My wife and I live in a small-ish apartment building and we really don’t know our neighbours...like at all. This has always struck me as being funny. I mean think about it, we live within inches of two families and within a few yards of many others. If we are honest, we kind of like it this way – we are introverts and like to have a quiet place to escape and recharge. But we will acknowledge that there is something strange about this and that maybe, just maybe, we should take some steps to connect on some level with our neighbours.
This Christmas we decided to do something for our neighbours. We bought each apartment on our floor a box of chocolates and Michelle wrote a card to accompany it. Really it was nothing special and cost us a total of $30. In keeping with our anti-social behaviour, I snuck around a few days before Christmas and placed these small gifts on people’s door steps so that they could be found without having to actually talk with our neighbours.
To be honest, we weren’t sure what to expect. The gifts were pretty nominal and we weren’t looking for any reciprocity. In hindsight I think that the point of giving these gifts were more for us – to get us thinking about connecting with our neighbours – than it was about whether our neighbours appreciated their chocolates or not…although if they enjoyed it would be even better!
A few days after we gave out these gifts we arrived home to find two notes of thanks had been slide under our door. Both were nice but one of them has caused me to reflect more (see the photo below). It was from an older neighbour whom I had met once before. She was largely confined to her apartment and my only prior interaction with her had been in the laundry room where I found a chair for her to sit on while she waited for her laundry to finish. Michelle and I were both moved by her note. We really didn’t feel like we had done anything special but her note conveyed that our small gift had had a significant impact on her. Really our action was pretty much the least we could have done but her reaction has stimulated some reflection about what it means to have a positive impact on those around us.
The reality is that sometimes I can make things a bigger deal than they ought to be. When we started thinking about how we could connect with our neighbours I immediately thought of grand gestures and things that would take a lot of time, resources and energy to make happen. But in light of this woman’s reaction, I have been struck by how simple it should be.
I recently read someone’s twitter description of themselves and their ministry and included in it was “to be a good neighbour”. Indeed there is a simplicity to this that Jesus calls his followers to be - to love our neighbours as ourselves. We would be wise to remember that this is not a programmed strategy but rather a way of living. It is simple, day by day, looking for opportunities to let the love of Christ permeate what we do and naturally flow into how we relate to those we bump into in the ordinariness of our lives.
May we seek to be people who are aware that our daily interactions with others matter and aware that ordinary acts of kindness often stand out in contrast to the world that we live in.