Received (from husband) 11:30 a.m.: Shut up. Heaven on earth.
Sent (guiltily) 11:31 a.m.: But the moving truck is still in front of our driveway. Why?!?
Received (well, considering) 2:17 p.m.: One battle at a time my love. One battle at a time!
This is no small thing, I’m realizing, to have people living with their windows perched a foot or two above yours, calling out across their yard to a dog or a child or a quarreling partner, setting off motion-sensor lights around the perimeter of your house at night. It can be terrifying.
Our first neighbors were the Methodist church. Living as newlyweds in a parsonage, my husband and I were sandwiched by little girls in white tights on their way to morning preschool and old men with tobacco-laced fingers out for an evening smoke. In between I could hear cicadas and air conditioning and my new husband’s snoring.
Moving to the Bay Area made me feel like a grown-up. Our rent no longer went to the church’s business manager but a real life brother and sister duo who managed our 5-floor walk-up. Looking back, those days were charmed, almost as if God had put a hedge of protection over our apartment, a consolation to my rabid homesickness. Sure our neighbor on the ground floor was a pot dealer and the dog a few flights up attacked ours from time to time. But we were welcomed by those neighbors closest to us with an invitation to wine (and later a handful of progressive dinners). There was even talk of a hot tub on the roof deck we shared, plans to tear down walls and never move out.
I wonder if it was our last apartment in Oakland that made me so jumpy. When we arrived, we baked cookies for the pregnant French woman and her husband next door; later that day he left me a typed (and laminated) note on the washer giving a lesson in laundry etiquette. (Apparently it does not matter how long one leaves their clothes in the wash, you should NEVER remove them.) Later a couple of shouting lesbians took their place, and I was glad for the noise in place of the chilled silence. I liked them and their chihuahuas but they broke up eventually and I hoped the friendlier one would “get the house.”
We are now in our first home. It’s ours, really ours, and that makes me possessive sometimes. I worry about this feeling of ownership – from the ground to the sky and all the vertical space in between, says the law – and how it can fool me into feeling entitled, defensive, and obsessed with privacy and fences and noses peeking through shades.
It is no wonder that Scripture speaks so often about our relationship to our neighbors, both physical and spiritual. Different than the fleeting interaction with a stranger or the selected engagement with a friend, they are the crucible of our generosity, the laboratory in which we try, floundering, to practice what we preach.
I remember something my neighbor Michelle once told me, about how much she loved living in city apartments, bodies packed one right on top of another for miles and miles. I remember thinking that I wanted to love that part about being human, too.
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”
– Robert Frost, “The Mending Wall”