I live on the nubbin of a street. While there are 90-something houses on my street, a chasm created by a highway leaves a cosy enclave of just six on the northern nubbin.
It makes for a reasonably intimate little community. After all, if you can’t figure out the names of five households, you’re probably doing it all wrong, right? (That said, I think I had one of those names wrong for the best part of a decade. It’s ok; I’ve figured it out now.)
There’s nothing ground shaking about our relationships. They’re punctuated with the standard doses of weirdness that are expected when your primary unity, in most cases, is geography.
About two months ago, one of the families over the road headed north. My best plan with new neighbours is ‘introduce early’ – it’s less awkward that way – but I never saw them. Weeks have passed and either my timing’s been all wrong, or they never leave the house.
There have been sightings, though. By others. Another neighbour met them, which just served to remind me of the good and obvious thing I hadn’t done.
This morning, while listening to an audiobook on the run, I was struck by my passivity. Limp. For nearly eight weeks I could have knocked on a door – a simple enough thing to do – but I hadn’t.
As I bought vegetables and fruit for the week I resolved, “today’s the day”. No biggie, nothing earth-shattering, just something that I should have done too long ago.
As I drove home, I decided that before I unpacked the car, I’d knock the door. I came up with three practical questions to fuel the conversation in case I got nervous. It was a way of stopping myself from squirming out of something I knew was good. I find we often bale on a good idea, but that’s another thought. (Regardless of the merits of this post, it falls in the same category!)
Closer to home, my resolve weakened. I started looking for loopholes. Those things are usually stupid, so I did my best to jump on them.
As I pulled into my street, the first thing I saw was my new neighbour sweeping her stretch of footpath.
No turning back, no turning back.
I crossed the road and said, “I’m your neighbour, and it’s taken me far too long to say so”.
I got chatting with Donna, a 70-something-year-old woman living with her FIFO-working son. We managed a sweet conversation punctuated by my three prepared questions: How does she take her coffee in the morning? Does she like dahl (because I cook it often)? Are there any ways we can help her right now?
She loves dahl, she’s a tea drinker, and she’s fine for help right now, but something started that was bigger than my questions. My world grew ‘one Donna’ larger.
When Jesus encourages us, no, commands us, to love our neighbours, I think his idea is far bigger than the few houses that surround us, but it certainly includes and begins with these.
When I read Jesus’ encouragement to us, I don’t need to wonder about what’s important to God; this commandment makes an inseparable Top 2.
As I write this now, while chatting with a friend in Uganda, I’m reminded how far-reaching ‘neighbour’ is, but how intimate it is as well.
I can elevate the complex over the simple easy enough.
Sometimes we’re so consumed with the high energy, hyper-intellectual, highly evolved thoughts that have the safe chasm of the metaphorical highway protecting us from genuine relationship, that we never cross the road. I was reminded again today which is more profound. And simple.
That I did so today after nearly eight weeks is more pathetic than celebration-worthy, but it’s a start.
And while it was coffee I was offering, this evening, when I deliver her dahl for dinner, I’ll be sure to ask how she’d like her tea in the morning!