in raising a glass of iced tea, wine, or coffee, depending on when and where you be.
And to Melody.
To the Melodys of this world, who practice noticing. And who keep us connected.
Until next time, as ever, thank you for reading. I’m so glad you’re here.