Monday, August 29, 2011

"Would you be mine; could you be mine. . ."

It is a perfect Sabbath evening in my neighborhood. The summer swelter has cooled down to a breezy seventy-something, I suppose, and as Chandler left for a few hours of office work, I abandoned a pile of Sunday dinner dishes for a peaceful stroll around the block. Smiling at the array of quaint homes in sea-foam green, baby blue, and the most awful shade of lemon yellow that the ’60s had the nerve to crank out, I admire the well-kept exteriors boasting brightly that all of them were built in 1965, and not one of them seems to mind.

Our neighborhood is most decidedly dated, and I like it that way too. We live on a quiet little pair of streets joined side by side in the shape of a tuning fork. The houses are old, the people are older, and the trees are older still. Anyone who knows me could guess my favorite characters along our street are these ancient trees, and I’d trade an arm or two for a word or two of wisdom from the old fellows. But since trees can’t talk, I’m pleased to see a resemblance in so many of my neighbors and look forward to the stories that come with their years as surely as rings can be counted in trees.

On both of these streets the houses are small. You know, large enough to comfortably contain a family with one car, but without all those superfluous basements, extra baths, and bonus rooms. Moving here from Williamson County, Tennessee gives me a great appreciation for the smallness of the houses and people. Inside the oddly colored walls of these houses are a couple of young families, a handful of middle-aged marrieds, and a wealth of wise, wrinkled faces. We are all pinching pennies and doing the best we can with what we’ve got. Nobody here is anybody, including myself, but we like being neighbors.

The day we pulled into the drive a heavy, middle-aged woman came running across the, sweat dripping and covered in grass clippings, to hug me and say how excited everyone was to have us “back.” They love my husband because he is their neighbor, and so they love me too.

A retired policeman patrols the street with a camera, Chan says. If he sees anything suspicious, he takes a picture. In the afternoon I see him driving from yard to yard on his “favorite toy” helping his neighbors keep their lawns mowed. He helped with ours while we were away.

Mrs. Prusse (pronounced “proose”) was married in ’25 and lost her husband in ’56. She had lost her mother young, when she was 18, and so she says she’s spent most of her life alone. She sits in a lawn chair on her front porch—which is precisely wide enough for exactly one lawn chair—and she says it’s been a lot of lonely years.

Bill & Doreen are right next door. They will be my resident grandparents, I believe, but they will NOT come to dinner. I’ve already invited them, and they’ve already said no. They say they are seventy-six; they don’t go out much. I hope it isn’t true about teaching old dogs new tricks. Meanwhile, I wave to Bill as he busies himself on his front lawn or in his tomato garden, and I stop in to hug Doreen and chat with her about progress in my little house, all of which impresses her, because she enjoys being impressed, I think.

It’s in community like this that I see a commonly unrecognized truth revealed: dependency is a good thing. Try selling that in Hollywood, right? But God created people with an inability to fulfill all of their own needs. We need Him, for example. But we also need each other.
Some of the first people I met here were the ones who helped my then-fiancé re-roof his house this spring in preparation for his bride-to-be. Others have loaned him everything from can-openers to the ramps he needed yesterday when he changed my oil. The guy who loaned Chan the ramps even wandered by while he was working and offered him a cold beer. Chandler said no thanks because he doesn’t like beer, but the guy left it dripping condensation beside the tire anyway. So if you ever see me get misty-eyed looking at the lonely Budweiser in our refrigerator door, it is because three neighbors on our street alone lost their jobs last month, and we don’t have much here, but what we’ve got we’ll share.

God seems to have designed community, the sharing of a common bond, as a means of producing joy. This is true even—maybe especially—if we are bound together by poverty. In affluent towns like the wealthy one I left, people take good care of the “Needy” but miss out on the sweet knowledge that they, too, are in need. They “want to give” to people in need because they “want to help” them. They do not see the distance between themselves and their community. They do not know that, as one author put it, there is no “them,” there are only varying degrees of “us,” and we’re all we’ve got.

So this colony of strangely-colored houses is the neighborhood in which God has placed me, and I am rather happy that my house is only a pale shade of grey, but I love every home on this street. Because these people I don’t know yet are the people with whom I will share community, and some of their city-people ways are strange to a shy Tennessee girl. Maybe they’ll think me strange, too, for the way I adore their trees. We won’t have everything in common. But these are my neighbors, and I don’t know many of them yet, but I thank God for every last one of them.

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