My house is approximately .4 miles from the train station where I catch the train for work three days a week. I've made that walk hundreds of times. I always take the same route, so you would think I know the people living in the dozens of houses I pass along the way. It's entirely reasonable to assume that I would know at least some of the faces of the people I pass day after day and year after year.
But I don't. I don't know a single one. We don't exchange pleasantries. Ever. Now and then if I catch someone's eye or their dog runs close to me, I might smile, but the most I've ever uttered is "good morning." Talking to strangers is just not something I do. Plus, when I walk to the train, I am zoned out, listening to music, checking email, preparing for the day ahead or decompressing from the day behind me.
Sometimes I get all the way to the train platform or back home without ever raising my head from my phone.
I might be able to recognize some of my neighbors if I saw them out of context, say, at the grocery store or the health club. But I don't know their names, and they don't know mine.
When I saw the news this week out of Cleveland about the women who'd been held captive since they were kidnapped as teenagers, I asked myself the questions that we all asked as the details came out. Most of the questions started with How?
How could this have happened?
How did it take so long to find these women?
How did the neighbors not know?
It's that last question that haunts me today. Because I walk around my neighborhood so checked out half the time, I could easily pass a house where someone was banging on a door and not hear it. It's outrageous to contemplate, but no less true, that I could also walk right by a yard where a woman was crawling around naked and in distress and not even see her.
God forbid, if something evil was lurking in one of the houses in my neighborhood, right under my nose, I would never forgive myself for missing it and for being so oblivious. My oblivion has consequences, and I can't live with them anymore.
I'm not sure about the full extent of the lessons we can learn as a society about the tragedy and recovery in Cleveland, but I am sure of this: I am going to be a better neighbor, because there's nothing on my iPod as important as protecting children.