My phone rang the minute I stepped into the house. “I don’t mean to be nosy, but does Peter need a ride to school?”
My neighbor Fred said that he noticed I had AAA over twice to give me a jumpstart during Hurricane Sandy. Then this morning, he saw us head to the car for school, then get out of the car and drag back to the house with the weight of the world on our shoulders.
While I waited for the AAA guy again, Fred drove Pete to school and talked to him about decimals. Is Fred the epitome of a perfect neighbor for a military family?
Since we have moved 16 times, I’ve had plenty of neighbors. I’ve had neighbors who told me I was wasting heat by having only my storm door closed. I’ve had neighbors who complained about the alarm on my dryer. I’ve had neighbors whose fights brought the police and district attorney, neighbors who fed wild foxes till they sat on our porches, neighbors who called the homeowner’s association because I had a car with a mysterious leak. I once had a neighbor who insisted that I ought to sue the school system because there was no way my autistic child could possibly be getting enough services.
I’ve also had neighbors like Fred who shoveled my sidewalk as a surprise. Neighbors who made mix tapes of country music I had never heard but loved. Neighbors who invited me to join their lunch groups, neighbors who came to my house for Christmas dinner, neighbors who caught my boy off the school bus when I was in traffic. I had a neighbor once who actually stopped me in my driveway to tell me that he thought I was a really good mother.
I love my neighbors.
But it is hard to know exactly what a good neighbor ought to be in this world.
As a military spouse, I never want to be a hassle to any of my neighbors. I never want to be seen as the needy one or the burden.
Yes, I am operating man-down when my servicemember is gone. But I don’t need a mother. I don’t need to be anyone’s Christmas charity. I really don’t need to be someone’s To Do or Ta Da.
As a military spouse, I don’t need someone to watch over me. I need someone to watch out for me.
I think Fred and I do that pretty well for each other. As neighbors, we know what normal looks like. Since my glassed-in office faces Fred’s many-windowed, little-curtained kitchen, we can’t help but be aware of each other’s habits. Fred and his wife know how many teenagers' cars are usually in my driveway. They know I wouldn’t leave my hose running on purpose.
I know their normal, too. I know what time they get home from work. I notice if they go out of town for the weekend. I know what time they usually cut off the TV and go to bed. If something happened to them, I would know. I would act.
And maybe that is really the essential part of being neighbor to each other today -- that we see the little thing that could make a difference, and that we then act swiftly.
Fred’s morning save cost him exactly nine minutes. It saved me hours. It saved my servicemember from worrying about us. It made all of us more grateful than ever to be part of this thing we call a neighborhood.