If you grew up watching Mr. Rogers, you’ll remember his famous song, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
That song kind of sounds funny nowadays, doesn’t it? Won’t you be the person who lives near me? A little weird. But back in the day it made perfect sense because neighbor was just another word for friend.
My closest and dearest friends today are the girls who lived in my neighborhood growing up. Becca and Anna lived next door, Allison lived around the block near the lake, and Michelle lived across from our neighborhood pool (lucky girl!). We rode our bikes for hours on the dead end roads, met up at the pool almost every day in the summer, and later in high school would hang out at each other’s houses talking about boys or coming up with silly pranks. These girls were (and still are) such sweet friends, and part of the reason was living so close.
But enter 2013, and y’all — neighborhoods have changed!
It’s been literally ten years since I have lived in a house with a mailbox that didn’t have a key, and it’s not the chummy-hang-out-outside-with-your-neighbors life like it used to be.
We moved to our little cul de sac over a month ago, thinking for sure someone would bring us something to welcome us to the neighborhood… but nothing.
As much as I want to blame my neighbors for this, I am just as guilty.
For years I’ve been apartment hopping and never felt the need to meet the people I shared a wall with. Our society has become so individualistic and private that we are threatened when anyone knocks on our door. (It doesn’t help when that knock provokes your dog to bark like the dickens). At first I was excited to have a two-car garage, but I see it now as another way to make our lives more private. You can go from your car to your house without anyone even seeing you get out of the car.
It’s really easy for me to complain and say, Well, this is just how things are now! or hope someone will do something about it. But to paraphrase Ghandi: If I want my neighborhood to be lively and open and friendly — I need to be lively and open and friendly.
So, thus commenced Operation: Meet the Neighbors.
If there is one person who knows how to develop community, it’s my sister Carrie. She reminds me a little of Andrew in the Bible, who was always inviting random people to meet Jesus (which is kind of ironic since she’s married to an Andrew). They are two of the most generous, most welcoming people I know and are great examples of putting yourself out there and inviting people to their home. She moved to a house less than a year ago and knows every single person in that neighborhood and tells me all the time about the cookouts, play dates, and parties she throws or attends. It’s admirable and I am a little jealous.
So after getting back from the beach, I decided it was time to meet the people inside these 12 houses I share a street with, and bring them all chocolate chip cookies (cause, c’mon, EVERYONE loves chocolate chip cookies).
I sent a text to Carrie: “I’m giving my neighbors cookies. What should I write on the card?”
She wrote back: “Cookies contain sugar… so feel free to stop by any time you need to borrow a cup!”
I wrote back: “Haha, um no thanks preschool teacher. Way too cheesy. Try again.”
She gave me a few more general ideas, but after mulling through each, I decided to go with her cheesy line. This was a practice in putting myself out there, not trying to look perfect. Besides, if someone brought me some cookies with that line I would think it was kinda cute. Cheesy still, but cute.
So, on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon I made six dozen cookies, stuffed them in cellophane baggies and tied them with a ribbon and that cheesy note. I made J go with me, but kept Leia at home since she’s afraid of children (that’s another reason why it’s hard to meet people in this ‘hood: that little goober barks at the kids!).
As silly as this sounds, I was a nervous wreck. Going up to each house and meeting my neighbors? Terrifying. My hands were sweaty and I kept telling J that maybe this wasn’t a good idea… but we went and did it anyways.
The first neighbor, super nice. He’s single and his girlfriend stays with him sometimes. The second neighbor lives next door and laughed that she should have given us the cookies, not the other way around. The third neighbor wasn’t home, so we tied the cookies to the door handle. Same with the fifth, sixth, and eighth houses. The fourth neighbor looked at us like we were selling something, but then warmed up after we told him we lived two houses down. The seventh neighbor was so nice and invited his wife and son to come to the door to meet us. The ninth neighbor we had met before, and he thought it was the nicest thing in the world. We heard his daughter scream “Cookies!!!” once the door was shut. Adorbs. The tenth neighbor was washing his car, and we learned he was a police officer with his recent buy the latest AR-15 rifles and lives with three daughters. The eleventh neighbor was an old lady who declined the cookies because she was on a diet. (Oops!) The last neighbor lives next door, and we learned between she and her husband they have 6 kids. We learned her husband is a big football fan, and J invited them over any time they want to watch with him.
It went a hundred times better than I ever imagined. Everyone was friendly and appreciative and the whole experience was so… life-giving. It’s just a start and I know it takes time, but I am so excited to get to know them more.
Last Thursday night we came home to find a pot of mums at our front door with a note that read: Welcome to the neighborhood! from the neighbors with the three girls. THE SWEETEST.
I think I’m going to like living here.
Do you have any experience getting to know your neighbors?