Neighborly relationships prove to be long lasting


Adam Schoelz

Infographic by Michelle Zhuang
Our world has changed. When I was a kid I had three brothers who put substantial time toward torturing me. My brother Jack and his friend Thomas, whom I cleverly dubbed ‘Evil Jack and Evil Thomas,’ took great pleasure in teasing me; they were quite successful in causing misery, as we were close enough in age that I spent a great deal of time with them playing Roller Coaster Tycoon and Legos.
Oftentimes, however, their impertinence would grow too great, and I would run off with either a red face or a tear-streaked face or both.
Granted, I was six, so I wasn’t exactly emotionally stable.
During these times of trial when my parents were absent for whatever reason –– shopping or dining out or what have you –– I would turn to my neighbors for emotional support.
I remember one in particular. She was a wonderful old woman, a grandmother by any other name, and her name was Liz. Liz lived in a little white house with a dog that wasn’t quite a pug.
Age had granted her grace and patience and a certain amount of sympathy for the little boy across the street –– she was a youngest sibling, as well.
When I came knocking, which was not often, she would invite me in and show me collections of music boxes. Once she showed me her brother’s old lead soldiers from her childhood. I would often come red-faced and tear streaked from the teasing of my brothers and brothers’ friends but would leave smiling.
Then, like most of you and very suddenly, I grew up. Time had a large hand in it, and I began to have less and less contact with my neighbors. Some died, and some moved away, and I just stopped talking. I got to know other people, school friends and church friends and friends who lived pretty far away, and the house across the street no longer held the mysteries it did when I was knee high on a grasshopper.
Liz had a heart attack on one of the first cold nights of this new year, and that night I stood behind the window and thought long about who she was to me and how little I knew, watching the lights from the fire truck play off the windows on the houses. I was sad, but mostly I was in wonder, wondering how things changed in such a short time.
It’s been a while since I actually held a conversation with my neighbors –– unless the brief delivery of Girl Scouts cookies from a man and his daughter I don’t know counts –– and I begin to wonder what place they have in my life. If I could drop a relationship with a neighbor so easily, what overall relevance did they have? The geographic or inexperienced necessity –– that is, the ‘trial run’ of kids getting to know their neighbors –– has waned in the face of a tighter planet.
Liz is still around. The cat music box she gave me years ago still rests on my bookshelf. I’ve realized something, looking at it and thinking about how brief a contact it was for her to give that music box to me versus what stories surrounded it. Our neighbors lead wholly separate lives that we punctuate occasionally, not the other way around. They are relationships driven by ease of access, geographical closeness, ‘neighborly conduct.’ In all probability, I’m leaving this town in half a year or so –– my neighbors are set to change completely, for the first time in my life.
Our neighbors, like everything in life, are temporary, and they change more often than most things. Simply realizing this is valuable –– a value judgement, I think, is better left to a case-by-case basis.
According to an article I read one night on NPR’s website, the human brain only has room for 150 true ‘friendships,’ not acquaintances or in-laws but true friends whose birthdays we would remember. In the past, it would be hard to reach this limit but, thank the Lord, we live in an age where you could realistically meet 150 people in half an hour. This is a good thing. Relationships, like neighbors, are temporary and tangential but they, like many things in early life, teach us a lesson: how to let go. In real life friendships fade; they don’t flame out –– at least in my experience –– and that first contact is with neighbors.
By Adam Schoelz