An homage to the stuck-at-home heroes: how neighbours have helped a lonely person feel a little less lonely

Illustration: Cora Fu

By: Kelly Chia, Features Editor

Dear neighbours,

I have to admit, I haven’t really made the effort to know you too well. I’ve moved a few times since coming to Canada, and this feels like the first time my family has really settled into a neighbourhood. It’s probably because of all this moving that I’ve never really made the effort to get to know you better. I had always thought that my family wasn’t the kind of household to deliver baked goods and host neighbourhood parties anyways, and I was content with that.

Thinking about it, I probably know you best through your cats. Surprisingly, they tell me how tight-knit you are. I’ve learned things like how Tommy, the tabby cat, probably constantly visits because he used to live in this neighbourhood. Finnigan, Coven, and Luna, the black cats that look like they’ve formed a band, are all from the same litter and adopted by different owners here. It’s clear that you’ve been here for a lot longer than I have, which made it really intimidating to get to know you better. To be fair, it’s not like I tried to change that, since I spent most of my time in school or with my friends.

Then, when I started self-isolating during COVID-19, things changed, to say the least. Every day seemed monotonous, and as I’m sure many people can relate to, the parts of my life that I had taken for granted as nothing more than background noise were gone. There were no more neighbourhood kids running up to my dog when I walked him. There were no more yard parties, or kids screaming as they played tag with each other. There was something eerily melancholy about the caution tape decorating the playground swings and slides. 

Truly, I felt out of touch with my reality. I expected to feel the emotional pressure of the pandemic sooner or later, but I had not expected it to come from where I lived. For all the rationalizations and Zoom calls in the world reassuring me that what I felt was normal, I didn’t know how to start grounding myself when everything around me looked so different. I knew that I needed to process these complicated feelings, but I could not have anticipated the tidal wave of anxiety in the face of a world that had become so foreign so quickly.

That’s when you gave me something real to hold on to — I started seeing encouraging messages messily rendered in chalk on sidewalks and driveways reassuring me that I was not alone. “We’re all in this together,” one message would read. “You’ll be okay,” another read. I had seen all the same sentiments on social media before, but something about knowing that someone went out of their way to make another stranger feel good with their own hands made these messages feel so much more special. It sounds dramatic, but looking at something tangible that I could touch and feel right in front of me pulled me out of the pool of social media and bad thoughts that I had been stuck in for weeks. “That’s right,” I thought. “These people are going through the same thing I am.” 

Photo: Kelly Chia

Of course, the whole world was going through this and worse, but this grounded me. It made me feel like I had something in common with this community and that I belonged here more than anything in the two years I had lived here. When days came and went in a city that had never been quieter, you gave me the solidarity and honest hope that could only come from a group of people also desperately trying to come to terms with what we were facing. You coloured my unnaturally quiet world in chalk, and I could not be more grateful for that.

After that small epiphany, my days were a little less monotonous. When I walked my dog, I started looking for updates to the community project posted on the elementary school walls, and I smiled at the large caricatures playfully calling a neighbour an old fart on their birthdays. These were small but important reminders that there was still life hustling around me, they were just more creative about it.

So, thank you. I know you don’t know me, and I don’t know you either. All I know is that I will always remember how in a time when everything felt like too much, your small action of goodwill helped me get back on my feet.