Wisdom From Wally
In Los Angeles, it’s rather rare to be friends with your neighbors. I this this isn’t the case everywhere, but here in the city where you spend so much time in your car, many times you don’t even know the names of the people who live on your street. It’s the kind of city where the garage is part of the house – so you go from the car through the garage and into the house with hardly a polite wave to anyone who happens to be driving in or out of the their driveway at the same time.
I’ve lived in many places in and around Los Angeles and I’ve found this to be true for the most part. But our current neighborhood is different. And it’s all because of Wally.
Wally moved in next door about 7 years ago when he married my neighbor Laurie. Wally, with his ever-present smile, made a point of meeting every single person on the cul-de-sac. It’s not like this was a “Knot’s Landing” situation where we all knew each other. We just all knew Wally. To say he was friendly is an understatement. This man was cheerful, warm, welcoming, and enthusiastic with everyone. I’ve never met anyone more positive, more present, or more kind than Wally.
Wally had a fondness for Hawaiian shirts and flip flops, and I’d often see him wearing this standard Wally uniform, wholeheartedly engaged with one of the neighbors, lost in conversation, often laughing, clearly enjoying himself.
Wally and I would often chat over the backyard fence, like something out of an old sit-com, while I picked lemons and he watered tomatoes. Wally loved spending time in the garden. One time he brought home an apricot tree that he didn’t have room for, so he gave it to me, and my husband Greg, to plant in our yard. I promised Wally that he could have as many apricots as he wanted when the tree produced fruit. That made him very happy.
The garbage gets picked up on Fridays on our street. For awhile, Greg and I had a mystery on our hands because we couldn’t figure out how the empty cans made it back into our yard on Friday afternoons. Then one day we figured it out – it was Wally, being a good neighbor and friend, doing us a favor. So Greg turned the tables, and started bringing in Wally’s cans. That precipitated a weekly competition, a kind of race between Wally and Greg to see who could get out to the cans first and bring them all in! Greg was always pleased when he beat Wally to the cans, but more often than not, Wally got their first. One time they both heard the garbage truck and ran out to the sidewalk at the same time. They laughed like 2 kids caught playing. Greg brought in Wally’s cans and Wally brought in Greg’s. It was a tie.
We all shared a love of nature, and the wildlife on the lake. Wally and Laurie were right there with us when we rescued a baby hawk who had fallen from his nest. Greg and I helped find a beekeeper to relocate a cluster of bees that moved into Wally and Laurie’s back porch.
Pretty much every day I could count on Wally to text me a picture of a squirrel or a goose in the backyard. He’d be the first to “like” one of my Facebook posts, the first to offer help and prayers when I was hurt, and the first to cheer me on when I announced a new project.
Wally had many passions. He was crazy about Laurie, of course. And he also loved music. A lifelong musician, he was really happy just playing the guitar, making music with friends. He kept musicians hours, too. If we heard a noise late Thursday night we’d smile – knowing it was just Wally, taking out the garbage cans.
Perhaps Wally’s greatest passion was his faith. Wally loved Jesus, and served his church community in many ways.
Last week, Wally went to be with God. It was unexpected – a shock to the whole neighborhood when we saw the fire truck in front of the home he shared with Laurie, the home he loved so much.
When someone dies, we often turn to our community for comfort. And these days, our community gathers on Facebook. When I went to Wally’s page I found dozens and dozens of posts, tributes from friends of Wally’s from all over the world. Wally’s reach wasn’t limited to our particular neighborhood. His arms were so wide that he was able to embrace everyone. His heart was so big that he was able to love everyone. And it is evident that everyone loved him right back.
Wally was such a light in this world. We can all be like this – good neighbors, and good friends. After all we are here to help each other, we’re here for this reason so we might as well extend ourselves in some way. People like Wally are good examples for us, and they leave behind a legacy in the lessons that they teach us in the way they live their lives. This is wisdom.
I can picture Wally rejoicing in Heaven, wearing his flip flops and playing his guitar, looking up to greet everyone going by with that big smile of his. I will hold my friend in my heart, and think of him every time I water my lemon tree.