Long-distance friendships can be great. I have several of my own that I treasure deeply.
However, proximity is important, too. No matter how emotionally close you may be to someone, you’re going to miss something if you don’t live in the same vicinity as they do.
I’m not even talking about the same city. I have friends scattered all over the city of Atlanta. Even with them, I’m constantly frustrated by how infrequently I see them and get plugged into their lives. No, I’m talking about the same neighborhood.
In our digital, disconnected age, it’s very rare to make the effort to get to know the people who live closest to you.
We tend to meet people based off of activities and interests rather than location. Knowing our neighbors is no longer considered valuable. I have friends from dance, from church, from mutual friends, from work…but up until last week, I didn’t know a single one of my neighbors.
The irony of this is that neighbors should, theoretically, be the easiest people to create relationships with.
There are no geographic boundaries. You don’t have to figure out when you can find the time to fight traffic and drive over to see them. They’re literally just a stone’s throw away. You can walk over any time you want to.
I’ve been thinking of this paradox for well over a year now. I love the idea of being close enough to your neighbor to go over and borrow a cup of sugar, to leave a spare house key with them, or to pop in for a visit just because. However, with my busy American life, I never got around to do actually doing anything about it. Until last week.
Last week my husband’s grandmother fell and broke her hip. She loves sweets, so while she was in the hospital I decided to bring her some homemade cookies. The only problem was that the recipe I chose made a TON of cookies, and I ended up with a good 4 dozen more than I needed. I seized the opportunity, using the excess cookies as an excuse to actually follow through on my years-long desire to meet the neighbors.
After baking a few more kinds to add variety to the mix, I wrapped them up, added a nice little note, and then started making deliveries.
We live in an apartment complex that has thousands of people in it. Obviously, meeting them all would have been completely impractical. I limited my scope to the people living in our actual building – 15 units in all.
The results were astonishing.
Over the course of the weekend, my husband and I personally met the people living in all but 3 of the units. Out of those 12 units, we met at least 7 nationalities. We were invited in for longer visits 3 times. Two separate neighbors invited us to upcoming parties they were hosting. Three of them came to a party we hosted over the weekend. One of them brought homemade food still warm from the pot over to us on Sunday morning.
We were able to bless an Albanian man who lives alone and speaks very little English, an ancient old man who is almost completely deaf (and also lives alone), a Chinese grad student who had to leave her 2-year and 4-month old children behind to come study in Atlanta, and a home-bound woman who has been afflicted with MS for most of her life.
All within the span of about a day and a half.
Our neighbors are beautiful, fascinating people. They have a rich depth of diversity and perspectives. They are warm and loving. They were excited to meet us, and are exciting to be around. Although some were definitely more enthusiastic than others, they all expressed their delight at us reaching out and giving them the opportunity to meet some of their neighbors.
I am grateful for the friends with which I have common interests. But having a common home is also valuable. I don’t know where these newly formed relationships will go. I’m sure some will peter out. But I have a feeling that some will blossom and grow into beautiful and enduring things. The thought of being able to simply walk down the hall to visit a friend is nearly intoxicating.
How many of your neighbors do you know?
If you’re like the average American, probably not very many, if any at all. Maybe you’ve seen them from afar and made some snap judgements, deciding that you don’t want a relationship with them. Perhaps you’ve simply never taken the time to meet them.
Whatever your reason, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone today. Don’t feel like you have to do exactly what I did – making 3 types of cookies and a personalized note for 15 people is a bit daunting, I admit. But find something that works for you. (Homemade goods are a great way to get people to open up to you!)
Talk to someone you’ve only ever nodded to in passing before. Hear their story. Share some of yours.
You might just have a friend to borrow a cup of sugar from the next time you don’t have quite enough.
Have a great story from meeting one of your neighbors? I’d love to hear it in the comments!