Tuesday, June 19, 2012

True Grit: Loving Your Neighbor

Recently, a friend of mine wrote an email asking for advice from all the other moms in our circle.  She emailed us to vent about the frustrations she was feeling about her neighbors.  From her perspective, everything about these neighbors was a challenge: they were intrusive and rude, dirty and unkempt, and completely undisciplined.  And, worst of all, she felt she couldn’t leave her house or let her kids play outside without the neighbor kids invading her driveway.  She didn’t know what to do.  She needed some advice.

 I was at a loss for what to tell her, because the fact is,  I can relate.   When I take my girls to play at the school yard after school, there are a whole host of kids clamoring to grab at the snacks I’ve packed, or begging to pick up my tiny infant daughter like she’s a little live rag doll.  With little snotty faces, they grab, yell, and push their way closer to her face.  At times, I feel frustrated, wishing their parents would intervene and leave me in peace!  I have so little time in the day that the idea of playing nice with people who drive me nuts doesn’t appeal to me.

 And yet...we live in a time where we rarely ever have to talk to or spend time with people we don’t like.  If our favorite people aren’t readily available to be physically present with us, we can at any moment pick up our smart phones to call, text, or log onto Facebook- to be in the world, in the community, we’d prefer to be a part of.   Not too long ago, I remember having this debate with some of the college students with whom I worked.  They felt that there was nothing rude at all about talking on the phone while giving your order to a waiter or checking out with the cashier at the grocery store.  If you’d rather be talking to someone you know and like, why bother putting down the phone to engage with someone you don’t know?

 I fear this ability to choose has made us very picky partners, colleagues, customers, friends, and neighbors.  We are no longer open to the spontaneous day to day interactions that can and do happen when we are truly present.  When we are living, working, and playing in real, physical, proximity to one another- things can get tricky, messy, even ugly.  But, without the true grit that comes with knowing one another (even in the tricky, messy, and ugly moments)- can we really build community?

Of course, I’d like to think even in the healthiest, most thriving communities-neighbors have boundaries with one another.  There are times when we need to be alone, and we certainly can and should protect our families and our time together.  The idea of filthy, bratty neighbors running amok in my yard is one that certainly doesn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  After all, I have my own little rug rats to care for and that’s hard enough!  Adding someone else’s into the mix, seems even more of a challenge. 

But, what would it look like to live in a community where we opened ourselves up to the random happenings of the day.  I know more than a few times, I will have just parked my car and be headed for the front door (a list of to-do’s running through my head) when my girls notice that several of our neighbors and their kids have all pulled up at the same time.  Sure, there are groceries to unload, dishes to be done, dinner to get started.  But, when my kids yell over asking the whole neighborhood to come over and ride bikes, I think they’re the ones choosing to do the very best thing with their time.  In the business of a hurried and harried day, they are careless in their warmth and welcoming.  And we should be, too.

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