Monday, September 6, 2010

The porch next door

I’m sure any faithful readers out there thought that either I or my blog had given up the ghost. Not so: the latter simply went into hibernation while the former went into the hyperdrive of moving across the country, settling into her first home, and fighting through the first two weeks of a PhD program. The former now hesitantly yawns awake...

Alas! The onion you are eating is someone else’s water lily.
-Presumably a Chinese proverb, taken from a fortune cookie
I fell in love with my neighborhood the first time I drove through it in late February on my way to the university recruitment day. I loved the colorful century-old houses, each its own unique design. I loved the front porch culture that reminded me of my beloved South I would be leaving behind. I loved the eclectic assortment of neighbors, from grad students to pastors to Wal-Mart employees to social workers to those whose cases they worked on. There was no doubt in my mind: if I were to accept the offer to the university, this would be the neighborhood for me.

My suspicions were confirmed three weeks ago when I finally moved into my cozy little house. My mother, sister, and I pulled in a little after sundown and prepared to move the mattresses and suitcases inside to hunker down for the night. Before I could get working, I was heralded with a “Hello, neighbor!” from the porch next door.

It was apparent right away that I would not have to work to get to know my neighbors, especially these ones whose porch was constantly occupied with a steady stream of friends and family members shouting similar greetings over the sound of their music. They keep my block a bit noisy, but they also keep it warm.

But this weekend when I had my first chance to try out my guestroom on two friends who drove up to attend the first football game of the season, I was struck by the difference in their reaction to my neighborhood.

“I was kind of worried when I drove up and saw all those people outside,” one of them said with concern. “Are they always out there?” Apparently what had been a selling-point for me was a worrisome deterrent for him.

Avoiding the temptation to make any racial or socioeconomic speculations about the reason for his doubts about my neighbors (as if I wouldn’t be caught doing the same in different circumstances, or as if initial concern is never valid), I will end with the mere observation that there was a difference. The neighborhood that had impressed me with its warmth and personality repelled him with its noise and activity (some of it, admittedly, being dubious actively).

It seems to me that the Christian story makes room for both responses, for the glorious and the terrifying sides of human potential, for my neighbors to gladden my soul for my six years in this house or to rob me out of house and home. But we are, even at our most terrifying, a twisted form of glorious, saturated with beauty and oozing with hope to return. I pray for the grace to see my neighbors through those eyes.


Christian H said...

"A Twisted Form of Glorious" would make an excellent book title.

Yes, I noticed you were sliding down my blogroll. I figured it was beginning-of-school busyness, though, as I'm only posting because I have a quick break from it.

Anne said...

I love this line: "But we are, even at our most terrifying, a twisted form of glorious, saturated with beauty and oozing with hope to return."

It's amazing! I may have to quote you on that sometime if you don't mind!