Thursday, September 13, 2012

Locked Living


The sign was dark and angry behind the screen door. We exchanged nervous glances, and I pressed the doorbell again. The invitations were in my hand; behind the closed front door, a television was droning loudly.

The lock on the front door clicked, and the door swung open just a crack. An old man voice barked, "No soliciting!" If the sign could have spoken, it would have sounded just like this voice: brittle with impatience and crackly with anger.

"We're not!" I blurted, trying not to show how taken aback we felt.

"We're your next-door neighbors," my husband added.

A pause. The front door creaked open a few more inches and the old man's head lightened the darkness behind the screen door like a round moon with spectacles.

I held out the invitations like a feeble white flag. "We're not selling anything," I said. "We just wanted to invite you over... a dessert open house... to get to know our neighbors...if you can come..." I trailed off.

"That's all," my husband finished gently.

It was too dark to see if the pale moon-faced man was surprised or suspicious. "Sorry about that," he said reluctantly, as if making a conscious effort to extract the gruff tone from his voice. "We just get'em ringing the doorbell all the time..."

"We've had them too," said my husband.

(Them. What a strange way to refer to people.)

I was still holding out the invitation as if it were a milkbone and I was trying to coax a puppy out from under a bed. "Can I give you this invitation?" I asked awkwardly.

He hesitated. "I already locked everything up... just tuck it in the screen door and we'll get it tomorrow."

I was too surprised to do anything but comply. I slid the piece of cardstock between the screen and on of the decorative iron scrolls.

"Well," we said lamely, "have a goodnight."

The old man seemed to relent a little as we turned back down the walk. "You too," he called. We didn't understand what he said next. Was his tongue confused by remorse? "Thanks– love you guys!" And then the door shut. The Pilot and I exchanged puzzled glances. Love us? And yet you couldn't unlock your door to let in an invitation?

That image haunted me the rest of the evening: the stern sign, the face peering suspiciously round the locked screen door... the barriers. The walls. The ways even next-door neighbors seal themselves off from each other, locked in our own little fortresses of comfort and autonomy, rebuffs of anger or annoyance when anyone might dare challenge our supreme solitude.

Perhaps it haunted me all the more because I was unnerved by the possibility that, if I looked closer, might I find myself in one of those fortresses? I do not tell this story from a place of superiority. The Pilot and I had to give ourselves several stern talking-tos before we collected the moral impetus and motivation to walk outside our front door and make the rounds of the cul-de-sac. We still both look like we're freshmen in college; we both wondered what our neighbors would think of us. How far, far easier it would be to stay in our comfortable solitude! We are both introverts. We don't innately enjoy meeting new people. Small-talk takes a lot of effort for us. Our desire for comfort and security would never lead us outside our own little circle of friends where all is familiar and safe.

But that's not the life we're called to live. Quite plainly, we are supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves, and that's rather difficult if we don't even know our neighbors' names! I'm aware, of course, that inviting a bunch of (literal) neighbors over to come eat brownies and lemon poppyseed cake is not some kind of extreme act of selflessness and love. Maybe, though, it's a baby-step– a tiny movement out of that secure, comfortable life that our selfishness wants so badly, and a tiny, tiny movement towards the life of radical generosity, selflessness, and love for others which Jesus quite plainly tells us is the kind of life we are supposed to lead if we are to be like Him. Tiny, almost microscopic baby-steps that felt like huge difficult steps. Seriously. How lame that it took us six weeks to finally step outside and ring doorbells– and we weren't even trying to sell anything!

Or... maybe we are. Part of the motivation behind this cul-de-sac dessert is to spread a vision of community– the kind of community that every single human being needs, whether we acknowledge it or not. Westernized culture is all about individualism and how we don't need each other, even as study after article shows us that yes, in fact we do, we do very much. The Pilot and I are blessed in already having found community here, the kind of friends among whom there is no locks, no doors, no barriers; we are all part of each other's lives. We realize, too, that is not the experience for so many people around us. Maybe this tiny baby step can "sell" a tiny baby picture of community to our real-life literal neighbors... and just maybe, they'll ask for more.

I don't know if our next door neighbor will come to our dessert on Saturday night. The selfish part of me is afraid he will– afraid of the awkwardness that could ensue. The gospel-heart in me hopes that he will come, that no matter how awkward it might be, he will come out from behind his locks and doors and let someone in, if only for a couple of hours. My prayer for the Pilot and me and our family is that the image we will leave with those around us is and always will be one of open doors and welcoming lives.


  1. I am so thankful for you Meredith. Even all these miles apart we are struggling with so many of the same questions (you'd love our grouchy old greek neighbor :) and I am so in awe of how to articulate them, fleshing them out, bringing them around to grace. It's such a kingdom rhythm for our once insecurities to take. How beautiful to step out in joy and faith, humanizing those who live just steps from your front door.

    Thanks for encouraging and inspiring me friend. I'm still a bit lost about how to connect with our literal neighbors here in this new space. You give me renewed energy to find out!

  2. Something very similar happened to us when we moved to our house--we took Christmas goodies to all the neighbors to introduce ourselves and say hello. A lady a couple of houses down wouldn't open the door and seemed very suspicious of us. She finally allowed me to hand her the plate of treats. And then mentioned something about having me over for tea. But I've never spoken to her again! :(
    Anyway, I am so, so, so proud of you for doing this, and I hope you post on how it went! I prayed for you last night--we understand the introvert thing and how difficult it can be to do simple things like even introduce yourself to a stranger. But you have warm, loving hearts, and I'm sure that you will be a blessing to all your neighbors! And even if this grouchy man didn't come to the open house, he had to be affected by your outreach. Love you!!

    p.s. We laughed really hard at what he said to you. It's like when you're hanging up the phone after talking to someone you hardly know and say, "love you!" out of habit. :)

  3. Ladies, you warm my heart. :-) If you two were the only people who read this blog, I would still write it just to know that you would read my thoughts and help me process them. I love you both!

    And... the old man DID come! He and his wife both came! I will try to write another post about it... and if it doesn't work in post format, I'll just write you both and tell you about it. :-)