In the twenty years that I have lived in Chicago, I've had all kinds of neighbors.
In my first apartment, my neighbors became good friends. Like the TV show Friends, we had an open door policy--moving back and forth between each other's apartments throughout the day. Not only was I good friends with my neighbors across the hall, but the entire building was social and friendly. On Friday evenings in the summer, everyone would be on their back porches chatting with one another and sharing food off the small grills.
When I moved to a new apartment four years later, it took me a while to realize what a rare situation that was. In that new apartment, I barely knew anyone.
Over the years, I've also had some terrible neighbors, from loud music playing at 3:00 am to packages missing from the shared stairwell. With two dogs running around and sometimes barking, I am sure that there have been times also in which we've been the terrible neighbors.
We recently moved to a townhouse, which means that I don't have neighbors above or below me for the first time in twenty years. We are very lucky, though, to have great neighbors on either side of us and in the townhouse community. If we are out of town, our neighbors make sure that the flowers in our backyard get watered. People say hello as we are walking through the neighborhood, often remembering our dogs' names and saying hello to them as well. A few nights ago, one of our neighbors brought us freshly baked cinnamon rolls because she was in the mood for baking.
Living in this community, I am realizing that being a good neighbor doesn't just happen. Like all things worth doing, it takes discipline and commitment. Being a good neighbor is a daily choice. It is the choice to say hello and engage, even when you just want to get in your car and get to where ever you need to go. It is the choice to go out of your way even when it is inconvenient to help others, offering to water plants, to check mail, or to lend a hand with a project. It is the choice to share extravagantly because sometimes you feel like baking.
Every day, we are given the task of choosing the people that we want to be. Do we want to be stingy with our time and energy or do we want to open ourselves up to the joys and challenges of being of practicing generosity and hospitality? I am learning that to be a good neighbor, you have to make the choice each day. And on those days when life is hectic and hard and you make the wrong choice, take heart in knowing that the choice is waiting to be made again tomorrow.