all of the selves we Have ever been
Apart from my children,
friendship has been my greatest, longest-lasting, most rewarding gift.
Many of my dearest friends entered my life as neighbors.
Robert Frost wrote a poem, Mending Wall, about a neighbor who believed that “good fences make good neighbors.” I’m not sure what neighborhood he lived in, but it is nowhere I want to be. I am more akin to Mr. Rogers in my philosophy about the neighborhood.
I have moved many times and had many different neighbors. There have been neighborly neighbors, neighbors turned friends, and neighbors turned friends turned family. It is difficult to firmly assign each to a category because the nature of the relationship evolves with time and circumstances.
When I moved away from my parents’ house and into my first apartment, I met a couple of other young women. Pat lived across the hall from me, and we met in our daily comings and goings. Kathy lived in an adjacent building. We met on long, daily bus rides to and from our work downtown. These women are among my oldest and most faithful friends. We share a long past, and we will care for each other in our future old age. They are neighbors turned friends turned family.
Many years later, while going through a divorce, my children and I moved into a duplex. A couple, Lois and Gary, lived on the other side. Their children were grown and lived out of state. Lois and Gary became loving grandparents to my children and supportive parents to me during that difficult time. They watched the children when I needed to work or make an unexpected visit to the emergency room. Gary took the children to the playground to shoot basketballs. They taught us to play the card game Pit. We gathered together for Ohio State football games and every birthday and holiday. Lois and Gary retired to Cambodia. When they moved, they offered to give me their car! I miss them terribly as one misses the comfortable, reliable, loving security of parents and family. I am thankful for the internet that keeps us connected.
I had a group of wonderful neighborly neighbors in the last home I owned. There was an older woman who lived next door. Her name was difficult for my toddler son to pronounce, and so she became known to us as “Mrs. Wiggly.” She lived alone and often enjoyed sitting out on her porch. My little children enjoyed the small freedom to leave the yard at will, to wander over and sit with Mrs. Wiggly. She enjoyed their company too and was often the one to call them over.
On the other side of my house lived a couple I knew casually. I rarely saw the husband because he worked shifts and was asleep during most of my waking hours. One day he appeared in my yard after observing me struggle with a lawn mower that would not start. With few words, he got the mower going. I don’t think I saw him much after that, but I never forgot his kindness.
Across the street lived a man who spent much of his day taking meticulous care of his yard. I would swear in court that he tended the grass with tweezers so intense was his attention to the lawn. He was always pleasant in passing and watchful of the neighborhood. He came right over the day a fire truck pulled up in front of our house after I smelled gas in the basement.
I developed an unexpected relationship with one special neighbor, a relationship that defies all categories. When my husband and I moved into our first house, the woman next door came by with treats to welcome us. She was single and worked just outside of town. Doris often dropped by for short visits. She was talented at quilting and other crafts. When my daughter was born, Doris came by with a hand-made doll. When my son was born, she hand-stitched a brightly colored quilt with pictures of trains and cars and trucks.
On one occasion Doris became ill and confused. She knocked on our door. I became her advocate, guiding her through the health care system and getting her help when her phone calls to the doctor’s office were minimized or ignored. Years later, after I moved from that neighborhood, Doris called me to report that she had been diagnosed with end-stage bladder cancer. Doris was frightened. We re-united, and I was with her in the hospital and later in the nursing home where she took her last breaths.
Sometimes the word “neighbor” is too small for the significance of these relationships, the importance of our meetings. Divine intervention might better describe our acquaintances--preparation for a time that is coming, a time we cannot yet see.
If there is ever a TV show called America’s Most Decent, I am sure that, one-by-one, each of my old neighbors will be profiled for the world to meet.
What makes a good neighbor? Surely, not fences. What makes a good neighbor is someone who is aware and concerned but not intrusive. A good neighbor is thoughtful but not overbearing. A good neighbor respects the natural boundaries of space and privacy, and knows exactly when to cross over the line.