The word “neighbor” has been downgraded. It once meant “your fellow man,” as in “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Then it just meant “person who lived next door to you,” as in “Please won’t you be my neighbor,” from the old Mr. Rogers show. Now it is…your insurance company: “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.”
Growing up, I didn’t really have a relationship with my neighbors. Four doors down was Jeff, one of my best friends. But we were friends from kindergarten, and I moved four doors down from Jeff when I was already 7. Also, we still went to school together. And synagogue, and summer camp, and youth group, and our Israel experience…
I transferred to public high school in my junior year, and became friends with Jason, a guy from across the street. In a sense, we met because of sheer proximity, but really, we bonded over our high school experience.
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In college, I had a roommate, Jeremy, for two years, and we were dorm-mates for another two. As with Jeff, living near each other was only part of the larger experience of going to the same school, eating in the same cafeteria, and going to the same classes and social events. It was more than just nearness of dwellings that forged our friendship.
After that, I lived in a series of apartment buildings. I got married, but to someone I’d met at shul. After the divorce, it was more apartments until I got married again…to someone I’d met at different shul. And I was never friends with anyone in any of the four apartment buildings I’ve lived in, in various parts of Chicago. I couldn’t even tell you the name of anyone on my floor.
With both my ex-and current wife, I lived in stand-alone houses. In each case, we began as, well, neighborly with our next-door neighbors. And, both times, ended up in bitter, petty, costly disputes. It made me very wary of forming friendships with neighbors again.
Now, I live in another house. And, for the first time in my life, I have excellent relationships with my neighbors. The single woman to our immediate south watches our house when we are out of town. Sometimes we feed each others’ dogs, entering each others’ houses to do so. She has a beautiful garden and is very helpful with landscaping advice, and she dotes on our son and dog.
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The couple to our north have two adorable, smart, fun-loving kids who regularly play with our similar-age son. The mom is a nurse, and we ask her for medical advice. The dad is a professional guitarist who will provide a soundtrack as the kids run in the sprinkler. Their kids have treats for our dog. They have a garden too, so now our son knows what fresh currants taste like. Our son has their son’s old clothes; they have our old lawnmower. Many a soap bubble, whiffle ball, and Frisbee has ended up on the opposite side of our short fence.
They even came to our son’s fifth birthday at an indoor playground. Their baby girl got sick while there, and they were all going to leave. I said that her boy, at least, could stay for the party, and we’d take him home. “We’re going right there,” I observed. Mama and baby left; the boy stayed and had a blast, then we drove him home and hopped him over the fence.
But now they are moving, to be closer to the mom’s aging parents (the dad’s parents live in Japan). They will be renting their house out, and I find that I am both sad at their leaving and apprehensive about who will replace them.
I suppose they can’t put in their ad: “Wanted—musically adept, medically knowledgeable, berry-growing family with an elfin son and a spritely daughter to live next to a nice family with a friendly kid with too many toys and a frisky dog. Soap bubbles included.” If only.
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The only reason we interacted with them to begin with was that they lived next door, and now they are part of our lives. They were neighbors, now they are friends. That’s the first time that’s happened to me. I wasn’t sure it ever would. And now it’s over, and as they used to say, it’s seriously bumming me out.
I suppose the good part is that, while they are no longer neighbors, we will remain friends (as I have learned, that is far preferable to the alternative). We have already started planning playdates for after they are settled in the ’burbs.
That whole “love thy neighbor” thing? Let me tell you, it’s so much easier when your neighbors are loveable.