Years back, a new friend and I made lunch plans. She’d told me to go ahead and order food if I got there first, so I ordered soup and salad, and she arrived soon after. But instead of ordering lunch, she pulled out a snack bag and counted out six pistachios. While I chowed down on a big ol’ salad (with dressing!) and soup (with vegetables!), she made her nut ration last through my meal, and washed it down with some kind of fancy water.
She’s a super—and super-fit—woman, and although we had stuff in common, I sensed we would not become close friends. The austerity of her lifestyle was just so different from my “food is fun” mentality.
(If you ever see me having a lunch of six nuts and some fruit water, take it as a cry for help.)
I had been sure we’d become great pals, but then it’s never been love at first sight for me when it comes to friendship. The people to whom I grow the closest tend to be the ones I don’t expect. It still surprises me, but first impressions don’t mean that much when it comes to long-term friendships.
And so, when a family moved into the rental house across the street, I walked over to introduce myself with no expectations. It’s not that we’ve had bad neighbors—not at all—but I said hello expecting little beyond a friendly wave across the driveway now and then.
Suburban cordiality rests on firm boundaries, as Robert Frost said (sorta).
To my surprise these neighbors, a couple with two young daughters, became very dear to us, which makes it hard to see them move away. The Air Force is sending them to Hawaii, which is awesome for them but bad for us—and especially hard for my daughter who loves the girls like sisters.
Over the past four years, we’ve become more than wave-across-the-driveway neighbors. We’ve become good friends.
“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus said. But my wave-across-the-driveway approach to neighbors hardly qualifies as love. Sad to say, I had no expectation of loving these neighbors as much as I do.
Their home now sits empty, window-blinds shut, with a “For Lease” sign standing crooked in the front yard. It will be hard to break the habit of glancing over there when I go the mailbox or water the plants. Every time I pull into the driveway, I look for them, but of course they’re not there.
Very soon they’ll be someone else’s neighbors. I hope their new home treats them well, with more than just the aloha-across-the-driveway kind of thing.
I hope they find a home where neighbors exchange magazines and pet-sitting favors and Key Lime cupcakes just as much as small talk about the weather.
I hope for surpassed expectations and happy surprises—as we all await new neighbors.
One thought on “The Problem with Loving Thy Neighbors”
We’ve been the neighbors that moved and we’ve been the neighbors that stayed. Neither is easy. Peace my friend. I say that as a loving friend and not a nut rationing friend!
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