One of the givens of human social interaction is that the longer you take to make yourself known to another, the more difficult it becomes to make yourself known. Try sitting on a plane and ignoring the person who is sitting next to you for the first five minutes and it becomes embarrassingly awkward to introduce yourself; whereas a friendly greeting as soon as you sit down makes it much easier to pursue a conversation later on.
It is similar with ones neighbours. It is much easier to make introductions when new to a street than when you have been living there for years.
So Grace and I decided to have our new neighbours round on Christmas Eve, just a couple of weeks after moving in. We had a good turnout, with maybe 40 or 50 people passing through the house. Having met one woman who has lived here for 50 years I introduced her to a man from around the corner. “Are you a newbie?” she enquired. “No, I’ve lived here 30 years,” he replied. Decades of living within a few hundred yards of each other, without ever having met. It felt good to put them together. For the first time we are living in a road where there are a crowd of kids who go to the same schools as our kids, and we are hopeful that this will make it easier for us to get to know more of our neighbours.
The past couple of days we have been in London visiting old friends of ours. Six adults, ten children and three dogs all thrown together. We have known one anothers kids since they were foetuses and we agreed that one of the few compensations of middle-age is the opportunity it provides to become an embarrassing parent. We now get to say all the things our own parents used to say which had us cringing to our socks when we were entering our teens.
And, as often happens when we get together, someone mentioned the story of Billy Graham and the key team members who had worked with him for decades buying houses next to one another to see their days out in.
Friends and neighbours. That should be more than a sit-com or soap opera – it should be normal life, with its potential for embarrassment, but also its potential for something truly life-enhancing.
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