On Having Good Neighbors

"The people next door play a substantial role in our lives.  Yet we seldom choose them."  - from the essay "Next Six Stories" by Robert Fulghum

I'm not sure if many people can claim the statement I'm about to make, although I wish everyone could.  I have good neighbors.  Exceptional ones, really.

Ten years ago when we moved to our street, a road that's tucked in front of what our community fondly calls a mountain although it more closely resembles a sizeable hill, there weren't many houses around us.  But over four years ago two new homes were built directly across from ours.  As Joel and I watched the construction, we periodically wondered aloud about the new occupants, curious about where they were from and what they'd be like.

I'd like to think I even prayed for good neighbors, but I don't know if this is true.  In this particular situation, like many others, I noticed that God sometimes answers prayers I might not even have thought to pray.

Nearly two years ago, another family moved to our neighborhood as well. Turns out, all of these new families had kids near the ages of our own.  I'm not sure how it began, these brief back-and-forth walks between our yards, or the impromptu conversations in our driveways, or the periodic shared picnic meals, or the plans to hit up garage sales together on a Saturday morning, or the "can-you-watch-my-kids-while-I-run-a-quick-errand?" requests that are met with "of course" responses, or the loaning of two eggs, or a cup of sugar, or an extra folding table, or a lawnmower when your own breaks down.

Our kids have played, and fought, and made up, and whiled away countless hours riding bikes, risking life and limb on a trampoline, creating plays, choreographing dance routines, playing soccer, and holding bake sales and lemonade stands.  They've caught bugs.  They've performed a funeral and burial for the frog they had captured as a pet when he died two days later from malnutrition and dehydration.  They've eaten a collective 534 ice pops, 12 of which they've remembered to properly throw away the wrappers.

The men help each other with projects, like the afternoon when someone's mailbox was run over.  They worked together digging out the original concrete, placing a new post, and taking turns with the shoveling and yanking and whatever else it is that you do when fixing a run-over mailbox.

Once, I asked one neighbor to walk with me around my house while repeatedly calling my cell phone, which had been missing in the abyss.  We found the phone.  The next week she sent me an urgent text: "I tried on a dress and got the zipper stuck halfway up. I can't get it off! Can you come help?"

As the adage goes: desperate times call for desperate measures.  Getting trapped in a dress is one of those times.  I dropped everything and came over right away. 

We've prayed together.  We've watched each other lose our tempers with our own children, and consoled each other in the bitter aftermath of disappointment.  We've offered opinions on paint colors and commented on house projects.  We've sent or received text messages saying things like, "You weren't home, so I just took some basil from your garden."  We've brought over jars that we couldn't open with the hope that someone else had better grip strength.

We've seen each other dressed up and dressed down -- glances into life that are normally reserved only for family -- like a Saturday morning when we're still wearing pajama bottoms and old tee shirts and certainly haven't yet contemplated brushing our hair.

It's what you do when you have good neighbors.  You share life, even some of the ugly parts, and you're better for it.

I agree with Robert Fulghum's statement: neighbors do play a significant role in life, and we don't get to choose them.  But if I could, I'd choose the ones I have all over again.

Image adapted from Beat Kung.

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