Sunday, May 5, 2013

Good Neighbors

For a long time one of the houses next to mine was empty.  On one side, I've always had great neighbors - friendly, kind, orderly, all-around good people.

On the other side, I'd get neighbors for a few weeks at a time, maybe a month, and then the house would be empty again.  This has gone on for the entire time I've lived in the house- now nearly 9 years.  During the brief periods of residency, the inhabitants were not my ideal neighbors.  They were loud and/or messy and/or unkind, to put it nicely.  I heard many arguments. I had to clean up after them sometimes.  And the house, even when people lived in it, didn't look like people lived in it.

I'd introduce myself each time new neighbors moved in, but they seemed to disappear as quickly as they had appeared.  Slowly, I lost hope that I'd ever get good neighbors in that house.

A few months ago, another set of new neighbors moved in.  I watched them.  I said, "Hi," but I didn't bother introducing myself, since past experience taught me they wouldn't be around for long.

Then I got an invitation to a party they were having, which included a statement about letting them know if they were too loud.  "Hmm...maybe these folks are sticking around. Maybe these are the neighbors I've been hoping for."  Even with this thought, I didn't go to the party.

I waited a little longer to see if they were staying.

Then one afternoon I was in the back yard, grading some papers, when a head popped around the fence.

"Hey, I'm going to cut the grass in the yard, but I can wait if it's going to bother you."

I said the grass-cutting wouldn't bother me, introduced myself, and apologized for not having done so sooner, listing the excuses I've written above.  Excuses, for sure, not reasons.

A few weeks later, I overheard a conversation happening between the front porches on either side of mine.

"Hey, do you have a lawn mower?" came a shout from the left.

"No, sorry," from the right.

I was getting ready to go outside to offer my lawn mower, when a knock came on the door.

"Do you have a lawn mower I can borrow?"  It was my new neighbor.  She's used a weed whacker the last time she cut the grass.

I got my lawn mower out and she not only mowed her own lawn, but cut what little bit of grass I had.  She has done the same two other times since then.  Unexpected kindness.

Meanwhile, a few days ago, I got a call from my other neighbor, saying he saw someone walking between our houses. He said he never sees people walking there, so he wanted to make sure everything was OK.  He went outside and walked around the house, checking doors and windows.  It all looked fine, he reported, but he just wanted to let me know about it, in case something were not right.  Unnecessary kindness.

These small acts from my neighbors remind me that being a good neighbor, whether literal or figurative, is most often made up of small acts of caring, not grand gestures. Simple deeds. Little things that let us know that someone is looking out for us.

I think I'm going to make some brownies for my grass-cutting neighbors.  Welcome, friends.

Better late than never, right?

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