I moved into my current home the week of Christmas and the weather was pretty awful, so it was a couple of weeks before we met our neighbors on either side. Sadly, one neighbor told us that the previous people had lived here for seven years and had only said one sentence to him the entire time.
As an introvert, I understand the tendency to keep to myself. After all, I hate the idea of anyone just stopping by unannounced. Overall, I’ve found that not to be the case.
Yesterday, I shared some sugar snap peas from my garden with a neighbor. My husband had come back from working on a home and brought with him homemade jelly- a special thank you from the homeowner. We celebrated the 4th of July by watching our small town parade in our new friends’ front yard. They’re so welcoming that they invited people we’d met a few days before who were in town to move an aging relative in with them down south. We’ve been invited to BBQs and watched our neighbor’s pet in an emergency.
My town in small- around 650 people. Our “neighbors” may be next door or six blocks away. We stop and chat when we’re out on a bike ride or see someone in the small local store.
When living in Asia, we would buy our goods from a small store in a neighbor’s home and our landlord would bring us fresh fruit, just because. We passed out homemade cookies and fixed our neighbors’ lawnmowers. They’ve given us rides to the airport, so we didn’t have to pay for long-term parking.
I remember knowing all the people in my neighborhood as a kid. Some people I knew well and others I just waved at in passing. In adulthood, it helps me to recognize when someone stands out in a bad way and I know to check on an elderly neighbor if I haven’t seen them in a while.
I know firsthand the difference that being friendly with neighbors can make. Years ago, I had just taken my dog for a walk, put a pot to boil on the stove, and took the trash out through my back sliding door. The lock on the sliding door was broken, so I always used a wooden dowel to secure it as I didn’t have the money to fix the lock at the time. I always propped the dowel up in the track against the door frame. On this particular day, when I shut the door behind me, the dowel fell in place.
I was locked out. Having just moved in, I didn’t have a spare key hidden anywhere. Since I was just taking out the trash to my garbage can on the side of my house, I didn’t have my keys or phone with me.
I walked down to a neighbor’s house who was home and asked if I could borrow their phone. She declined to let me inside, saying she wasn’t comfortable having me inside alone with her. Now, I’m a small female and was in running shorts and a tank top, having just gone for a run and then a walk with my dog. I might have been sweaty, but I wasn’t a visible threat.
I remembered a sweet older couple that had always waved from their front porch as I drove by. Come to think of it, I hadn’t seen the man in a while. Still, I knew they were friendly and I went and knocked on their door.
“I’m sorry to bother you. I locked myself out. Can I borrow a phone book and your phone please? Or can you call a locksmith for me?” I asked.
The woman graciously invited me inside and I called a locksmith. She gave me something to drink and I told her I was worried about the pot on the stove. My dog was in the house and I was prepared to break a window if needed.
Thankfully, it didn’t come to that. A locksmith arrived and let me in through the garage door. I rushed my dog outside. The aluminum pot on the stove had no more water and as I lived the pot, it literally melted- bits of hot metal dripped over the cabinet and on the kitchen floor. I was so furious I hadn’t thought to just turn off the stove and leave it in place, but I was so thankful that the only damage was burn marks.
What was a bad afternoon could have been much worse. The neighbor that was so kind to let me use her phone had just lost her husband to cancer. She could have easily not answered her door or let me in, but she chose to be kind.
As a kid, some of my best friends were those that lived on my block. Proximity brought us together, but the daily hellos and kindness led the way to deeper relationships. This is why I will always strive to know my neighbors.