Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Wanted: Neighborly Love

See, neighbors 3? We like dogs...even ones that wake us up in the middle of the night.

Curtis and I are people that like neighbors, that value community, that feel like it’s important to know those around you, and that these relationships can really enhance the value and experience in a place. And whether that place is work or church or home, we like to know the people around us.

In our last home, we had three neighbors in our building.

Neighbor 1: Owner, landlord, collector of rent and fixer of broken garbage disposals. He and his longtime girlfriend traveled frequently and were often absent, but when he was around he loved a good conversation. Curtis is patient and good at participating in conversations at inopportune times. It’s not really my strong point.

Side Note: Curtis is an excellent listener; it’s one of my favorite things about him. He can hear someone ask a question, listen while someone else takes the conversation a completely different direction, follow that direction to its conclusion and then turn to the formerly ignored person and follow up—“You were asking about ______? Tell me more about….”

Neighbor 2: Basement dweller, giver and receiver of brief and polite “hello’s”, once got his car vandalized by former enemies which made me really sad. He even apologized when mis-sprayed mustard ended up on my driver side door.

Neighbor 3: Moved in a month after we did and stayed beyond our three years, the grandfather of one of our college acquaintances, offered us bottled water and the use of his big screen television (and cable) knowing we had none. A widower, he would often bring home “lady friends” from church to spend time with on Sunday afternoons. Occasionally he would ask me to rewrite letters for him because he didn’t like his handwriting and he wanted these lady-friends to know that every detail mattered. We always let each other know if we’d be out of town, and Curtis and I would bring him down a serving of our dinner if he was home alone. Even as a chronic cough echoed up through the ceiling to our apartment into the night, it was nice to know he was alive and well, holding down the first floor while we made our lives up on the second.

And then there were the next-door neighbors, a couple with two kids. I always loved when they would come out and play while I was out reading on the lawn or washing the car. The children would tiptoe onto our oversized driveway/parking lot and inevitably be called back by their parents or sitter. And I would watch them play in the sandbox, and color on their miniature table, and explore the bits of nature they could find in a domesticated neighborhood.

So what about now?

Nearly a year in, Curtis and I regularly comment on the disappointment we find in our lack of community. We share a building with three sets of neighbors, and instead of knowing two of our neighbors well and one of them “sort-of”, we know one of them sort-of-well, one of them “sort-of” and one of them not at all.

Neighbor 1: Greeted us when we were moving in and was thrilled when we struck up a brief conversation with her. This should have been our first clue that this wasn’t the norm. Six months later, Curtis discovers they both work at the hospital, long after we began telling her when we’d be out of town, where we work, what our story is. She tells us we are the first friendly people to live in the building.

Neighbor 2: Greeted us briefly a couple weeks after moving in. We have mandatory conversation from time to time due to his very large truck blocking our garage storage closet, but he (and his often visiting girlfriend) are nice and quiet. Also, they say hi when we inevitably run into them in the stairwell (an important fact regarding in considering neighbors 3).

Neighbors 3: A couple and their dog live in our building. He has a company car, which tells us where he works, and she is home a lot, which I know from being home a fair amount during the summer. He helped us jump our car once, which was really nice, but other than that we have had zero contact with them. Interesting fact? I always say hi whenever I see them, and they never say a word back—either of them. This has become a bit of a game for me, because I feel like this is slightly abnormal and I am determined to get one of them to crack.

Side Note: One of Curtis’s coworkers asked (after being told about the lack of communication with neighbors 3) if perhaps they were deaf. This is a good theory, except that I have heard them talking to each other.

Perhaps we are beyond the age of valuing neighbors and communities and people that are physically present. Perhaps our virtual and transient communities are what we have come to depend on, and knowing the people that you share walls or ceilings or driveways or garages with is abnormal and outdated.

Yet, I’m disappointed. I want to know Neighbor 3’s career, why she’s always home, what kind of dog they have and why he always barks. I want to know neighbor 2’s latest career plans (alluded to briefly in conversation months ago), and who was talking outside our building last night, out of view but not earshot, about moving.

Curtis has mentioned that we should give Neighbors 3 baked goods, to try and strike up a conversation. I guess I have trouble investing time in some sort of bread or pastry to give to a couple of people that clearly want nothing to do with me. Why else would they repeatedly snub polite greetings every time they are offered?

My mom has often told me the story of going to the grocery store with me when I was a small child, when I would say "hi" to every shopper that passed. If ignored, I would escalate my volume, crane my neck and continue vocally pursuing that particular customer until they paid me heed or left my line of sight.

I have yet to see any small children play outside our current condo. I rarely see people hanging around outside when I read, or wash my car, or walk in and out of my building to and from my car. Perhaps this is what I get for living in a modern day invention: the condo complex. Perhaps I should let go of my childhood need for everyone I speak to, to respond. Or perhaps I am not too proud to acknowledge that I can’t do life on my own, that the people around me matter, that in this life we need other people.

Maybe neighbors 3 already have people to take care of them, so many people that they couldn’t possibly invite any more acquaintances in their lives. Even so, I’m not convinced we don’t have something else to offer these silent people that they don’t already have…even if it is just baked goods.

1 comment:

  1. I think you and I were the same child...

    We live in a 6 unit building that shares one internal stair case, straight up the middle, and since we live in the 1st floor, everyone in the building must walk by our door. Having said that, we are good friends with one couple upstairs, friendly with a single woman above, have said about 4 words to the other single girl upstairs (who walks by us on the street and pretends not to know us), we aren't sure if the old guy in the 4th apt upstairs is dead or alive because he's carried out on a stretcher every few weeks and then disappears for months at a time, and the guy across the hall who are literally 18 inches from our door and share our wall? Well, he's a pediatric resident who is never home... tee hee. He has, however, performed a quick exam on Pinkerton when I feared she had a tumor and whenever he sees me and E, he takes a lot of interest in her... but it appears to be a clinical interest... lol