The Kindness of Neighbors, Not Strangers.

We are, you know, not living in our home this summer. So we are not, you know, with our neighbors and community. We love Oak Park, the community and friendships and co-ops and goodness. I wrote about the powerful impact of a neighborhood a little over a year ago and stand by every sentence in that post (minus the upkeep of the soup exchange).

It’s hard to leave for a month. To have the playgroup talking about outdoor concerts, to have Loie ask about her beloved music teacher, to know our garden will (again) be shriveled up and sad because we’re gone for so long. We miss an annual BBQ at a friend’s, marching in the July 4th parade, and at least two of our beloved tot’s birthdays. Saturday donuts at the Farmers’ Market and all those summery delights.

It can be hard, too, to figure out our place with our temporary neighbors when away.

But leaving and coming are both part of the process, both important for us and both processed and talked about.

I love when a good anecdote brings those concepts, or any concepts, into high relief (especially when it comes with relief at the end of the anecdote).

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And thus:

Noise travels in our San Francisco home. We have next door neighbors who are in the same building, as opposed to the next house, here. We try to keep jumping, crashing, and cavorting to the second story to spare our downstairs neighbors. Instead, we reserve that space for sleep. Because sleep should be quiet.

Lo’s had a few rough nights this week were she’s woken up at 3:55 on the dot and yelped. A quick back rub, snuggle, and song gets her back to sleep fast but I’m incredibly sensitive to disrupting the sleep of people who call this building home. For one, I have a terrible time falling back to sleep so I empathize with the jolt of a toddler pre-dawn alarm clock.

And (more importantly) two, we’ve not yet been able to prove our worth as neighbors and likely won’t have time to in our brief stay. We can’t get anyone’s mail while their away or feed a fish, pour a hefty glass of wine while watching Mad Men or bring something over in celebration or comfort.

The give and take, back and forth, relationship piece of neighboring is harder, maybe impossible, when it’s a temporary measure.

So yesterday, when a downstair’s neighbor passed me on the street it took me a moment to recognize and place her: Ah, YES, a neighbor.

When she said “Oh! I have a note I’ve been meaning to drop off at your door,” it took me less than a moment to fully panic. To brace myself for the comment about being woken up, the question about what I was going to do about it, the sigh that implies “You are not my neighbor, I am allowed to be only annoyed with you, not compassionate.”

Blood rushed to my ears (and I imagine my cheeks). I squeaked an “Oh! Really?” as Lo hopped up and down next to me.

The note?

It came with two children’s books. And kind words about being a grandparent and a correct spelling of Loie’s name.

The neighbor had a book about San Francisco and a book about Chicago she thought Loie and the children of our friends might enjoy. She though that Loie might like seeing things familiar and be introduced to things she’ll meet. And she wanted us, as Chicagoans, to take that book home with us.

I damn near wept on the sidewalk. With relief, yes. But also with a sense of the power of neighborliness and a wee bit of shame that I assumed the worst.

Might she be frustrated with the yelps? Sure, she wouldn’t be the only one.

Might I need to keep a more open mind about how long it takes to build a dash of community and neighborliness? Sure, and it seems like I’m the only one.

 


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