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day 51: won't you be my neighbor?

March 24, 2011

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

When we moved to our current house four years ago, I delighted at the immediate and generous welcome we received from our neighbors.  Plates of cookies carried by smiling people showed up on our doorstep.  We were invited to holiday open houses and Easter egg hunts.  Our then-toddler had lots of wee company when he fed the ducks at our community pond.  It felt like home.

For all four years we’ve lived here, Mr. and Mrs. Smith have lived quietly across the street.  Always quick to say hello, I see him working in the yard and her outside  with her grandsons every few days.  I don’t know much about them other than that they are retired, have immaculate landscaping, and go to church every Sunday morning and every Wednesday night.

On Day 51, I was in a rush to run some errands after work and before my precious babysitter time expired.  Specifically, I was looking for some vibrant-yet-hard-to-kill flowering plants for my front porch, responding both to the onset of beautiful spring weather and to the fact that we are currently trying to sell our house (but more on that another day).

As I pushed my cart to the checkout line, I saw my neighbor Mrs. Smith in line ahead of me.  Her cart was overflowing with a riot of color — pink geraniums, red columbines, yellow gerbera daisies — and she talked to me about how excited she was to work in her garden this year.  Last year, she said, she was too ill to do so (she was ill?  how did I miss this?).  As she said this, I noticed a slight, but constant, tremor in her face.  She opened her wallet to pay, and I saw the same tremor in her hands.

“Well, it was nice seeing you!”  she waved after paying for her floral menagerie, pushing the giant cart in the direction of the parking lot as I wondered how on earth she’d be able to unload her bounty alone.

I looked at my watch as the cashier rung up my purchases, and realized I was running late.  Speed-walking to my car, I saw that I had parked in the same row as Mrs.  Smith.  She was standing behind her open trunk, staring into it as though she were building up the strength to unload her plants.

Like I said, I was running late.  Still, no able-bodied person with half a heart could have walked by this scene.

“Mrs. Smith, may I help you?”

She looked up from the trunk and smiled, shaking her head.  “Oh, no…”  she said unconvincingly, “I think I can manage.”

I started to turn away, but then I remembered the words of a woman from my church who has MS:

“I’m stubborn.  If you offer to help me once, I’ll turn you down.  If you offer a second time, I’ll probably take you up on it.”

I looked up at her again, “Are you sure?  I’m not in any hurry.”  The lie just popped out before I could stop myself.

I’m pretty sure she looked grateful.  “Well, if you don’t mind…  I really thank you.”

As I unloaded the pots and planters into her car, she told me that the dogwoods are blooming earlier this spring, that she’s tracked their patterns for the past eight years and this is the earliest season yet.  She told me that her older grandson was sick on Monday but that just playing outside seemed to have cured him.  She told me my boys were lucky to have a mother who plays with them outdoors.

We talked more during that exchange than we have in the four years we’ve been neighbors.

While I know she was grateful for my help, I’m not sure she knows how grateful I was for her conversation.

I hate being late, but on Day 51, it was worth it.

Today, let’s remember that we are all neighbors.  Let’s love each other.  Thanks so much for showing up.

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