I didn't even know her name. Those words repeated in my head as I pictured the young woman who had lived across the street from us the last few years. Like me, she had young children: a preschooler and a baby. That detail alone offered all kinds of potential connection points. From sleepless nights to intense love, two women can bond over the roller coaster of parenting littles. However, our relationship never got past a quick smile and hello as I would walk by her house. Instead of stopping to chat, I would avert my eyes and keep walking.
What kept me from stopping all those times I walked by? Her kids in the plastic kiddie pool in their front yard offered the most natural conversation starters. Why hadn't either one of us pushed through a little bit of the awkward and introduced ourselves? Why didn't we ever move from two neighbors who didn't know each other to those who did?
Was it the nature of mothering young kids? We were both busy and exhausted and could only carry on conversations in ten-second spurts with the constant interruption of running after children in the street, so was it not worth the effort? Was it personality? No one has ever accused me of being an extrovert. Or did our differences consciously or unconsciously keep us from taking that initial step toward the other?
Though our kids were roughly the same ages, my neighbor appeared to be ten to fifteen years younger than I, perhaps entering motherhood as a teenager. She was a different race, wore different clothes, and, based on what was blasted into her front yard, listened to different music.
In terms of proximity, she lived as close as anyone, but in some ways her life felt foreign to mine. She and her husband (or boyfriend?) hosted parties into the early hours of the morning, their equally young friends keeping us up with their yelling, laughing, and music. I wondered if most of their late-night guests still lived with their parents, making our neighbors' home the party house by default.
On hot summer nights I would close our bedroom window to keep the noise out, which as a result kept the heavy air in. Turning from side to side on the sheets, I thought about how precious my sleep was. In the mornings it was easier to be angry, or at best indifferent, than friendly. That indifference should have been a clue that my attitude needed some adjusting.
The questions of why we didn't connect still linger. I'll never know the answers to them because one day she was gone. There was a flurry of police activity at their unit and a devastating family crisis, and I never saw her again. It bothered me that I couldn't even pray for her by name. I recognized an opportunity lost. Not that any increased friendliness on my part would have changed her situation, but everyone can use a little extra support right where they are.
My guilt was more acute because of my day job. I was working at MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) International, one of the largest mothering ministries in the country, writing and speaking on the importance of reaching out to isolated moms of young kids. It did not escape me that the mother of a preschooler living closest to me, my actual neighbor, was in crisis and I did not know her. My pastor, Steve, says, "Jesus walked toward people." I'd failed at walking across the street toward my young neighbor.
It was a wake-up call of sorts. It took a crisis and regret for me to examine my resistance to loving my actual neighbor. I don't want to wait for another crisis before I show the people right in front of me that they matter.
Taken from Loving My Actual Neighbor, the new book by Alexandra Kuykendall from Baker Books, priced £10.81. Printed with permission.