My Neighbors

I noticed her face was wet, and water was running down onto her leopard print shirt when the little girl that lives across the street came running over to my driveway. When she saw I was outside, she asked her mother and then carefully looked both ways before crossing the street. Once safely in my drive, she began to talk to me in that rapid and enthusiastic manner children have when they are excited.

It seems her mother had put a second bowl of water next to the cat’s bowl so she could pretend to be a cat, too. Even at her accelerated rate, it took her several minutes to tell me all about her cat, her pretending to be a cat, what her cat probably thought about her pretending to be a cat, and more. I enjoyed our exchange, and she was soon headed back across the street again.

The rest of the day, I kept thinking about the unabashed freedom and joy my little neighbor has. Her view of herself is unclouded by cares of being accepted or judged. She believes people will love her for herself, not for something she pretends to be. She probably couldn’t tell me all this, but she knows it.

When did I lose that? What happened to me that stripped me of that freedom and joy.

My neighbor wasn’t born like this. The people around her taught her that she was safe being herself and enjoying life. Which, of course, means at some point someone taught me that I wasn’t safe being myself. People taught me that I needed to pretend so other people would accept me and like me.

I’m not talking about being told to be polite, or respectful, or restrained when appropriate. I’m talking about being told that boys don’t cry. Being told by other kids that you are ugly or stupid. Being embarrassed or shamed or bullied by others. We learn to put up our shields and defend ourselves by the repetition of wounds we receive from others.

That’s not how it’s supposed to be. We are supposed to live in community and care for each other. It should be safe to be yourself, to be honest, to be transparent. The people you live with, work with, and spend time with shouldn’t wound you, they should nurture you. It is possible to create that type of community, but it takes intentional work from everyone.

This kind of community requires humility. I must make allowances for other people’s faults. I must be willing to deal with my own insecurities and self-centeredness, so they don’t lead me to harm others in defense of imagined slights. Humility isn’t weakness; it is incredible strength. The strength that is necessary to turn my eyes inward and see myself as just as broken and unfinished as everyone else.

This kind of community requires service. If I truly want to be other-oriented I must do it, not talk about it. In my willingness to do whatever is necessary to heal the hurts of others, I find healing for myself. There is a reason that the 12th step in recovery is to be diligent in working on myself and committed to helping others. It is hard to be unhappy with someone who is truly helping you.

This kind of community requires generosity. I will reap what I sow. If I am judgmental and petty with others, they will judge me and nit-pick my behaviors. If I wound others to elevate or defend myself, they attack and undercut me. However, if I am patient and understanding with others, they will be more tolerant of my failings and missteps.

This kind of community requires unity. Not sameness, same direction-ness. It is obvious when this is true. I should see others as important parts of a much bigger picture, one I cannot paint alone. There will always be parts of that painting I don’t care for as much, but the overall work should be important enough for me to let that go.

I am unwilling to invest any more of my life in any place where people are not committed to this kind of community. I want my neighbors, the people who live and work around me, to be themselves and allow me to be myself. A community that cares and is safe is always moving towards being more humble, serving, generous, and unified, because it works, and it is The Kimray Way.