Wednesday, January 27, 2010

365 Lessons-Lesson 27: Love Your Neighbor

I wrote this post last year sometime. Ariella no longer lives in my neighborhood, she moved. I'm sad about that. She changed how I view my neighborhood. While I love blogging, communicating with "live" people is very important, too. I like to walk through my neighborhood and chat with the neighbors if I see them outside. This is a picture of my mom and me in front of my lovely house in Seattle. One of my husband's yoga students and our neighbor and friend built our fence. Here's the story I wrote:
My neighbor, Ariella, is from Lopez Island, WA. Everyone on that island waves to everyone else as they pass by. Before Ariella moved to my Seattle neighborhood, I didn't know my neighbors at all. The only words I heard from the neighbors were, "Be careful of the crazy guy next door!" Shortly after we moved in, my husband went to a meditation course and left me alone in the house for 10-days. I was a little scared of the man next door who would stand in the middle of the street shouting obscenities. Cars would honk, but he wouldn't get out of the way. People in the neighborhood warned me to stand clear and that he was "dangerous." One evening I decided to listen to his ranting. He said, "I am Rocky!" I had to laugh a little. Then he said, "We need a new president!" (which I agreed with at the time). Still, I kept my distance at the advice of the neighbors.

After my husband returned from his meditation course, we'd often take walks through the neighborhood. One afternoon, as we were returning, the "crazy neighbor" was standing in the middle of the road swearing and shouting. I wasn't sure how we'd get around him. He shouted to my husband, "Hey, YOU, Yamamoto!" I'm not sure why he said "Yamamoto." My husband is Korean and Yamamoto is the name of a Japanese general. Seong Yoon, my husband, spoke softly and said, "My name is Yoon. I'm from Korea." The man continued to yell and curse. I was a little frightened. Suddenly, Seong Yoon walked over to the "crazy man" and gave him a big hug! The man became soft and said, "God bless you." He looked like he might cry. Seong Yoon asked, "What's your name?" and the man replied, "Kurt." As we were about to enter the door to our house, Kurt said again, "God bless you!"

Time passed and Kurt continued to yell from time to time. I wasn't so afraid anymore. Ariella moved to the neighborhood about a year or so after we did. She was intent on introducing herself. The neighborhood changed after she moved in. Being from Lopez Island, she was used to knowing all her neighbors. During the holidays, she'd knock on our door and bring homemade candy and sweets. Other neighbors started to knock on the door and do the same, it seemed they were following in her footsteps. Last year, Ariella decided to have a three day Winter Solstice party. It was something they frequently did on the islands. I wasn't sure I'd go, I had to think about it. The weekend of the party, a big snow storm hit. We couldn't go anywhere, so we decided to go to the party next door. I whipped up some haystack cookies and we bundled up and walked through the heavy snow to the neighbor's house. I felt, for a minute, like I was back in old times-like I was part of a Little House on the Prairie episode. I was trudging through the snow to the neighbors house to bring "tidings of joy." We knocked on the door and were greeted to a warm living room full of hot cider, cookies, chili, and other goodies. We took off our boots, hats, and scarves and settled in. We were surprised (but not too surprised) to find that the party consisted of mostly people in the neighborhood. No one could go anywhere due to the weather, so we were all together.

A few days ago, I decided to walk to Blockbusters and get a movie. I saw Ariella huddled on Karin's porch. Karin's father was in town for the Folk Life Festival in Seattle. They were all sitting outside eating a summer salad. They motioned me over and we chatted a bit about how fun that party was in the winter. Ariella's decided to have a three day Summer Solstice party this year. I'm looking forward to it!

