The Kindness of our Neighbors

Flickr: Rosipaw

Years ago, Mr. Bronson used to surprise Nadine Epstein, who now helps care for him, by pruning and tending to her lilacs; gardening is one of his hobbies.

This may be the best thing I’ve ever read in the Washington Post. I don’t say that without consideration. This is the story of two strangers, one black, one white, one old, one young, who lived across the street from each other but didn’t interact– until the older one lost his home. That’s when John O’Leary did the most selfless, compassionate thing a neighbor could do for another; he invited James Bronson to come live in his six-bedroom home, for free. Over the years, Mr. Bronson became part of O’Leary’s family and he is especially close to O’Leary’s partner, Nadine Epstein. He even became a surrogate grandfather to her son.

Perhaps the one thing that could heal the rifts between different groups in D.C. is being truly neighborly to one another; in this case, doing so created a family, and not just a better neighborhood:

Linda Feldmann, a family friend and reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, recalled being amazed early on at the couple’s willingness to include Mr. Bronson in every facet of their lives.

“If I ever invited them for dinner, the next question was, ‘Can Mr. Bronson come?’ ” Feldmann said. “And then after a while they didn’t need to ask, because, of course, Mr. Bronson can come. He’s part of the family.”

Over the years, Mr. Bronson became a surrogate grandfather to Epstein’s son, Noah (now a college freshman), attending his plays and Grandparents Day at his school. Once, Mr. Bronson recalled, he cheered so loudly at one of Noah’s Little League games that one of the parents asked him – with raised eyebrows – how he knew the little boy he was rooting for.

At family dinners, he would tell stories of growing up in the segregated rural South, opening a window into a way of life his adopted family scarcely knew existed.