Growing up with Irish, Catholic, Blue Collar, New York City to Long Island Suburbia, working class values, it was instilled in me to worry about what “the neighbors” might think. This message was conjured to keep some of us in line. It helped others determine how far they could push things. My own children have used a classic derivative strategy to help garner favors and treats: “All my friends are…, but so and so’s mother lets us, we’re the only family that still…… It typically doesn’t work but admittedly there are occasions when I do examine and reevaluate decisions based on what others may think or do.
Recently a dear friend brought up “the neighbors” and it made me wonder about the power that particular constraint has had on me. Growing up, I fancied myself the feisty, rebellious type. I liked to challenge the norms and question the social mores. I’m sure I got a good long eye roll working through my system at the thought or suggestion of what “the neighbors” might think. Scoffing aloud and questioning why I would ever need to consider anything the neighbors had to say. “How or why would they ever weigh in?” I wondered.
One of “the neighbors” had a string of men coming in and out of her life and children that looked a bit like the cat that dragged them in might have been a mutant lab experiment. Loud cars, broken bottles, cursing matches to frighten the best of us were typical fodder. The daughter had L O V E and H A T E hand-carved into her fingers. This was a tad worrisome to me. I imagined myself to be so rebellious and willful, but the do-it-yourself carvings caught me by surprise. Fortunately I was young enough and innocent enough to have a difficult time imagining how one achieves such an inscription. There must have been some feist and rebellion percolating on that side of the hedges.
Another neighbor kept the lawn manicured, the street swept, the search lights and sirens aimed and at the ready to ensure no rogue child entered the grass shrine or came near the floral sanctuary. He used enough toxic chemicals on his lawn to ensure mankind would forever be altered and deemed incapable of siring a child on this sacred site for many a generation to come. Not exactly your neighborly neighbors.
So why then has this been such an influence on me? I don't want to have to alter my behavior based on what someone else may or may not be thinking. I do, however, want the acceptance of others. I’m not sure if it’s the appeal of a larger “family” looking out for me, or the hope that someday I will find the perfectly imperfect neighbor that means so much to me that my every action will be carefully thought out as to not offend, or to deeply influence those around me. Probably not. Perhaps it’s the need for community or a clan where we all look out for each other, offering acceptance as opposed to approval, or worse yet, disapproval. Comforting each other in times of need, supporting and encouraging each other as we face challenges, allowing quiet, excitement, sadness, joy, a place to come to without question, without judgement.
I think worrying about the neighbors has made me a bit too cautious. Added to my fractured ability to trust and reveal myself to others. What would they think, after all? I am at a new place now, ready to tear down the fences and expose myself a tad more. Maybe that’s how you go about finding the neighbors you want by your side. I have spent too long worrying, certain that others were spending their time scoffing aloud about me. Quite honestly, I am not doing a great deal that would be of interest to most that I wouldn’t be willing to openly share. Along with a cup of sugar, or a thoughtful ear.
Won’t you be my neighbor?