"Last night, my Facebook friend Sally Kavourmas messaged me to say that her dear mother had just died as she sat by her side, holding her hand. My heartfelt sorrow goes out to friend Sally and her family along with my prayers. I am so glad she was able to be with her mother during her final moments on this earth. This would have been a great comfort to her mother and a privilege to Sally that so many of us are denied. I know from Sally's depth of grief that her mother was also her dear friend.
As I go into hospital again today for my fortnightly blood transfusion, my 'Thought for today' is one that looks at the true value of 'friendship.' Since my terminal illness started a number of years ago, I have grown to understand my body more than I ever did before. Indeed, understanding my illness has helped me to come to terms with it; I have grown more accepting of its presence in my life. I seem able to talk about it without bitterness, anger or resentment and accept it now a constant companion of my remaining days. Because my illness is an inextricable part of me and a companion that will never desert me, I find myself more able to embrace it now, rather than view it as a deadly enemy. It is easier to make the big 'C' in my life one of compassion, care, concern and companionship as opposed to that of Cancer.
As a child, I could never quite grasp what Jesus meant when he said that 'we were to love our enemies'. I mean, how is it possible to love one's enemy? It doesn't make sense, for how can anyone you love possibly be an enemy? And therein lies the answer to the conundrum; they cannot!
As I grew older, I generally accepted that the rules for the creation of the 'perfect relationship' had been spelled out in the bible, but then thought that such a relationship was impossible ever to attain. I now know that the 'perfect relationship' refers not only to the relationship between you and your God, but also to the relationship between you and your enemy. It is through this relationship that one is enabled to make the transformation of all other relationships possible. For those who do not believe in a God, then the 'perfect relationship' must first be established between you and your inner self, your ego and your conscience, your mind and your heart; your body and your soul.
In short, only 'love' can make enemies 'friends.' The longer the eniminity has existed and the more intransigent and irrational it has grown, the greater, more patient and consistent will be the love required to improve and transform the relationship.That is why the Law of Moses cites, 'To love your neighbour as you love yourself' is the greatest commandment of all, for when you do this, you truly love your God.
As a general rule, while we may pick our friends, we do not pick our neighbours. I feel sure that there are some neighbours who live farther away whom you might prefer lived next door to you, as well as some next-door neighbours whom you might wish to be far more distant. Indeed, 'having good neighbours' comes very high up on the wish list when moving house.
When I moved to my second house in Mirfield after my marital separation and divorce over thirty years ago, there was a coal yard situated next door. Because the coal yard was worked by the owner only and because it was hidden from view of our house, it caused me no problems whatever. Then, a few years later, the coalman died, and his yard was sold to a working-class man who had come into a considerably large amount of money after the death of his mother.
Initially, I had some concern that the new owner of the land was a property developer who planned to build ten brand houses on the two-acre plot of land he'd bought. It turned out that he wasn't, but the new land owner was the most eccentric and strangest person I'd ever met! He was a single man called Brian who had no family apart from one sister of ill health. Devoid of friends, Brian's only interest was attending the local rifle club in Hopton, Mirfield. Although Brian had never before built a wall, his mother's legacy made it possible for him to build his dream house with his own hands; unaided by joiner, plumber, electrician, plasterer, window installer, roofer, or building contractors. Everything he did, he did himself, even joining his drains to the main sewer. The only professional he deemed to use was the architect, whose services he dispensed with after he'd secured planning permission to start building and whose plans he loosely followed and departed from at will.
Although initially described as a bungalow, Brian soon developed signs of 'losing the plot.' The dwelling grew like Topsy until it gradually grew taller than any other house in the whole of Mirfield and had an elevated roof that was steeper than 'The Great Wall of China.' Brian's roof contained six skylights to go with the six upstairs bedrooms and its eves came within two feet of touching my roof and creating a fire hazard. It took Brian almost five years to construct his house. He only built on summer evenings and weekends. His penny-pinching methods and lack of building expertise was in grave danger of making his giant-sized dormer bungalow the largest Yorkshire folly ever constructed. As to the two acres of potential garden which surrounded his property, not liking plants, Brian tarmacked every inch of it over.
During these five years, the side of my house looked like a permanent demolition site. Brian had the capacity of breaking every building regulation in the book and getting away with it. On more than one occasion, his tunnelling beneath ground broke into the main sewer and we got an infestation of rats. On other times, his underground work damaged our own water pipes and electric cables, making us live as cave men until we got it repaired. When his giant-sized dormer bungalow was finally finished, Brian who lived there alone, had six bedrooms, one giant-sized lounge bigger than a ball room, one kitchen as large as half of my own detached house, three bathrooms and six reinforced bunker-cellars underground, in which he stored his collection of over twenty guns and where held his nightly shooting practice.
For over five years, Brian became 'the neighbour from hell'. Despite my many attempts to talk things over with him at the beginning of our disagreements, he always refused to discuss the issue, except to say, 'If you've owt to say, say it to my solicitor.' Fortunately for Brian, having established myself in Europe as the founder of 'Anger Management', I could not give true vent to my emotions or do what I really felt like doing. After all, it would never do to be seen resorting to physical violence or criminal damage during his absence at work, by demolishing his property with a JCB excavator or engaging in fisticuffs upon his arrival home. I was therefore obliged to contain my mounting anger level and instead, I spent five pointless years wring letters to the Planning Department, The Department of Works, the Kirklees' Councillor for our Ward and my local Member of Parliament. I spent hundreds of pounds exchanging numerous solicitors' letters threatening legal action and still no improvement came. Brian's dangerous work eventually caused me thousands of pounds when his extended house foundation led to a large crack in my rear-house wall and ruined the downstairs wall tanking and damp course we'd only just had installed at great cost. The final straw was the traditional bad neighbour's boundary dispute. Brian claimed a two-foot width of my boundary around the rear of my property and built a long water channel to drain any excess water away from his property and towards the flow of mine.
