Who Is My Neighbour?

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Dear friends,

At a time when fear is causing deep divisions in our society it is important to remember to look past surface appearances for the humanity in us all.

With that in mind, I thought you might like a sneak peek at a piece that will run in Canada's national newspaper The Globe & Mail in the near future. It is an excerpt from my forthcoming book The Only Certain Freedom: Transformation, Myth and the Entrepreneurial Spirit.

Hope you enjoy it and if you do, please feel free to pass it on to your family, friends and community. Such small steps can make a difference.


Who Is My Neighbour?

"Somebody found the check." It was my father on the phone.  

It was 7:30 am and I was just about to leave for the office. "What do you mean?" I asked in confusion.

"The check I wrote you for $3,000. Somebody found it." I had asked him for the money to start my business, and picked up the check from my parents just two days previously.

"That's not possible. It's in my knapsack."

"You might want to look," Dad said patiently.

I rushed down the narrow hallway of our small home. My knapsack was on the floor beside the shoe tray. I opened it and began rooting through the contents. Nothing. In desperation I dumped the contents on the floor and began sorting. "It's gotta be here," I said under my breath.

My wife, Lynne, appeared in her housecoat with my young daughter. "What's wrong?"

"My Dad's on the phone. He said someone found the check." I was searching through notebooks and opening side pockets. "He's right. It's gone!" I rushed back to the phone.

"Dad, it's not here!"

"That's what I said. A man phoned me last night. He has the check."

"How did he find you?" I tried to sound nonchalant but I was spinning.

"My name's on the check, Pat," he said bluntly. "Got a pen? I'll give you the man's phone number."

Deflated, I waited until 9:00 am to call the Good Samaritan. A woman answered the phone. "My husband found your check," she informed me in a gruff voice. "He's not here right now. Call back this afternoon."

I took the subway downtown, too preoccupied with the latest "start-up" calamity to take much notice of my surroundings. I walked from the subway past the boarding houses, donut shops and shabby bars. I reflected on my recent round of troubles. Stress, sleep deprivation, money woes were taking their toll. I had to pull myself together but I couldn't shake the sense of foreboding growing like a funnel cloud.

I finally reached the man with the check by phone. I had scribbled the address where we would meet on the piece of paper and I clutched it in my hand like a compass as I looked for the building. It was on a rough and tumble side street. This intersection was host to some of the most violent crimes in the whole city. The building looked like a movie set: it was a low-rise boarding house, rundown and menacing. There was no doorman; just a couple of toughs huddled by the mailboxes smoking something illegal.

I went in on high alert. The apartment was on the third floor, a walk-up. The hallways were dimly lit, littered with shopping flyers and smelling of fried food. I half expected to be set upon by someone or something lurking in the shadows. Apartment 307 was at the end of the windowless hall. As I knocked on the door a big dog began to bark from inside the apartment.

"Wait a minute," said a muffled voice. I could hear someone walking towards the door. "Stay!" he commanded to the unseen dog. I hoped I wasn't going to be mauled.

As the door opened I was surprised to see a familiar face. He was one of the "crackheads" I had viewed from my office window. He was a small man with longish hair and a scraggly goatee. He was wearing a black Guns & Roses t-shirt, jeans and cowboy boots. Behind him looking at me with bloodshot eyes was a scraggly mutt. "You Patrick?" he asked.

"Ya," I mumbled.

The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a cheap wallet. He opened the wallet and withdrew my Dad's check. "Here ya go," he said.

"Thanks. Where did you find it?"

"I picked it up on the street. I was on my way home from work. You should be more careful."

"Ya. I know. I feel bad. What's your name?" I asked.

"Tony," he replied.

"Tony, thank you for returning the money. I'm starting a business and this was a loan..."

"Ya, I know," he said interrupting. "You're father told me. He seems like a nice guy, a gentleman."

"He is both of those," I said. Suddenly it dawned on me that making that call came at a cost to him. "You would have had to make a long-distance call to reach my father," I said. "Sorry to put you to that expense."

"It was the right thing to do," he replied looking momentary puzzled. "You better cash that thing," Tony said as he closed the door.

Reeling, I made my way down the three flights of stairs as quickly as I could manage. I needed to get some air. I passed the two thugs at the doorway. On closer examination they weren't really thugs at all. They were young men about eighteen or twenty years old, wearing Toronto Maple Leaf ball caps and ubiquitous denim jackets. They were smoking all right but I noticed it wasn't a joint. They were smoking cigarettes. One of the young men nodded in my direction. "How's it goin'?" he said in an off-handed way.

"I'm having a strange day," I offered.

My vision of the world had been suddenly upended, overturned by a simple act of humanity from someone I judged harshly. I was learning the hard way about the limiting effect of my fears, bias and projections.

I was also learning the question every good neighbour asks: "What's the right thing to do?"

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Posted on January 3, 2018 .