Tuesday, June 18, 2019

An open letter to my neighbor - the 3 things you've taught me

I remember the day we first met. You and I were both Mum’s of new-borns. You walked into a playgroup I was attending and we hit it off. You mentioned you were looking for a place to live. My neighbour’s house was available. You moved in within the week. And life’s never been quite the same again. You’ve taught me so much about what healthy community can look like.  You live it.

Before I came to Uganda I had a wonderful circle of friends in New Zealand. I had a close-knit family and felt deeply attached to both. Then I came here and all of that was stripped away as we flew mile after mile to the other side of the earth to start a whole new life.

Shortly after I arrived, I remember expats (foreigners like me living in Uganda) talking about the importance of community here. I remember rolling my eyes imagining their weird little commune life. They used words like “fellowship.” I just wanted to be someone’s friend like a NORMAL person.

You were the same. Normal. Nice. And we both needed each other and appreciated the friendship. At first it was for dinners as a couple, then dinners as a family and other such "official" invites. Fast forward 3.5 years  there's not been an official invite since. In fact, I think your kids were at my house every single day this past week – at least once. Usually twice. Did we arrange it  - unlikely? Were they welcome – absolutely!

You’ve showed me that community means doing every-day life together with people that want to do every-day life with me back. It means being vulnerable to share about all the aspects of yourself from your love life to your work life to your failures as a parent and your hopes for the future. It means engaging wholeheartedly with each other to the point where you celebrate their success and deeply feel their losses. It means stopping what you’re doing to rush to the aid of a friend who needs support. I call it the Red Cross effect. Us girls can mobilize anywhere in three minutes. It means surprise birthday parties and endless inside jokes. It means fire pit dance parties and dropping off meals.

Do you know what you’ve taught me Courtney?

  1. My house doesn’t have to be perfect. I clearly remember when you first started coming over I felt like I had to make sure the house was in tip-top shape. I fluffed the cushions and lit the candles even if it was for a casual playdate. That stopped on about week 4 of our friendship when I couldn’t keep up anymore and you clearly couldn’t care less. I put my hand on my heart and promise I’ve never cleaned up for you since. Last week you helped me kill a rat in here while our kids ran buck wild and the house looked like a jaguar was on the loose pulling everything from the shelves.
  2. People are lonely.  Take a risk, invite them in. I had no idea what I was missing. 
  3. Community gives space when needed and comes around when the time is right. It is respectful. Thank you for modelling that. And for having a supernaturally high capacity for interaction with your neighbour.
PS: I still don’t like the word fellowship. But community…. Now that I like very much. 

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