When we moved into our home in Grand Prairie, Texas, 36 years ago, we fell in love with our neighborhood. Not only was it a quiet, shady street that calmed the soul after a hard day’s work, it was populated with friendly neighbors who welcomed us with open arms.
We hadn’t been there long before we got to know our immediate next-door neighbors. Jim, a Dallas police officer who lived on the property to the south, relished waxing eloquent during our lengthy neighbor-to-neighbor conversations under the shady elms between our driveway. He was outdoors often, smoking and usually nursing a Bud Light and laughing about dogs and kids and the constant demands of a house and yard. A large, empty wooded lot stood between our house and the northern neighbor, Madeleine, and we saw her often before we actually met. A teacher, she was home all summer, and she loved to mow and garden, usually in shorts or other hot-summer-appropriate attire, much to the delight of the men in the neighborhood. She was a blonde beauty. Madeleine had two large dogs that she walked every day – that’s how we met, when she invited me along for her daily walk. I don’t know how many mornings we navigated the gentle hills in our neighborhood, Madeleine with her dogs, and me with my youngest in his stroller. We frequently stopped by my house afterward for a game of Trivial Pursuit and a refreshing glass of iced tea. Our other neighbors were friendly too. We enjoyed parties, and get-togethers, and just standing around chewing the fat. Our very first October in the house, the resident neighbor/organizer, Barbara, suggested a neighborhood Halloween party with games and treats, so we all banded together to provide lighting and build “booths,” and we amassed mountains of candy and prizes. The party took place in our large front yard, and kids and parents came from blocks away to participate in the festivities.
It was a sad day for us when Jim and Madeleine each sold their houses and moved away. Unfortunately, a few neighbors are not neighborly, and the neighbors who moved into their places apparently developed a dislike for us right away because, having no fence, we allowed our dogs outside unleashed, and, no respecters of boundaries, they encroached on the neighbors’ properties. Our territorial hound, Bill, even bit our northern neighbor’s small dog (also unleashed) when it approached our granddaughters who were playing in the empty lot. In fact, the only time she has ever come to our door was to scream at us and cry about that heinous offense. (I had taken them a plate of cookies in welcome when they moved in, but it was clear from her response, she wasn’t interested in a relationship.) Likewise, when my husband reached out to shake our new southern neighbor’s hand in greeting, he responded with a request to keep our dogs, and later on our autistic grandson, off his property. Nobody had minded before when our mutual dogs and kids had roamed our conjoined properties and the creek that ran behind them, but we understood our new neighbors’ desire and right to protect their property. So, we built a fence to corral the dogs. In the many years since, we have all pretty much kept to ourselves – a trend that seems to have taken over in a country now more inclined to stay inside in the air conditioning. The neighborhood kids who once roamed around together unfettered all day long, stopping here and there for a quick game of baseball or soccer, have all grown up and moved on, and the kids who have replaced them seem to prefer remaining indoors playing video games.
Times have definitely changed. Jim died of cancer many years ago, and Madeleine moved across the country, though we still communicate by Facebook, and she never fails to send cards on birthdays and anniversaries. But here’s the main point of my story. I had NO IDEA whether Jim or Madeleine identified as conservatives or liberals. Odds were they were conservatives. This is Texas, after all. But the shenanigans going on in Washington D.C. simply didn’t dominate our conversations. We were more concerned about the grass growing too fast to keep up with, the plumbing backing up, the kids having trouble in school. The economy, healthcare, education…our discussions broke these topics down more personally into how these issues affected us – the price of gas, the doctor’s most recent diagnosis, our kids’ teachers. And our conversations, even if we disagreed, were friendly and civil. I have since learned through Facebook that Madeleine’s political convictions are opposite mine. But I would never call Madeleine a Rethuglican, nor would she call me a Libtard, and those terms certainly didn't exist back then. Though we all voted in those years, we didn’t care about each other’s political affiliations. We cared about each other.
But this was before social media, Fox News, and CNN. It’s a lot easier to insult someone with words emanating from a keyboard than with words coming out of your mouth, face-to-face. So, now the invectives fly with abandon and the “friendships” disappear. Never have I seen such hatred spewed so liberally (no pun intended) among us - Americans who are supposed to be unified in our desire to keep our nation strong and intact. Of course, our polarization delights our enemies, as evidenced by Russia’s tampering with our last election. We’re playing right into their hands.
It’s no secret I dislike our current President – one of the main reasons being his insistence on fueling the fires of discontent with his tweets and rally rants. To my mind, it is his job, and any leader’s job, to unify the nation – not to talk about the opposite party in sweeping generalizations as if they are Neanderthals. But he is President, and I fortunately can take advantage of the opportunity to vote for his opponent. One thing will not change, though, regardless of the election results. Madeleine and I will still be the same friends we became 36 years ago.
Today, while navigating the political rants on Facebook, I was drawn to a post reminding me of Jesus’s instructions in the book of Matthew:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.’ Matthew 5:43-45 English Standard Version (ESV)
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12 English Standard Version (ESV)
These verses made me think about Jim, Madeleine, and all my friends and family whom I have loved and still care about, unconditionally. Their political leanings influence my regard for them not one whit. Maybe we should all identify as neighbors instead of conservatives or liberals. Maybe we should all go outside and get to know our neighbors instead of watching cable news or scrolling through Facebook.
Unquestionably, the world would be a better place if we did.
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