They seem insignificant, almost wispy, moments. Spun together in our memories, though, they're like silk filaments becoming a skein, then a scarf, then a gift. A misdelivered letter, a plate of cookies, the lawnmower episode, and kids being kids - those, and other strands woven together by the ordering Principle, linked neighbors across an awkward silence.
We lived on a corner with just one nearby neighbor, a family in a small white Cape-style home. One by one the family's three children married and moved away. We, too, felt a little like empty nesters, especially when the for-sale sign went up in their yard.
One day Larry stopped by to tell us he'd sold the house to a family from Hong Kong. Our city was becoming a gateway for Asian immigrants, and the change wasn't being universally welcomed. There were confrontations at the high school, and comments about the newcomers from people whose parents had been immigrants.
We yearned for a wider belonging, to help mend the fabric. So in the asking and listening that is as needful as breathing, we looked for the Maker's own design for the neighborhood, for our relationships.
When the Chans moved in, the little white house became their cocoon. Was it our reticence? Or respect? Anyway, we waited for a connection to develop, but as the days went by it only seemed harder to take a step toward welcome.
Then our mail carrier delivered the first linking strand. Among our bills and catalogs was a letter addressed to Peggy Chan. We knocked on their door, waited, and knocked again. The door opened a crack and two kids peered up at us, the smiling unknowns. Gradually the cocoon began to unravel, and a chrysalis to grow. We fed it with a plate of cookies.
Chinese New Year rolled around and the two middle schoolers, Paul and Sandy, came over with a thank-you plate of peanut pastries. We learned that the van in their driveway belonged to the Chinese restaurant where Mr. Chan worked. He spoke very little English, and the fifth Chan, his mother, spoke only Chinese. We went for a nodding acquaintance - we nodded as we weeded and Grandma nodded back from her bok choy patch.
Connecting with Mr. Chan took longer but came suddenly the day we looked out a window to see him assembling a new lawnmower, no doubt his first, and watched as he poured a quart of oil into the gas tank. All it took was knowing a good repair shop and offering to take the mower in and do the explaining. A handshake was thanks enough. But the next day Peggy came over to ask us to be their guests at the restaurant for one of those meals that fills a fridge shelf with take-out containers, and fills a void.
Other threads were added to the skein before we moved away. The one we remember best is a scene in the bright heat of summer: two young friends of ours from Johannesburg - kids who had grown up connecting unfenced space to the fear of crime - dancing through our lawn sprinkler with Paul and Sandy. Their four-part laughter was one of those gifts that can't be bought.
Each new connection we make discloses some before-unseen details in God's great fiber artwork called neighborhood, called creation, and something new about the One who weaves.
The beautiful in character
is also the good,
the links of affection....
One marvels that a
friend can ever seem
less than beautiful.
Mary Baker Eddy
(Founder of Christian Science)