we didn’t even see it happen, just saw the poor traveling salesman shovelling snow away from his back tires. there he was, in a few inches of snow in the grass part of my parents’ yard. we were at the farm last week, our third annual snowmobiling trip. my cousin kelly (one of my closest childhood friends) had come over with his wife amber & their three darling little girls. this has become a ritual now, this getting together for dinner when we’re home to let the kids play, to swap mothering wisdom & foibles, to reminisce about the snowmobiling days kelly & i never dared tell our mothers about.
but i digress.
the poor schwan man.
someone noticed him out the window while the kids, all seven of them, ran around in a frenzy. the conversation about what to do about him began. eventually the menfolk ventured out, sizing up the situation as men do. i couldn’t hear it, but i imagine there was some hemming & hawing, maybe very little actual conversation. i can’t help imagine very little conversation.
when i next looked out the window, kelly was driving my dad’s very large four-wheel drive john deere tractor out of the shop & across the yard. a piece of heavy machinery is a pretty impressive sight, one that’s not lost on me after growing up a farm girl. but a piece of heavy machinery pulled up in the front yard made the schwan truck look like a toy. & did i mention my dad wasn’t even home? this is the impressive part. kelly didn’t call my dad on his smart phone, didn’t check with my mom inside, didn’t even hesitate before he walked slowly across the yard, opened the hefty floor-to-celing doors of the shop, started up not-his-tractor, & drove it out. he didn’t think twice as he hooked it to mr. schwan with a chain he also found & didn’t ask for in the shop, & pulled out the tiny yellow freezer truck. he didn’t ask because he knew.
he knew, of course he could borrow jon’s tractor. his dad & my dad had been neighbors for years. our grandparents had lived on the same land we had grown up on. my brother had driven thorenson tractors, & i had nannied kelly’s little sisters.
we spent countless hours together roaming our tiny burg as kids while our mothers pounded the tennis court. we swam in their pool, rode on their four-wheeler, played pool in their basement with a blue tin of danish cookies.
that much history gives you knowing.
in this day & age of internet communities & facebook groups, of virtual book clubs & online courses, we are often hard-pressed to carve out a for-real, face-to-face community. updating twitter is easier than walking across the yard to say hello to my neighbor janet. less fear of rejection, less time-consuming.
but it’s also far less satisfying.
when andy & i were first married, we moved to a new town for him to youth pastor, & we were sitting around one afternoon hanging out with our teenagers. i was describing the neighborhood we had just moved out of & how we hadn’t gotten to know our neighbors. hadn’t, actually, even met them, not once in a whole year.
one of the older guys was incredulous. ”how did you not know your neighbors?” andrew had been born into a bedrock family in the community we were now inhabiting. to not know & have relationship with your neighbors was akin to not speaking the local language. at 17 he had developed & ingrained thick, meaty, meaningful relationships with all kinds of people. i was impressed by it, but back then, i didn’t get community in the way i do now.
so, now i make an effort to know my neighbors, even if in little ways. right now we have a sweet deal going on with janet & frank, retired professors who live next door. we watch their cat when they fly to colorado, they look in on our pets when we roadtrip. frank points out crazy mushrooms in the front yard & texts me when the swans are on the river. we offer them endless entertainment in the form of four small children sledding in the dirt.
& somehow in the needing, in the knowing, we are both satisfied.
the same is true with kelly & his family, evidenced in a tiny way one afternoon last week while we were at the farm. somehow in the needing each other, a community is developed, & one that is meatier than anything online, one that is more satisfying. this knowing isn’t relegated just to neighbors, either. we all have neighbors of the heart, yes? those folk you WISH lived beside you, the ones you’d bring an extra half dozen cookies to every day or a bit of christmas fudge?
those people, that’s your community. family, friends, strays, it doesn’t matter. you need them, & they need you. no matter how isolationist this culture has gotten, has tried to convince you otherwise. maybe because of it.
so, wherever you are, whoever you have around you, pull them in tight. brothers, mothers, neighbors, friends flung afar, aunts halfway across the country. location doesn’t have to be a barrier, if they are important to your community. whoever they are, pull them in tight & hang on with both hands. with both hands & a heart.