I walked across the street this summer.
I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but for me, it was.
You see, embarrassingly, I’ve lived in my house for over 7 years. And in all that time I have never even once walked across the street to speak to my neighbors.
I have seen them lots. My kitchen window faces their home and as I wash dishes I stare out the window and observe all of their comings and going’s.
I have created many scenarios in my head about who they are, what their opinions are, and why I did not like them.
Terrible I know. All of it.
But it’s not for no reason. It’s because of a fence.
This is our first home. We looked at a LOT of houses before our realtor found us this one. I was so excited to move in. Every day leading up to our possession date I would slowly drive by the house and dream of our exciting new home. A few days before we moved in, I was doing my routine drive by and was heartbroken to discover our fence had been destroyed.
In a panic we called the realtor who discovered that the neighbors truck had rolled down his driveway and into our fence. I had recently given birth to our first daughter and needless to say, hormones were not my friend. Over the next few months we tried to resolve the fence issue with the insurance company but most of it fell onto our shoulders. We were young and terrible at getting things done. Sleep-deprived and struggling to “adult” well, we let it slip by. It did not get resolved until years later when we saved up and had the fence repaired ourselves.
The fence wasn’t the only complaint I had against my neighbors. There was the time the doorbell rang and I was suddenly face to face with a police officer who wondered if we were involved in selling drugs. I would love to have a picture of the shocked look on my face. I’m guessing it had something to do with the parade of teens and their mothers who, for a season, picked up chocolate bars and dropped off cash on our doorstep to raise money for summer camp. This is what you get for being a youth leader! Apparently our newly estranged neighbours had in turn created their own stories about who we were as well.
There are more stories. Some involve parking tickets and some were relayed amongst neighbors telling tales of the “crazy old man” on the corner. Many simply involve me sitting in the comfort and quiet of my own home staring at people I did not understand nor did I want to.
You see, the fence wasn’t really the issue. The issue was that I let this incident create a divide between us and our neighbours.
Over this past year I have learned a lot. I have discovered how my own issues with complaining and bitterness have kept me bound in chains of my own making. I have learned that holding onto offence produces blame, which results in a victim mindset that leaves me hopeless and helpless.
I realized a few months ago that I hadn’t seen my neighbor in a while. In fact my dad was the one to pick up on it. He noticed that their always meticulous lawn wasn’t looking very good. So he walked across the street to ask if he could mow it. When he returned, he let me know that the man of the house had been in an accident and wasn’t as mobile as he used to be. His wife was so incredibly grateful to my dad for his awareness and act of kindness.
I felt so humbled. I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I hadn’t even ventured across the street once, and here was my dad, a guest in my home, walking across in an act of generosity.
I knew a fence had caused me offence and it had to go.
I waited for my opportunity. And then I had it. I was cleaning out the garage and she was washing down her driveway. Without leaving any room to talk myself out of it I began to walk. I felt incredibly awkward. I had nothing to say. It was a long and difficult walk; all 100 ft of it.
She was surprised but delighted to see me. I asked about her husband and she shared that he had dimentia. “Ahh” I thought, well that actually explains a lot. She asked about my children and we had such a nice conversation.
I left and I knew that the offence was gone. It shouldn’t have ever been there. But that is what happens when we let the little offences in our life take root where compassion should be growing.
Context creates room for compassion.
A few weeks later a middle of the night ambulance let us know that all was again not well for our neighbors. So once I again I found myself making the slow, awkward, walk across the street. It wasn’t any easier the second time, and once again I made myself do it before I could back out.
It turns out this time he had a stroke and would likely not return home. 53 years of marriage and no children or extended family left this poor woman feeling alone as never before. As I hugged this new neighbor-friend of mine I was overcome by emotion. Though not technically a widow, this is what James meant when he said to look after orphans and widows. This is the Kingdom. This is the Gospel.
Part of my emotion is that it took me 7 years….7 years to walk over. I have often been a person who thinks “the other person should go first.” Whether its an owed apology, an introduction, or an invitation. I have sat around and waited for others to come to me. How much have I missed in life by holding onto this mindset?
I don’t know what lies ahead for my neighbor or for our friendship. I do know however that as long as she is my neighbor I will be awkwardly walking across the street.