Our houses are about six feet apart. I’m not kidding. You could almost reach out the window and touch the side of their house. Sometimes when someone is knocking on their door, I go to ours to answer, or their phone rings and I think it’s mine. Such is our penance for living in an urban, beach city, I guess.As you can imagine, we hear each other’s business. We affect each other’s peacefulness.
I’m sure they know our kids’ names very well, probably hearing them frequently in our raised tones of admonishment or playful excitement. I’m sure they often hear my screamer of a toddler. And, I loathe to admit, they’ve probably heard my terrible, off-key, off-tune singing from time to time. (I don’t even know what key and tune are, if I’m perfectly honest. I just know I don’t have either correct. Ever. Well...there was this one time my musically-inclined husband actually interrupted my singing to tell me that, surprisingly, I had just sung something correctly. Once in 10 years.) Right, so they hear us.
And we hear them.
They wake us up at night with honking car alarms and slamming doors. They wake us up early in the morning talking to their dog - which they bring to relieve himself in our yard. And, for about a year, they housed a couple of unbelievably noisy critters outside our bedroom window.I've spent a bit of time imagining a host of quasi-terrible things I would like to say and do to these people. What I actually do is stop saying hello to them when we see each other, as though this is any kind of retribution for the many hours of lost sleep they confer upon us. At first, this makes me feel better. Hah, I didn’t say “good morning;” that will really show them!
But they never say “good morning” or “hello” either, so does that mean they’re angry at us too? Or are they just unfriendly?
For a while it really bothers me. What do we do that makes us bad neighbors? In what ways are we inconsiderate? Why are they so mean? We talk about moving. We consider swapping our office with our bedroom, on the quieter side of the house. But mostly, I just wonder what they’re thinking.
I understand there is an ungodly host of mean, strange, and sordid people habituating this earth, and living next door to rude people doesn’t even register on the radar of enduring evil.
But it does get me thinking about myself – my response to malevolence. I live under the commandment to love my neighbors as myself. Literally. My neighbors.
So I decide to start trying to think of them with as much grace and forgiveness as I can – or, between the hours of 11 PM and 7 AM, as much as I can feebly muster up.I decide that if I would like them to be just a smidge affable and a smidge more quiet (for crying out loud), then I should be the best neighbor I can. I shout “hello” at their backs, nearly aggressively working for pleasantries. I leave banana bread on their doorstep. I move their newspapers out of their driveway when they’re away.
And what comes of my benign gestures?
Well, not much. But I am trying to change the thing that I can – myself. And actually, that makes a whole lot of difference.