When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.
I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own.
So settle in, and I’ll get you a cuppa something refreshing, and let’s have a conversation…
How well do you know your neighbors?
I recently heard a news story that said we don’t know our neighbors in the way previous generations have. People move around more, so neighbors come and go more quickly than they once did. We’re busy with work, activities, electronic devices –
Our own lives are full of busyness, sometimes to the point where we might almost forget we have neighbors – where we exist in a kind of tunnel vision, where they’re only on the periphery of things rather than a vital part of our lives.
I live in a rural area, on the same country road I grew up on. It’s a little funny, to me, because I’ve traveled the country, worked in national parks, had my feet washed by both the Atlantic and the Pacific. I’ve hiked in the Grand Canyon, crossed the Continental Divide, and scuba dived in Key Largo.
And here I am, only a few hundred feet away from the home I grew up in, the place we moved to when I was only four and a half years old.
I know many of my neighbors, in theory. There’s the elderly widow and her son, who live next door on one side; I went to school with her grandson, and the father of the family who lives on the other side of us, and the three children of the couple on the other side of the street.
That’s about half the families in our six-house cluster.
So I know them – and yet, I don’t.
We’re not exactly an insular community, but it seldom goes much further than a wave and a few words exchanged. We’re not unfriendly, but we are, somehow, in some way, rather detached from one another.
I hadn’t given this much thought, until my daughter began to say that she’d like to bake some cookies and go meet our neighbors, get to know them, talk with them, see the insides of their houses instead of just always the outside…
And then, last week, I dropped her off at my parents’ house down the road. It was a very hot day, and humid, and she didn’t want to walk. As I pulled into my own driveway, I noticed my neighbor’s other son, the father of the boy (okay, a man in his 40s, now) I went to school with. He was tending his mom’s yard, as he often does on the weekends. Because he usually seems focused on what he’s doing, we generally nod or wave and move on.
But thinking about what my daughter had said, I stopped, and made a comment about the weather – which led into a twenty minute conversation, there under the murky and blazing summer sun.
We talked about our lives, his son, his wife and children. We talked about our homeschooling, and his years of driving a school bus, a job he’s recently retired from. We talked about the world, family history, our aging dog, and cats.
We talked about life, and the weather, and yard work.
And, at the end, I felt that I knew this quiet man better than I ever have, even though I’ve known him, to some degree, for most of my life.
We haven’t baked any cookies yet – July in upstate New York isn’t the best time for such a venture. But, when autumn comes and the weather cools, I’m not going to forget my daughter’s wish, or that conversation with the man next door. We’ll get some cute containers, make some cookies, and carry them to the other five houses in our little cluster. We’ll offer something sweet, and hope to get to know our neighbors – the ones we’ve never formally met, and the ones we thought we knew.