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Living Above Place

My family and I live in the Pierremont neighborhood found in the subtle hills west of St. Louis.

When we moved into Pierremont twelve years ago, my wife Wendy and I did what came naturally to us as hospitable former missionary types—we went around to meet our new neighbors. This was mostly a pleasant and casual process until I met my next-door neighbor Michael for the first time.

I saw Michael working on his immaculate yard as I pulled into my driveway a week or so after we moved in. I waved and walked over to introduce myself. We shook hands and exchanged names and pleasantries—but as we did so, Michael got a sort of puzzled expression on his face. I found out why when he looked in my eyes and said, “You know, Don, you’re the first person on this block to ever shake my hand.”

“What?” I replied, “How long have you lived here?”

“Over twenty years,” Michael responded, nodding his head and looking thoughtful.

And thus began a pretty deep forty-five-minute conversation about Michael’s story in particular and about neighbors in general. I began to look at my new neighborhood, Pierremont, differently after that conversation.

Wendy and I continued to do our hospitality thing with vigor: we had neighbor families over for dinner (including Michael and his family), and our driveway and double garage became a knockabout area for our own kids and all the neighborhood kids as well. In the midst of all the good of Pierremont (Halloween is like one big block party) and all the bad of Pierremont (smoldering feuds between neighbors are not pretty), I remained saddened that someone could go decades in this neighborhood with no neighbor coming over to shake their hand. And I remained convicted that as for me and my family, we were going to be a blessing in our neighborhood.

Then something unexpected happened.

We began to disengage from our neighborhood. This wasn’t a purposeful or quick thing. It’s just that slowly, over time, we became more absorbed in our church and our jobs and our kids’ activities, which increasingly had little or nothing to do with Pierremont. I didn’t know it at the time or even have the language to describe it, but Wendy, our kids, and I were increasingly “living above place”—living our lives relatively detached from the place and people right around our home.

It turns out this is an increasingly common experience.

For Wendy and me the realization that we had, indeed, begun to live above place was the start of a hopeful journey. Have you ever felt that you were “living above place”? If so, what do you make of the experience?

From the forthcoming title The Hopeful Neighborhood, copyright 2020 LHM. This is not the final form, please do not distribute or quote.

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