I’m not sure why I looked out my window to peek into my backyard before slipping into bed. But I was surprised.
The neighbor’s giant fluffy dog was on my patio sound asleep. He didn’t notice the curtains move. He didn’t notice the accidental noise on the glass as I tried to take a photo without a glare. He was comfortable. He learned quite a long time ago he could jump the fence. My neighbors have tried a variety of solutions. He hadn’t jumped into my yard for a while, as far as I knew, but there he was, as comfortable as could be. I knew he’d let me walk him home and put him in the backyard, but I also knew it wouldn’t be long before the neighbors would open the backdoor to let him in for the night, and they’d call for him and eventually look in my yard. At least he was content and contained. (My fence is the exact height of his own, but to my knowledge, he has never tried to escape my yard once he gets into it.)
Some people might get annoyed about a neighborhood dog, and maybe I would, too, if he began to cause problems, but I haven’t faced that yet. However, having him as a visitor reminded me of a few things. First, I’ve written extensively about wanting to have a home that welcomes people. I want to share it. I want people to be comfortable. Having a dog sound asleep on my patio made me smile. I’m glad he found a safe place to rest.
Second, I’ve had a friend who has nearly always lived in the country remark several times that she wouldn’t be able to live in town next to people. I get it; I grew up in the country. Despite living far away from neighbors, we still had a sense of community. But living closer to people creates a different atmosphere, and it’s not a bad thing. It reminds us of our relationships with others and what we’re willing to share, forgive, confront, and expect.
There’s accountability in life among others—in a variety of situations. We often like the benefits of living alongside people but not the inconveniences. As mentioned earlier, my opinion of the dog making himself at home in my yard might change if making himself at home involved destructive or smelly behavior. It’s the same with our people neighbors. When we can have a good conversation, share a tool, get a helping hand, extend and receive compassion, we think the neighborhood is great. But when the noise begins, and the trash piles up, and we’re inconvenienced and annoyed, it’s another story.
Of course, we need to have healthy boundaries with our neighbors and everyone in our lives. But how often do we define healthy boundaries as the edges of our comfort? Compassion, service, generosity, and conversations go well beyond the comfort zone yet can still be healthy. When we build respectful, united, healthy neighborhoods, we build respectful, united, healthy communities and that becomes respectful, united, healthy culture. Can we do that? I think so.
Spend some time with your neighbors. If that’s no possible because of COVID precautions right now, reach out in other ways. Yes, even the neighbors who annoy you.