Needless to say that these five years passed by without the exchange of Christmas cards between us, the utterance of one civil word or the giving of one friendly glance each time our paths crossed in town. Indeed, a silent rule quickly developed whenever we approached each other. The one who first spotted the looming personality collision, would make a quick crossing to the opposite side of the road, ensuring that they kept their eyes to the ground until both adversaries had gone beyond a distance where it was possible to inflict deadly harm with a gun.
Towards the start of my sixth year of being Brian's neighbour, a new washing machine we had bought developed an electrical fault and caught fire one day. Despite being on hand mere feet away to spot the smoke, the fire quickly took hold. The new washing machine had been housed within an enclosed area which made the new kitchen fittings look perfect (something I later learned one should never do). Within five minutes, my house was at dire risk of being burnt to the ground. As it turned out, over forty thousand pounds of damage had been done to the ground floor. The firemen, who arrived within five minutes of the fire breaking out, did their job. This involved putting the fire out, rescuing my daughter's stick insect from her bedroom, but naturally did not include cleaning up the mess created by the fire. My wife and three children were put up in alternative accommodation for the next month by the insurance company while I began a mammoth clear-up job that involved hundreds of hours of clearing the debris, washing down the ceiling and walls, and many hours lamenting about the state of my lovely house. My employers kindly allowed me two week's compassionate leave to get straightened out at home, which I added to one week's leave I was still owed.
With so much work to do, I made it known to a number of friends and neighbours that I would greatly appreciate any help they could give me over the next two to three weeks, but with their daily occupation and family commitments, none were able to substantially help me.
One day after I'd started tidying up, a knock came on the charred remains of the back door and I opened it to find Brian standing there. He was dressed in his old working clothes and had just arrived back home that Friday evening from his job as a maintenance worker on the railways. 'I heard about the fire. I'm so sorry. What rotten luck. I've come to help. I'm on night shifts next week, but can help all this weekend and will give you whatever time I can during the day next week' he announced. While my brain was still spinning round in jackpot motion at seeing 'the enemy at the gate', Brian invited himself in and rolled up his sleeves to commence work.
We started our new relationship with a cup of tea he poured from the flask he had filled and brought with him. For most of the next four weekends, Brian worked alongside me, as well as giving me help any time he could during the evenings mid-week when his day's work at the railway yard had ended. When he was on late shift, he would always give me around three hours assistance after waking up and before starting his railway job. Brian was the only neighbour who lent such a hand, as all the others had too busy a life to contend with and only appeared on the scene with offers of their help 'after the work had been done by Brian and me.'
Needless to say, Brian and I became good friends over the years ahead; not necessarily 'best friends,' but nevertheless good friends and good neighbours. In my hour of need, it was he who rolled up his sleeves and showed up to help. He was the one to offer the olive branch, and it was he who insisted that I let him enter my house. By that single act of his during my time of need, Brian was demonstrating the greatest amount of consideration that any neighbour of mine had ever shown. It was a kind of considered love that no enemy could ever expect; it was a love that redefined and transformed our relationship from that of constant enmity to one of friendship.
Brian threw me completely off guard by his Christian and neighbourly actions in my hour of need. He always remained a strange man in the eyes of other neighbours and I seemed to be his only known friend. I was the only person to have a good word to say about him when other neighbours attempted to put him down by gossipping behind his back and laughing at his eccentricities; and I always made sure I said it! I reminded all those folk who ridiculed Brian what he had done for me during the month after my house had almost burnt down; I reminded them forcibly what he had done and what they hadn't!
Brian was probably the last person on the face of the planet who would ever believe in the presence of a God or follow any religion, as he was to tell me many times. He always elected to work at the railway job he held every Christmas Day and eat nothing else but his work sandwiches. He didn't send Christmas cards or celebrate Christmas in any way because he felt it would have been hypocritical, but that didn't stop me sending him a card annually. Each Christmas Eve thereafter, when he was asleep and I'd returned from attending Midnight Mass, I'd quietly open his letter box and drop the most potent image of Christianity on his mat for him to see first thing when he arose on Christmas day; a beautiful Christmas card with the image of the child Jesus in the manger. The inscription would always be the same, 'Happy Christmas Brian.Those who help a friend will always have a friend.' Bill and family.
Though I have lived in Haworth for a number of years now, most Wednesdays I return to Mirfield to have a beard trim or a haircut at 'Rogers,' the barbers who's cut it for the past 47 years. Two months ago, I passed Brian's property and saw a 'For Sale' sign up. I don't know if he has died or is just moving house, but two things I know for certain and believe with every breath in my body. If there is a heaven, he will most certainly be there when he dies. I also know that if he's still alive and has just decided to 'downsize' from mansion to more modest property in his later years, wherever he goes next to live, his immediate neighbours will have the best neighbour living next to them they've ever had!" William Forde: March 16th, 2016.