By Stephanie Saline
“And who will take care of your male?” my neighbor Margaret said. She’d crossed to my side of the street, and we were talking about her upcoming trip to Nantucket and mine to the north woods of Minnesota.
“My what?” I said
“Who will look after your male?”
I thought I misheard her.
She gestured towards our front porch, where Mark was laying on the outdoor couch.
Surely, this older neighbor whose husband had died fifteen years ago wasn’t talking about who would take care of my own. I looked at her, utterly confused. I could hear what she was saying, but I couldn’t make sense of it.
Thank goodness for her tenacity. She saw that I wasn’t getting it, so she added, “Do you have someone taking in your mail while you’re out of town?”
That’s how my neighbor offered to take care of our mail.
This spring, we put in three raised garden beds. We planted kale, tomatoes, carrots, spinach, sugar snap peas, strawberries, basil, rosemary, marigolds, nasturtium, and zinnias. And then, we decided to leave town for a week. I trodded over to the next-door neighbors and asked if they’d water our garden for us.
Side bar: As someone who has maintained a nomadic lifestyle for the past twenty years and just bought her first house last summer, I’m not used to asking my neighbors for help, or receiving it. It feels unfamiliar and old fashioned at the same time.
I’m more used to asking my parents to take the dog, or driving my houseplants across town to a friend’s place. You know, relying on people who I know well, and who know me.
But I haven’t had much experience asking strangers who happen to live nearby to help a gal out.I find it oddly exhilarating, actually.
I’ve long fantasized about having this layer of relationships in my personal universe. Where you know the people on your street. Where people see you in the yard, watering your flower beds, and call out to you as they turn into their own driveway. Where a neighbor (who — let’s keep it real — has been rumored to call the cops on other neighbors for leaning shovels against their shared fence, and called the new postman ‘Oriental’ — a word best used to reference rugs, not people) offers to take in your mail.
I’m exhilarated by how the building of our lives can be woven together by neighbors building theirs… but I also must admit: I don’t know how to do it. One of the things that moving has afforded me is the ability to physically leave groups of people who don’t share my sensibilities, values, or preferences.
By letting my neighbor take in our mail, I’m letting her into my world a little bit. And the truth is, I’m a bit nervous about that. I’ve grown used to avoiding (read: shunning) people who don’t see the world like I do. Or who vote for people I don’t respect. Or who behave in ways that I don’t like.
I’m not knocking that approach — it has served me well, and was useful for that part of my life. But the dance is changing, and it’s time for me to let go of childish things. The game now is to explore what it is to accept Margaret’s offer to take in our mail, even as I hear stories from the neighbors about her less-than-neighborly behavior. The game is to accept her invitation to drink coffee with her on her porch, even as I sense that the way I look at the world might seem totally alien to her. The game is to bring her chocolate chip cookies when the spirit moves, and to accept her grape jam, because we don’t have to agree on everything to be neighbors, to be in a relationship, to be a contribution to the other.