Bittersweet borders of friendship

For me, a major event of 2004 is happening right now, just a short distance away from my front porch. It's a routine occurrence in modern society that will probably have no effect on national or global events, but its impact on my everyday world will be tremendous.

One of my longtime neighbors is moving away.

For privacy considerations, I'll call her Ann. When I bought my house in 1991, she had already been occupying her place for several years. Since the day my family moved in, our relationship with Ann has been friendly and casual. It has never progressed to what behavior experts such as Dr. Phil would call "a deeper level." During the past 13 years, I think I've been inside her house three times. She could say the same thing about us.

Ann's lifestyle is generally low key and nonconfrontational. She has a good job in the healthcare industry, takes a long walk every morning, keeps her yard looking tidy, and is always willing to help when we go out of town and need someone to pick up the mail for a few days. She has never hosted a loud, unruly party. She doesn't put up Christmas displays. On Halloween, she turns out all the lights and goes to visit friends.

All of which is perfectly fine with me. As someone who takes the concept of celebrating diversity seriously, I don't have a philosophical litmus test for selecting friends. My formula for maintaining tranquility among neighbors starts with the notion of "live and let live" and adds a large serving of "mind your own business."

There were lawn signs at many houses along my street during the presidential race, but Ann didn't post one. From conversations we've had over the years, I'm certain we voted for different candidates. She's never made any attempt to instigate a discussion in that regard, which I have assumed to mean she doesn't care to have one.

One of the most unpleasant aspects of the campaign was the relentless emphasis by numerous pollsters and pundits that America is turning into a nation of citizens who can all be categorized as "red state" or "blue state" personalities with no middle ground. Ann and I are living proof it doesn't have to be that way, and I feel that there must be other neighbors like us around the country.

Ann has bought a condominium close to her job and will be gone very soon. I haven't asked what led to this decision. She said it was happening and I nodded. I'll miss the rhythm of her daily schedule, the early morning walks, and the lawn mowing on Saturdays during the summer.

I don't know who bought the house. Maybe they'll come over and say hello. But if they just wave at me from the driveway, that'll be fine too.

Jeffrey Shaffer is an author and essayist who writes about media, American culture, and personal history.

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