In an effort to live less reclusively, I hand delivered Christmas party invitations this afternoon. Ambling along familiar streets, I clutched leftover cardstock with black ink announcing my first attempt to gather unknown neighbors.
I’d considered such an act for months. Years, in fact, but a summer encounter renewed the inspiration.
It was an August evening with warm sunshine drawing adults and children alike outside. I’d jogged to the riverfront and while resting a moment on the dock, a silhouette approached, its stature resembling that of my mailman. As it came closer, I recognized the mailman with certainty, taking in the sun’s last rays with his family.
I hadn’t seen them in months and relished knowing someone in the neighborhood. After chatting a bit and meeting their newborn, I jogged on with renewed energy. The boost rose not primarily from my brief rest, but from an exhilaration that comes when I stumble upon community.
A few days later, at about the same time and location, I ran into the family again. Not for the first time, I marveled at their intentionality in building relationships. Their efforts come so naturally they hardly seem deliberate.
Delivering mail in the neighborhood certainly doesn’t hurt community rapport, nor does an open invitation to use one’s hot tub. This family also at times picks up and delivers milk to neighbors in their food co-op. They bring homemade treats to the owner of the nearby urban homestead store, receiving congratulatory baby gifts in return.
And now they appeared to have a custom of walking to the riverfront each evening, repeatedly passing by and talking to the same neighbors.
How easy they make community seem.
As Christmas approaches, I’ve wondered how I can invest similarly in neighbors. Cloistered in a rental at the end of a long driveway, parking spaces eliminate any room for a front yard. We’ve hardly gotten to know those sharing the driveway, let alone those who share the street.
When the thought of a Christmas gathering first dawned on me, excuses abounded. We’d just hosted Thanksgiving and two days of cooking had drained me. December had already begun – surely neighbors had already filled calendars with holiday plans. Our weekends were booked, and gifts for family made the wallet feel tight.
But I’ve been convinced for years, and I am reminded again and again, that relationships matter most in life. Weary of anonymity, I promised my husband I would keep the gathering simple and we agreed on a Sunday afternoon date.
Words became reality when the mailman knocked on our door the next day. Without giving myself time to reconsider, I solidified a time and asked him to bring a snack. There was no backing out now.
A few days later, the UPS delivery man commented on a Maryland license plate hanging in our garage. Apparently we have a knack for befriending mail carriers. He proceeded to tell me he, too, had moved from Maryland to go to seminary in Portland.
The uncanny similarities in our stories made me want to invite him over, but because I generally consider the world a dangerous place, I reminded myself this complete stranger had no place in my home.
The continual fear and anxiety wear on me though, and a longing to overcome general suspicion has recently bubbled over in me. So when I encountered the delivery man again while jogging, I invited him to our newly solidified Christmas gathering.
Day by day, the details fell into place. Tuesday, I looked in the pantry for food and the chocolate fountain sat staring back at me, unused for years and perfect for an easy-to-host gathering. Wednesday, I realized we had blank cardstock invitations left over from our wedding. Thursday, I printed a basic invitation, enticing neighbors with the chocolate fountain and fire pit.
All that remained was knocking on doors to extend an invitation and making chocolate sauce the day of the party. So I set out anew this afternoon to welcome strangers into our home.
The first door I knocked on separated me from a neighbor I’d meant to call on for over a year. I met her when she handed me two Moonstruck chocolate samples over a glass display case. With a bit of conversation, I discovered she lived three doors down from me and it took 45 minutes to bike from our street to the chocolate shop.
In a year’s time, I’d not yet summoned the courage for more than admiring her monstrous sunflowers and prolific vegetables. I plotted for both to stimulate conversation whenever a chance encounter arrived.
Standing before the door now with a clear purpose for visiting, I no longer hesitated. I confidently pressed the doorbell and banished visions of a drug-addled boyfriend appearing. A well-tailored man around my age emerged. He amiably informed me the girl I’d met now lived in Arizona.
I’d missed the chance to get to know her, but a new opportunity stood before me. As I shared about the chocolate fountain and fire pit, a look of surprised interest crossed the man’s face. I handed him an invitation, hoping he and his girlfriend would come.
The day continued in a similar manner, knocking on doors and inviting one neighbor after another to our celebration. Some chatted while raking leaves, others hesitatingly opened the door, only one looked at me as though I’d arrived from another planet. I was determined to know my neighbors, so strange looks failed to deter me for more than a moment.
Along the way, I realized I’d been so busy trying to control the world, I’d failed to become the person I wanted to be – a woman whose warmth invites others in, who reaches out and builds community in daily life. I’d talked about community often. I certainly longed for it. But I’d rarely done the uncomfortable work of establishing it. I’d allowed efficiency to overtake relationship.
However neighbors responded, whether they show up the day of or not, this afternoon I became more the woman I want to be. If I continue stretching myself little by little, perhaps life will extend beyond these four walls. Perhaps I will dismantle the isolation, the distrust on at least this one street, in at least this one home.