When I lived in an apartment in another town in another state, I knew none of my neighbors. I can actually think of three places I lived in which I knew no one next door or even in the building. I saw people come and go. One neighbor had a car filled with papers and junk—he was a hoarder, but I didn’t know him or even his name or what apartment he lived in. In one place, I often heard the couple next door argue—the walls thin between us, their voices loud and charged—but I never met them. I’m not even sure I ever saw them. I already felt lonely in these places, and not knowing the people around me made me feel more isolated.
Finally, in my thirties, I moved into a condominium complex with my then-husband, and we met the neighbors: the couple next door moved in the same day we did. All four of us adapted to the place—the bus system, the school calendar, the best grocery store in the vicinity. They taught me how to arrange plants in a container garden. They gave me a book for my birthday. When my then-husband and I split up, they were surprised. After all, there’s what you know about your neighbors, and there’s what you don’t know. After the divorce, and after I decided to keep the condo, one of them would always come over and help when I found a roach and was too freaked out to get near it. When I was scared at night, alone, I took comfort in the fact that they were right on the other side of the wall if I needed them.
Later, they got divorced, and I was surprised. I knew they were going through some tough times, but there’s what I knew about their issues, and there’s what I didn’t know.
Now I live in a house with my second (and wonderful) husband. He bought our home from his grandfather, and when I first moved in a decade ago, just after we married, I loved that most of the people around us had lived here when his grandparents had, too. These neighbors welcomed me, made me feel like I belonged. Today, I know the names of all the people in the houses right next door, and I know many people on our street. My neighbors bring me bread, and they give me flowers cut from their yard. They tell me when we have left a light on in the car in the driveway, they offer tomatoes from their garden, they pick up our mail when we go out of town. I do things for them, too—I get their mail when they leave town, I let out their dog at lunch when they are gone all day, I offer vegetables from our garden. We wave hello, we ask how each other is doing, we hug when one of us has experienced a hard day, or, worse, a loss.
I feel safer knowing the people around me. I am comforted by their kindness. When I am lonely, I take a walk, and more often than not, I run into someone I know. The talking, the how-are-you-doing, cheers me. In recent weeks, I have met four more neighbors—people I had passed by but never stopped and talked to. One family a few doors down has a dog, and that day the pup had been fixed. As the dog ambled around the front yard, my neighbor and I talked about that, we talked about the dog I grew up with, we talked about the dog she got when she was single, we talked about having to let each of them go when they got old. Another evening, a young couple was out taking a walk, pushing a stroller with their new(ish) baby while my dog and I were out in our front yard. I walked to the street and introduced myself. I walked with them for a block or two. I wanted to know them, but I also wanted them to know me, to know that if they needed someone, I was here.
Sometimes when I think about our moving to a different house, I think, “But what about our neighbors?” I hope I have made a positive impact on them, too, just as they have for me.
There are a lot of lonely people in the world. Are you one? Do you know someone who is? Meet your neighbors. Say hello. Wave at them and smile when they pass by.
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Photo of flowers and house by Valentina Locatelli from Unsplash.com