Much like family, you can’t choose your neighbors. You find a house, love all of it and its imperfections, and move into it. You might have driven a time or two in the neighborhood to look at your new house, but you really have no clue as to whom you’ll be living next to or near.
For seven years my family and I lived in an unfriendly subdivision at the north end of town. This was our first impression of Knoxville, which was disappointing. It was a nice area, in that it had a walking/bike trail through the subdivision and a couple playgrounds that we could walk to quickly. The actual people, however, were around a C+. That whole “southern hospitality” expectation was not met. In fact, a week after moving into our home, an anonymous handwritten note was placed in our mailbox to “make sure and pick up all the grass clippings after mowing.” It looked a bit like a ransom note. To this day, I’m pretty sure it was the couple across the street with the immaculate lawn that seemed to be their full-time job.
We knew very few of our neighbors. We were always out and about, but none of them seemed very interested in us or our lives. After two years of living there, we had our firstborn child. Even with introducing children into our family, not many people wanted to get to know us or form a relationship of any kind. There was one exception, and this woman truly was a gem. She was the catalyst to connecting us more with another neighbor. It’s too bad that we moved not too long after she had moved into our village.
Fast forward seven years after we moved into that first home, and we took a leap of faith by moving our family to the west side of town. As mentioned above, all I really knew was that I loved the charming older home built right in the middle of lots of trees. The neighborhood was beautiful and secluded but not too far from the bustle of the town.
We lucked out, folks.
This neighborhood is not only beautiful, but the neighbors here are beautiful on the inside and outside. In the (almost) five years that we have lived here, we have had each others’ backs at every twist and turn and up and down. We have watered each others’ flowers, cooked meals for new mamas, attended funerals of their loved ones, celebrated holidays together (Independence Day and Halloween being the biggest two!), and the list could go on and on.
I’ll never forget running into two of my mom friends on our street this past fall when an illness had hit our house. Of course, as Murphy’s Law predicts, my husband was out of town, and at this time we were foster caring for two children. These moms didn’t back away or make excuses. They saw me distraught and in tears, and one of them offered to go pick up dinner for us that very night. A couple weeks ago a neighbor quit mowing and spent so much time trying to fix my oldest son’s bicycle for him. He took time even when he didn’t have to because he cared. Recently, our good friends and neighbors offered to swing by and help pull boxes down from our attic because I didn’t know that the movers would not do so. One night this summer our neighborhood got together for pizza and water volleyball at our neighborhood pool…just because. I observed a neighbor who has three grown children playing with my littles in the pool and making them laugh until they were almost in tears.
Not every neighborhood is like this. My prayer, however, is that our new place will be special too. I know that it won’t be the same. A subdivision is more than a string of houses connected by yards. It’s so much more. It’s about the people who reside there. A friendly face, a good deed, a helpful hand. Kindness is what it is all about. Kindness then births into something more, which is a relationship that hopefully develops into a friendship.
And to be clear, I don’t need for every neighbor in my neighborhood to look like me or to be the same age as me. In fact, that’s what made Woodbrook Park special: intergenerational, diverse individuals loving and respecting others. Young parents and bachelors and retirees all living in the same space.
Many of our neighbors have become like family to us, and it is hard to say goodbye. I leave, however, knowing what a great neighborhood looks like. If I find it in my new city, that will be awesome. And if not, I know how to cultivate one because I know what it looks like.
Woodbrook Park residents, thank you for being a friend. It was a beautiful five years in your neighborhood.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself Matthew 22:39 ESV