Our first house in Athens, my home from ages 3-12, had the perfect front and back yards for a child. They were large enough for child-size exploration, but contained enough to be safe and always close to home. My first dog, Scotty, (the best dog a girl could have), created paths in the fenced-in backyard from his consistent and constant perusing and patrol.
There was another path, I’m sure, between the side of our house and the backyard of our neighbors, the trampled grass due to the daily commute of either me to their backyard, or the two girls to mine. My own yard may have been great, but the combined yards were great territory for three young girls to conquer. Though I know we must have spent some time playing indoors, the bulk of my memories are staged outdoors. We giggled like girls giggle, we argued like girls argued, we made up like girls make up–usually returning to the giggles. We swung, we jumped on the trampoline, and we created a home and club in the playhouse. We gathered roly-polies by day and lightening bugs by night.
We had no sense that we were acting as neighbors should act. We shared. We took advantage of proximity, similar circumstance, and mutual affection. We three are still friends and though I am speaking for them, I believe that each of us would love for our households to have that same proximity today.
I am thankful that I had the chance to play in the dirt on a daily basis and I am thankful that I got to play in the dirt with my two neighbors.
I’m not sure where the shift takes place–the shift of waiting for your neighbor’s school bus to get home to rushing inside before you see your neighbor. I think that as our culture continues to turn inward, replacing sunlight with artificial light, replacing the natural pace of the earth with the rushed, instant pace of media, we see a relationship with our neighbors as just one more forced interaction. Too, the language that is in use now is so very polarizing—it is scary to engage in conversation with people we don’t know—there is little gray area for compromise to breed and little respect for an opinion that lies on the other side of the fence.
During our first stay in New Orleans, my husband and I lived across the hall from a couple and their young son. They were incredibly good at being neighborly. We played games and we ate together. I would watch their son sometimes and they would watch Jesse sometimes during football season. We didn’t agree on everything, including religious and political topics, but that never mattered. At the root of their belief system was the directive to love one’s neighbor, and they put that directive into practice. They reached out, not only to us, but to our other neighbors too. They reached out, even though the situation of living on campus in married housing was temporary (Lord, please let it be temporary); they knew that the day-to-day relationship would end, but they were willing to invest nonetheless.
Golly, they drove me crazy. I often just wanted to shut our door and watch TV by myself, dressed in my old, tattered pajamas. Now, I wish I could open my door and have them three paces away again. I wish their son could play with our daughter. I wish they could keep my daughter in their apartment while I watched TV, uninteruppted, in my old, tattered pajamas.
I am thankful that they were our neighbors. I am thankful that they taught me to discard my excuses of being shy and introverted and enjoy the relationship between two families. I believe that I, as a Christian, must love, and if I cannot love my neighbor, who might be three paces away, then I will struggle to love my neighbors whose distance is much further. I am thankful that my friends illustrated this belief for me in such a wonderful way.
As I look out my window, the blue sky and warm sunshine beckon me to notice the irony of my own words—I sit here with a computer in my lap and with the television on in the background, turned to a basketball game that I care nothing about. I should at least take the computer and the baby outside, but I know I haven’t to this point because I’m afraid of something getting dirty. But really, what’s one more load of laundry? I’m going to put my tennis shoes on, get the can of Lysol wipes, and clean off the stroller that is hiding underneath the breezeway stairs. The baby may not have mastered “hello” yet, but she has a heck of a “bye-bye” and a wonderful wave. I hope I get to show it off to someone.
Read more from Stephanie at her blog.