Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Losing Neighbors

Over the past year we've lost two long-time neighbors. It bothers me. These were not close friends, but solid neighbors--the kind that will help you shovel snow, accept a package for you, let you know if you left the lights in your car on. Always willing to say hello. And really listen after they ask, "How's it going?"

In both cases they were renters. But their story in our neighborhood was nothing like the transient, uncaring picture that some like to paint of the Typical Renter. Both were families who lived here for years. Both supported their children and their school endeavors. Both cared for the outside of their homes.

In the case of Ms. A, we watched her little boys go from peddle cars and stick fights to middle school and high school. Her teenaged daughter moved from skin-tight jeans to professional clothing for a job with the school system, helping elementary children. Ms. A. herself went from single working mom to struggling with a physical disability--then suddenly met the man of her dreams and got married. We watched her family evolve and flourish.

But one day the original owner decided he wanted to sell, so they were given notice. And that was it. We watched them pack up and go.  We didn't know them well enough to throw them a party, or ask for their new address. They were just gone.

Mr. B and his family were hip and energetic, upbeat. His son and daughter played out front, then moved to hanging out with friends on the stoop. It was clear that they had strict rules about not allowing friends in the house after school when the parents were at work. The dad helped the son save money to buy equipment for a dj-ing hobby that turned into a small business.  The daughter had a yard sale to raise money to go on a school drama trip. Extended family showed up last spring to photograph the son and his date as they prepared to go to the prom.

But one day we noticed their landlord had stopped by to see them.  And the next week again, the same thing.  One day we woke up and they were gone. Vanished. A whole life: erased overnight, at least to us.

We don't really know what happened. But we know that these were solid neighbors that we liked, who didn't want to leave, and now they are gone. Not everyone has the financial wherewithal to buy a house, and so many things can rise up and change your life situation. When you are a renter with limited financial options  you have less power, fewer choices.

I don't have a big conclusion to draw from this, nor do I have a soltution to the problem.  Today I am interested only in the fact that they were Good Neighbors, and I miss them.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Love Made Visible

Yes, folks, it's going to get a little awkward today. We're going to talk about love.  Not the lovey-dovey, stars-in-your-eyes kind of love, either.  The messy, "why do I always have to be the one who cleans the bathtub?" kind of love.

And I mean that quite literally.  For thirteen years I have been cleaning hair out of the bathtub.  And it's not my hair.  I have gone through stages on this.  First there was a honeymoon period, then annoyance, then anger, then resentment, then forgiveness, then...

My mother died.  And something odd happened.  She started turning up in unexpected ways during my daily life:  when I read to my daughter, or listened to music, or watched a program on television.  And when I cleaned the bathtub.

I realized that, in all the years while I was growing up, our bathtub was immaculate. I never gave one thought to it. I thought that all bathrooms, by their very nature, were sparkling clean.  So that day I had a vision, I guess, sort of "Our Lady of the Bathtub."  My mother, with whom I had a stormy and heart-wrenching relationship, had been cleaning that bathtub year after year, like magic. And I had enjoyed that, without knowing how it happened.

Only it wasn't magic.  I now saw it as an invisible act of love. Love in action, love as an act of the will.  And I had a choice to do the same.  I didn't have to do it, but I could choose to do it.  I could choose how I wanted to look at it. It may sound highly unliberated to say that I found a way to ennoble the act of cleaning hair out of the bathtub.  But what is liberated about it is the choice.

(Here it comes--the connection!) 

Some things in our community life are like cleaning the hair out of the bathtub.  School redistricting. Supporting non-profits. Attention to aquatics infrastructure. Careful stewardship of our land. Transportation. Serving on a Village Board. You don't have to do them. You have to make the choice.

The post-election internet has been filled with anger and hurt feelings on both sides. I've been struggling with how to react, what to feel, what to do. Yesterday, while reading annieriedora's post I had a familiar epiphany:  choose to do the messy, unsexy thing which is your way of making love visible--in your community, and in the world.

"If I could wave a magic wand,"  or "If I won the Lottery," I'd never have to clean the bathtub again. Have you said it?  I have.  But the things we can't throw magic or money at still need to be done. They are the things the others may enjoy without ever knowing who did them. And that doesn't really matter.

What matters is that these are the choices that will make connections between people, rather than dividing them.  I'm grateful to the community of voices in @Hocoblogs for reminding me how simple it is to begin.

And keep at it.