Loving My Neighbor

by | Sep 6, 2022 | Marriage, Marriage Prep, Society, Spirituality, Teachings

 

I needed a wake-up call on what it means to “love your neighbor.”

 

My husband and I live in an apartment, our very first. We’ve only been here two months, but already I would say that we have lived through the gamut of classic apartment stereotypes: the cheap fixtures, the thin walls, rules that feel arbitrary, the tragedy of the commons. And the weird neighbors.

I am ashamed to admit that up until recently, I have had very few charitable thoughts about a couple who lives next door to us. Though barely into their fifties, neither holds a job. They spend a lot of time outside in a common yard area shared by all the tenants and walk back and forth from their apartment what feels like thirty times a day, crossing every time right in front of our dining room window and usually peering in as they pass. I believe I saw them going through the building’s dumpster one morning.

I didn’t want them to talk to me or to be seen talking with them. Heck, I didn’t even want to see them. I let myself become so turned off that I would avoid sitting outside if they were in the yard. If they spoke to me, I would be polite, but try to get away as quickly as possible.

Until last Saturday. A trip to the laundry room put me in inescapable range of my neighbor. When she called my name from a short distance, I knew I had to listen.

“Good morning, Elizabeth,” she said. “I just wanted to let you know how much we love living next door to you and your husband. I hear Dalton playing his guitar as I pass your window, and I see the beautiful dinners you cook for him, and how well you two have decorated your space, and it just makes me happy. You guys give me so much hope because I’ve seen you interact, and I just know that your marriage is going to work, and you are going to stay together for life.”

That afternoon, on my return from weekend errands, I noticed that a bench I like to sit on in our yard was covered in cushions. Sunflowers smiled up from the fabric. Someone had pulled a tiny outdoor table beside the bench—a perfect home for a coffee mug—and a small package rested on the table. “For Elizabeth and Dalton,” read the label. It contained a note where she reiterated her thoughts from the morning, and a stained-glass ornament of a sunflower that, according to the card, “had always hung in her mother’s house.”

Such unwarranted kindness! I had no idea how to respond, except sheepishly. I felt so guilty. The last person I would have planned to have spoken with or befriended, the very person I had looked down on and tried to ignore, had reached out with this spontaneous and shockingly generous act of kindness. While I had been silently judging my neighbor for two months, she had been finding hope in the everyday lives of my husband and me.

This experience offered me a needed reality check. The person with the issues was me, not my neighbor. I was the blind one so stuck in a certain pattern of thinking that I couldn’t see the reality of who she was until it slapped me in the face. Hadn’t I always heard the adage, “appearances are rarely what they seem?” Didn’t Jesus befriend the poor and broken? The dysfunctional people who hadn’t “made it” in the eyes of the world? It was time I received a reminder. After all, we have no idea who the angels are in our midst.

Elizabeth Sala

Elizabeth earned her B.A. in Latin from Hillsdale College in 2020. She taught literature and composition at a classical school for two years before switching to Agape, where she serves as the Media Content Manager. She loves to read, bake, and redecorate the apartment that she shares with her husband in Denver, Colorado.

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