The Little Tree Next Door


We had a neighbor for the past two years who was quite peculiar.

He was a middle-aged man of average height with wispy gray hair and glasses. Moving literally across the country, he had left his family behind in pursuit of a new job.

We didn’t see him much, but when we did, he was often strolling around the neighborhood for an evening walk, or tending to the small bonsai trees he was determined to grow.

Every now and then he’d holler over to me as I pulled into the driveway and hopped out of my car.

“Hey Lorie! Got a second? You got to see the progress these trees are making!”


Half of the time he referred to Big Fisch and I as Scott and Lorie. We had no idea why, but we found it hilarious and didn’t have the heart to call out his mistake.

Big Fisch would thoughtfully stop to chat with him when he could. He’d ask about his work and his family, and would simply listen to anything the man felt like talking about.  And talk he could. It wasn’t unusual for their conversations to last 30-45 minutes.

At Christmas I would bring him homemade cookies, not being able to stand the thought of this sweet man having no woman in the house to fatten him up with tasty holiday treats.

Other than that, I didn’t have a whole lot of interaction with him. I didn’t really understand why he seemed so connected to his little Californian trees. Or why he was so concerned about the cleanliness of the hiking trails behind our neighborhood. To me we didn’t seem to have much in common. We were a young married couple, just starting our careers and establishing our life; he was heading towards retirement and was living alone. We were constantly coming and going, jumping from one activity to the next; his routine was simple and his schedule predictable. When we were home, we blasted music and opened the windows to air out the smoke created by our dinner sauteing on the stove; he was quite and modest…never making a peep.

Two years into his stay on the east coast he decided it wasn’t worth everything he’d had to give  up. Work had been a disappointment, and I can only imagine how night after night of coming home to an empty house wears on a man whose loved ones are thousands of miles away.

Before we knew it, the house sat empty again.

It seemed like yesterday he had moved in. But just like that, two years flew by. Where did the time go?

I couldn’t help but feel sad as we said goodbye for the last time. It’s an odd concept looking another human in the eye and not knowing if you’ll ever see them again. It leaves me wondering what the purpose of our paths crossing was.

Maybe when we set aside the oddities we see in one another on the surface, we’re really not all that different after all. We’re all looking for a place where we belong.  We all need a goal that we’re moving towards; something that keeps us going. We all need community in our lives to flourish and function. We all need to feel known; to feel heard; to feel understood.  We all need to know that at the end of the day there is someone who will love us…and that we are never completely alone. Without these things, we will never feel at home.

These needs are ageless. Timeless. Gender and hobby neutral.

I sensed an ache in this man and it got me wondering – how do we make the most of the time we have with others to help ease their pain? To add a little joy to their day? Or most importantly, point them in the direction of the Source of never ending hope, acceptance, and belonging?

As my neighbor sat trimming his trees, I saw in him the depiction of how caring for another takes work. It takes time, dedication, persistence, patience, and careful attention. When we neglect these things, the relationship withers and dies. But when we focus our time and attention, it flourishes into something beautiful and awe-inspiring.

Kind of like a….

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Bonsai tree.