Though it doesn’t look like much from the outside, the home I’m about to leave is gorgeous inside. Rich wood in the kitchen, a pretty retro sink. High ceilings. A counter with room for two wooden stools. Space for miles.
I didn’t expect to feel much about this place. It was a wayside, a layover, and only for a moment did it seem like a long-term possibility. Mostly, I’m ready for the relief of being at home in a larger sense—the Pacific Ocean, the homeland, a better cultural fit.
Recently, K and I held a yard sale in an attempt to divest ourselves of some of the belongings we simply can’t take with us. We sifted through objects large and small and hauled them to the front yard.
At first, very few came. A pair of new friends from the university dropped by, picked up a few books, and kept us company for a while. Cars slowed and drivers surveyed our offerings with their eyes, but found nothing to merit stopping.
Then, in the late afternoon, something shifted. Two men with beards, wearing suspenders and work clothes, bought a bag of cassette tapes and a coffee maker, respectively. A young couple from across the street looked earnestly at the essentials on view, disappeared into their home, and came out with enough cash for a blender, coffee table, and shower caddy. An older woman from next door wandered over with her therapy dog, Gizmo, a short-haired Shih Tzu wearing a blue bandana. The woman bought a pink-elephant piggy bank and a container of miniature clothespins.
Out of the woodwork, slowly, a community emerged.
As rain started sprinkling and we began packing up, an adorably odd woman with a motherly companion dug through our books and exclaimed at the cuteness of the few stuffed animals. She asked if we had any romance novels and told us she collects all things lobster-related. “You’re not going to have this yard sale anymore?” she asked, a hint of wistful urgency in her voice.
Later that night, we went out for drinks with the friends who’d stopped by earlier. We chatted away, comparing disparate yet parallel childhoods and taking suggestions for our upcoming road trip. At the end of the night, my friend asked “Why didn’t we do this a year ago?” And she was right to ask, because we should have. Of course there are reasons we didn’t all happen to get to know each other earlier. And we’ve had some time. But we’ve lost more.
Places—especially those I’m not particularly enamored with, the kind of places I didn’t choose for their own sake but was drawn to for other reasons—often seem loveliest to me right before I leave. As I set my sights on a new direction, I relax. I don’t have anything to lose, and suddenly I see all that I could have gained in this place I’m leaving. I could have smiled at my neighbors more often, developed deeper friendships. I could have made more of an effort to reach outside of myself.
I don’t regret the fact that I am leaving. But I want to learn from this experience, so that next time, I take more chances, and develop stronger relationships. It’s easy to let myself become isolated, and time alone is important, but we all need community, no matter how short-lived. Significant others play a role, colleagues play a role, friends play roles. And I’m finally beginning to see, though it’s been a bit slow to register with me, that maybe neighbors do, too. That maybe sometimes, it’s O.K. to talk to strangers.
This will be one of goals for my new community—to talk to my neighbors, to consciously develop the seemingly minor relationships that are easy to overlook. To—yes—make small talk.
I’ve been thinking about self-improvement lately. I’m inspired by blogger Miss Xandra Bee’s new project, Heroine Training, which focuses on taking steps to become your own heroine (her first lesson is about writing in a journal). She takes inspiration from favorite fictional characters and has an enchanting and optimistic style.
I’ve been rereading Anne of Green Gables, and I have to say that while Anne Shirley does offend some people she comes into contact with, she always makes an impression, often winning over new acquaintances with her willingness to lend a helping hand or share her wildly imaginative thoughts. She’s not perfect, and she’s very different from me, but there’s a basic spirit of showing up and being herself that I’d like to live up to. And she makes a difference—I just reread the part where she cares for Diana’s little sister Minnie May, who falls ill when Mr. and Mrs. Barry are away. Though Anne’s head is often in the clouds, she is calm and focused in the face of adversity.
What do you think? What are your thoughts about being a neighbor and part of a community? Who—fictional or otherwise—inspires you?