During the Memorial Day holiday, I went out shopping. I came home to find Kurt's front lawn, which is usually knee high with grass and dandelions, all manicured. I came in the house and said, "Kurt mowed his lawn." Seong Yoon said, "Actually, I did." I was a bit baffled. Apparently, Kurt invited Seong Yoon inside for a drink. This is shocking because NO ONE, besides the police and family members, have been inside Kurt's house. He offered him a beer. Since Seong Yoon doesn't drink alcohol, he offered him a non-alcoholic beverage. He even filled the glass with ice and brought it out to the living room. I asked, still baffled, "What did you talk about?" Seong Yoon said, "You know, religion...politics." I had to laugh. It was just so hard to picture this scene. After their chat, as Seong Yoon was leaving, he said, "Kurt, you should mow your lawn." Kurt mentioned that he did not have a mower. With that, Seong Yoon came over and mowed the entire lawn. Now, when Kurt sees Seong Yoon, he doesn't shout obscenities or call him "Yamamoto." He says, "Hi, friend! How are you!" and he seems to always say, "God Bless You!"

When Seong Yoon first arrived in the USA, he noticed right away that people seemed to keep to themselves. Everyone seems to hide out in their houses, afraid to make contact with any of the unknown, possibly crazy, people in their neighborhood. Recently, things have changed. I'm not sure if it was Ariella's intent on getting to know everyone, or Seong Yoon's gentleness with a neighbor who most people feared, but I feel quite different now. I walk confidently through the neighborhood now and like to stop and talk to the neighbors if I see them outside. Even when Kurt goes on one of his rants, I'm able to say, "Hi, Kurt!" and he seems to settle down. It doesn't take too much effort to wave to your neighbors once in awhile, does it? Come on, people on Lopez Island do it all the time, why not right here in my own little neighborhood in Seattle, too?


  1. I never thought that I would be close to my neighbors since we live in NYC where everyone typically keeps to themselves, but I have become friends with many people in my building. It's been fun to hang out, do babysitting shares, and borrow a cup of sugar when needed. I also started a book swap between neighbors. It makes me feel as though we have a little community in this city of millions.

  2. One day my neighbor two houses behind us knocked on our door and invited me to a spa party that her daughter was throwing. I guess she was trying to sell beauty products. I decided to go to it because I wanted to see the inside of their house. It was a famous architect who designed and lived in it and it has a huge history in Olympia. So, off I went.

    Minutes later I was in their back yard surrounded by about 20 other neighbors and we were all shaving our legs! Now there's a way to get introduced to your female neighbors!!! Anyway, it was a great time and since then I have a funny memory to share with most of my female neighbors.

    A sense of neighborhood and community is always a good thing. Mr Rogers knew that!

  3. That's great Elyssa and quite amazing for NYC. It's great that you were motivated enough to make a book swap. I hope I can be a little more motivated. "Williams Family"-your shaving legs story with the new neighbors in the backyard for Spa Party had me laughing out loud. I haven't heard that one before!

  4. Kathy, I think I love your husband! This is such a great story about neighborhoods (Utopia?) but also about being a healing presence. I think that's what I'd like to be, more than anything else.

    And I'm thinking the healing goes both ways --- Kurt experiences some healing, as does the healer. This sounds like fodder for a book. Thanks!

  5. Thanks so much Jeanne. I think this will probably appear somewhere in my book. I also hope I am a healing presence. I know you are!

  6. Kathy, this is a beautiful post. It just goes to show how one person can make a difference and start of a chain of events. Also, that poor guy probably just needed some love (like we all do). I love your posts Kathy. You're brilliant - just like Jeanne above ^ xxx

  7. Hi Jacqui-Thanks so much! Yes, I do believe one person can make a difference and start a whole chain of positive events. I've seen it with my own eyes..I've seen it with you and the people in the blogosphere! I've seen it in my neighborhood! Yes, we all need love. You are also brilliant Jacqui.

    Much love to you, Kathy

  8. Great storytelling! I usually wouldn't stop to read a piece about a stranger's strange neighbor, but you got me. :)

    It's a bit difficult to imagine your neighborhood for a Filipino like me. We have a strong collectivist spirit so neighbors know one another very well here...sometimes too well. But I notice that this is changing gradually. Condo-living and gated communities don't lend itself to collectivism, it seems. I hope we retain it so we always be "neighborly" like Ariella and your husband and reach out to the Kurts in our neighborhood. :)

  9. This is a beautiful post, Katherine. May we all realize that we are all neighbors. We are all someone's child, mother, father, sister, brother, grandparent...and we should treat others as we wish others would treat our beloved people in our absence.