Neighbors share a unique relationship due to their constant proximity to one another. When tensions arise, it often creates challenges that leave us feeling confused and unsure how to proceed.
Last summer I was at our neighborhood block party over at the local corner store, Fremont Market. We had bubbles flowing, lawn games strewn all over the parking lot, and there was a small patch of grass just big enough for a slip-and-slide. The grill was cooking the meat and veggies for our “build-your-own deluxe hotdog bar.” The R&B music along with the delicious smell of the charcoal grill had all the neighbors opening their doors and calling out to discover what was going on. People came to eat, hang out, grab a cold beverage, and catch up.
Ms. G, who lives a couple of doors down, walked down with her kids. As she was watching the kids play tag with other children, an elderly woman in the neighborhood named Ms. M stood awkwardly nearby. Ms. M kept throwing looks toward Ms. G. She was fidgety and clearly uncomfortable.
After a few moments, they finally conversed. “Hey, you are my neighbor who lives across the alley from me, right?” asked Ms. G.
“Yeah. That’s me,” Ms. M responded. They looked at each other, sizing one another up, and clearly remembering a history that only they shared. The air around them changed and carried an electric pulse.
Ms. G took a step toward Ms. M then shoved out her hand. “Hey. I just wanna say I am real sorry about last winter.”
Ms. G continued, “I was having a really bad day and when you came out to correct my kids, I got real upset that some stranger had the audacity to yell at my kids. They were probably doing something they shouldn’t, and while I still don’t like that you yelled at my kids, I could have responded better.”
Ms. M replied, “That’s kind of you. I was going to apologize because I had worked overnight and was really tired and probably too hard on your kids. I didn’t need to yell. I could have handled it better.”
Then out came her hand, and what began as a hand shake turned into a hug.
Although not every altercation will end with a hug, I do believe the type of environment we foster within our communities deeply affects how we show up for one another. Each woman first took responsibility for her own actions and behaviors; only then could they respectfully make up.
I was just serving potato salad and watching the whole thing unfold. But I learned so much from those women that day.
Personal accountability, humility, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness goes a long way when mending broken relationships in the neighborhood—or really anywhere.