Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Why I Love My Neighbors

I peek out the screen door after hearing voices. I see them out on the lawn, next door. Ethan's playing soccer with "Mr. John." Mr. John, Ethan has informed me, is 79 years old. In a different time, before we moved into this house, he was a police officer. In the past 10 years, he's always been there: to offer a garden tool; help build our swing set; dig out our driveway after fierce storms when our snow blower died; feed us power when an outage affected our house but not theirs.

And now, on this day, he plays with Ethan. He listens to Ethan's non-stop banter. He patiently endures the interruption to his backyard puttering -- despite my efforts, if Ethan sees him out there, he starts chatting with him.

Our neighbors on the other side are similarly kind. One day "Mr. Mohammed" called the kids over to see a bird's nest in his front yard tree. Several times he's included Ethan in baseball or soccer practice next door with his sons. During a huge gathering one Saturday they invited Ethan along to the baseball field over the hill to join in a family baseball game. They understand Ethan's sometimes obsessiveness about coming over to play (the mom is a special needs teacher). They let him be.

There are so many times I look next door to my left and my right, and I think, if only they knew. I don't think I can ever convey just how much every simple act of kindness means.

Before we moved into our current home, coming up on 11 years ago now, we lived on the second floor of a three-family house. The inhabitant above us wasn't so bad. She just had a penchant for blasting Elton John's "Rocket Man" at interesting hours, and when a boyfriend moved in the sweet smell of marijuana began wafting through our own vents, but our interactions were at least, well, civilized.

Our downstairs neighbors. Well. We should have known something was up when, before moving in, our landlord told us rather cryptically, "I like to refer to them as 'The Police.' They keep on top off things."

Within a week of moving in, The Police had decided they hated us. I never quite figured out why. I don't say this facetiously -- I do believe mental health issues may have been involved. It's an interesting feeling, being completely ignored when you say "hi." Even more peculiar was their Ford Taurus station wagon that beeped and electronically announced "This car is backing up" over and over whenever they backed out of the driveway. Right below our bedroom window.

When it snowed they allowed the 3rd floor woman to park in the driveway with them, but not us. As we dug our cars out from massive snowstorms, they would shovel the front steps -- only halfway, in front of their door, not ours. They knocked on our door to demand why I had left the light on in the basement (simple mistake!). Then there were the accusations that we were "walking around with one shoe on and one shoe off" just to bother them, or taking a bath at the same time they were to wreak havoc with the water, and looking down on them because they didn't go to college (Whaaat? They didn't talk to us -- how would we even know?).

Then there was the giant CB radio antennae "Mr. Police" attached to a tree right outside our back bedroom window (they day I looked out and saw his face staring back at me from the tree almost sent me into a dead faint). His radio somehow created interference with our TV sound system, and at random times we'd be watching a show and suddenly hear his voice cut into the room. He wasn't very nice to the truckers, either.

The clincher was probably the night a police officer beamed a flashlight through our kitchen window after midnight. He said he'd been called about us disturbing the neighbors and making noise. The "disturbance" was Dan dropping his laptop cord on the floor as we were packing to head to Maine the next day.

We tried mediation with the landlord and a "life counselor." We tried baking them pies and bringing them plants. Their distaste for us remained palpable. I can only imagine how things would have gone if we'd had kids at the time, if we'd had an Ethan who liked to throw balls that get stuck in trees and jump off his bed onto the floor again and again.

So yes, this is what we were accustomed to when we moved into our current home. I would have been happy, I would have been grateful for simply people next door who exchanged pleasantries; who lent us an egg now and then. But this? This is an overflowing blessing.

When I take a peek out the back door and see, I remember "The Police" and can do nothing but smile. I realize as we all do at times that no gift is so sweet as the one that comes after hardship. On those long days when nothing seems to be going right, when I feel as if my mom tank is empty and maybe I don't have what my boy needs at that second, I catch a glimpse and thank God for those moments that pick us up, that come right when we need them. Like neighbors who look at my boy with kindness and acceptance, who play catch on the grass on cool summer evenings. Who love.

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