I’m a crappy neighbor. I didn’t even pass out neighborhood gifts at Christmas. I don’t precision mow my lawn or murder weeds with a vengeance like my neighbors do. If they have dandelions sprouting in their yards, it’s because of me.
That said, I’d like the world to know I love my neighbors and I think they’re great people. I especially love their kids and hope they always feel welcome in our home.
A few years back when it was just Eli and I living home while everyone else was away, I had some serious surgery to fix my broken leg, ankle and knee. I was in a full cast for several months. It wasn’t easy getting around, but I managed. Then one morning there was a big snowstorm and I drove Eli to school early. When I pulled back into our little circle I saw that four of my neighbors were out shoveling their driveways and sidewalks. I thought, “I better do that too.”
So I did. I hobbled out there in my pink cast, doing my best to maneuver the snow shovel. I smiled and waved, but the men were busy shouting greetings to each other and didn’t acknowledge me. No problem. They owed me nothing, and to be honest, I’m the odd woman out in our little circle. I’m divorced. I’m opinionated. I’m independent. But I sorta kinda felt stupid. And that’s when I came to the edge of our property and realized that one of my neighbors had beat me to it. He’d shoveled a precise line in the snow to make it clear where his property ended and mine began.
I can’t tell you why, but that clean line was like a blade to my heart. It was a statement of division and separation and it hurt even though it was a fair and accurate line. It made me think of what prompted Jesus to tell the story of the Good Samaritan. It started with a question, “Who is my neighbor?”
I vowed that I’d try to be a better neighbor. But not right then. In that moment I felt wounded and alone and very, very weak. I felt “divorced.” So I headed back toward the house. But the Universe had a lesson to teach me. It was one of those Utah winter mornings when the snow muffles far away sounds and amplifies nearby sounds. Over the words and laughter of the four men came the grrr of an engine. And then came Henry on his four-wheeler with his snow plow.
The man was his own blizzard, waving and barreling down the road, up and down driveways and over the entire circle sidewalk—both sides. By the time he was done, Henry had obliterated that precise dividing line and had taught me what kind of neighbor Jesus called good. First, Henry saw me. Second, he had compassion on me. Third, he bound up my wounds.
With one swoop of service Henry had put an end to my pathetic pity party.
And it wasn’t the first time Henry and his family had proven to be “good neighbors.” When my life first imploded and I didn’t know how I’d draw my next breath, Henry came over, plopped down on my front step and said, “If you want to talk…I’m here.”
Later, when they suspected I had no money, they bought groceries for my kids to have cereal and milk.
Then there was the night that the kids and I were cold and cuddled together in one room. We ran out of wood for the fireplace and that’s when Eli disappeared. He trudged over to Henry’s house to ask if we could “borrow” one of their logs for our fire. A little while later Henry and Diane pulled up with an entire wagon filled with wood to keep us toasty warm.
And how about the time my friend Cindy was toilet papering my yard at midnight to surprise me for my birthday? Since Henry is an officer of the law, he thought he’d have a little fun with her. He turned on his lights and siren and scared the celebration right out of her, telling her she was on her way to jail for vandalizing property. Henry laughed a lot harder than Cindy did.
And then there was last Christmas when we were in the middle of Hanukkah and Henry and Diane knocked on the door dressed and Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus. Everyone got a chance to sit on Santa’s lap, whisper in his ear, and get a gift that Henry and Diane brought and paid for.
Yesterday Henry was back with his snow plow. He said, “I came to break up the ice in front of your house so it would melt faster and you could park your car easier.”
So yeah, I don’t want to forget this story. I want to remember it forever. I want to honor those who live close to me, and I want to be blind to dividing lines and see everyone as my neighbor. I want to be more like Henry.
I’ve got a LONG way to go, but my first act is to wish that you’re all blessed with a neighbor like Henry, and secondly, to share a quote from G.K. Chrsterton that gave me something to ponder: “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”
Love and blessings to all of you good neighbors!