Neighbors in the Big Apple

I had the great privilege recently to spend a week in New York City with a dear friend. She lives in Harlem, a few blocks north of Central Park, where nearly all the living spaces are apartments, townhouses and condominiums. As in many big cities these days, brand new buildings, almost-new upgrades, and decades-old structures are all jumbled together in living and business spaces, trees in the middle of the sidewalk, and gorgeous parks. Stereotypical New York City neighborhood, from my perspective. While walking around her neighborhood and the rest of the city, I heard so many different languages I thought I'd stumbled into the UN building. And I saw jaded natives with phones glued to their ears, trying to navigate the sidewalks around the slack-jawed, slow-walking tourists.

My friend has a great ground-floor apartment on a fairly busy street, so there were always voices and cars and the occasional siren outside. The weather was gorgeous and we opened the windows to the street, and that meant we were often involuntary eavesdroppers to conversations on the sidewalk, one-sided phone calls, folks yelling at folks to and from other windows, and the occasional fight. My friend talked about how the noise sometimes gets a little old, especially late nights in the summer when she has to work the next morning. I could certainly see the truth in that.

I loved it.

I loved hearing all those languages, all the voices, even the screaming matches, as long as they weren't too scary to hear. I love the busyness of it all, the (general) sophistication, the variety, the trees, the architecture. There's always something new to look at, even on the block where I spent a whole week.

Don't get me wrong, I was happy to come home to relatively sleepy Abilene, but being there got me thinking about the differences in neighboring here versus the big city. City dwellers often meet many of their neighbors on the sidewalk, train, and bus on the way to and from work or school. They might take the elevator together or meet at the mailbox, share the laundry room or walk the dog at the same time. Smaller city and suburb folks mostly get in their cars separately and drive to their destinations, often getting in and out of their cars inside the garage without even spotting a neighbor along the way.

So this makes me think about how important it is to be intentional, and make the time and effort to meet our neighbors. Every relationship takes time and isn't maintained by accident. So if we're not seeing our neighbors on the sidewalk, on the train, or in the corner store, we have to make the choice to walk across the street to a new front door and knock. It's simple, but we know sometimes it's not easy. But it's really worth it.