and who is my neighbor?

I walk the streets outside my house.  They are dotted with strangers in cars.  The front doors of houses are usually silent and closed, window blinds drawn.  But the lawns are lush and green, telling me that there is life.  There must be.

Outside my window, in the vast expanse of my suburb, families live.  I live inside my house for more hours of the day than I live anywhere else.  And only yards away, living in their house, is another family I have never met.   

When we moved into the neighborhood, I baked extra Christmas goodies and hand-delivered them to the four houses adjacent to ours.  This was something I had wanted to do for years,  and I finally mustered up the courage.  My neighbors surprised me by not being scary, by not having a hood over their eyes, with a cold, lifeless hand extended to take their cookies.  No one slammed a door in my face.  All of them were friendly, you know?  With every neighbor, we had this thing called a conversation.  They were people.

But with the exception of one family, whose daughter we asked to come babysit for Isaiah two times, we have not had another conversation since then.  It has been almost six months.

Does that make your heart sink with emptiness as it does mine?

Why have we as Americans chosen to live in such an isolated and isolating manner, estranging ourselves from the people who live right next to us?  Mrs. Pivec at Golightly Place posted on a related topic last week.  I encourage you to read her post, including her comment in response to mine.

In America, it is no longer mind-boggling to travel to the other end of the country in a matter of hours.  We have this group of people called commuters — those who drive often insane distances to work every day.  In choosing a church, distance is hardly on the top of our list of deciding factors. 

When Kyle and I first moved to a new state, we drove over three hours to church every Sunday.  (Yes, that was one way.)  It drained us every week, but we were convinced that keeping denominational ties was worth it.  I told inquiring friends that some people in third-world countries no doubt walk more than three hours to a church on Sunday, so I surely shouldn’t count the drive a burden.  I love the people in that little church, and while I don’t suggest church seekers throw all scrutiny of doctrine to the wind, I do regret not having learned how to step out of my comfort zone a little sooner in life.  What opportunities for touching lives were right outside my very door, while I insisted upon handpicking the people I would like to get to know?

Maybe this is why I hate surburbia.  Maybe this is why I want to get away.  It is not just that the houses are void of character, but also that they are full of strangers.

But maybe the quickest way to get away from a stranger is to make him your friend.

    • Dona
    • June 16th, 2008

    I took cookies to my neighbors once.

    They rejected them.

  1. Dona, that’s so horrible it’s almost funny. What kind of numb-skulls… I mean, don’t let that get you down! We’ll just hope they aren’t the norm.

    • Rachel
    • June 16th, 2008

    When we first arrived, our new next door neighbors delivered a meal from a nearby restaurant when we were unpacking the moving truck. It was such a nice gesture and immediately opened up the lines of communication. I do wish that there was more community within my physical community and I definitely agree that it is difficult to establish relationships with perfect strangers. But I think it is possible over time and with some effort. I’ve seen it succeed to some extent on my little street.

    • clbeyer
    • June 17th, 2008

    See also this post on _the ashram_ blog:

  2. We lived in one of those nice little housing developments for 5 months, in a duplex. It was the prettiest, most nicely developed house we’d ever been in. It was sad that it was also the coldest area we’d lived in this town for some time. No one said hello, with the exception of a lady that moved in the month before we moved out. She was extremely lively and friendly. However, even the people on the other side of the duplex would not even look at us when we said hello. It was the weirdest and saddest thing I have ever experienced.
    Not for myself, but for them.

    I agree with clbeyer… I actually laughed a little when I read that someone actually rejected your cookies, Dona. My immediate thought was, “Who the heck turns down cookies?!?” Yes, don’t let them get you down!

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