The road to encounter
I love restaurants that have little playgrounds in the back – somewhere for my kids to let out their energy! We were at one such restaurant recently, and our boys were having a blast in the tiny little playground stuffed with more tiny little bodies than probably permitted by the fire code. At one point, one of my twins ran up to me excitedly – “Mom, there are so many kids back there, but I don’t know their names.” Laughing, I said “Well, honey, why don’t you go ask them?” He looked at me for a second processing the idea, and then ran back to the play area and up to the first kid he saw “What’s your name?” Then, he ran back to tell me what he had found out. He repeated this process back and forth until he had learned the names of everyone there. “But honey,” I remarked, “Did you tell them your name?” Eagerly, he ran off to announce his name proudly to each person he had met.
My husband and I were remarking to someone lately that we do not know where the twins get their extroverted personalities. We both happen to be fairly introverted, afterall. For example, it does not come naturally to me to wave, smile, or greet a random stranger in my path. I would never, as a child or as an adult, be able to freely run up to a small crowd on a play area and ask everyone their name. The twins, on the other hand, love nothing more. They are truly overjoyed and excited when they encounter someone new and can’t wait to share that excitement with others. This kindness and joy in encountering others is something that I have so treasured, and perhaps envied, in others during my life. To me, it is the first step to becoming a person for and with others… the step where you stop, look someone in the eye, and say hello.
One of the first people I encountered in my adult life who had this natural ability to connect with others was my former neighbor Amy. I had just moved to my first solo apartment in Dallas, and I knew no one around me. I had great thoughts about going out and meeting the people that lived near me… but stepping out the door and actually doing so required a lot out of this introverted soul. So, I kept imagining how I would meet my neighbors and kept delaying actually doing so. Then, one day, I was going out for a run, and across the courtyard from me was a woman about my age putting a banner up to dry on the railing outside her door. “Hi! Are you new here?” she said to me. “Who me? Yes, I moved in last week.” She went onto introduce herself and told me she liked to run as well. “Next time you run,” she said, “Knock on my door and I will join you.” A few days later, nervously, I knocked on her door and reminded her of her friendly offer. She said “sure! I’d love to!” and we began to run together on a regular basis. Amy was not just good at reaching out to me, however. She reached out to the whole community in our little apartment complex. One day, she invited me to go with her door to door and distribute a flier inviting people to a gathering of neighbors in the courtyard. With ease, she engaged in conversations with everyone from the young 20-something businessmen to the older ladies and gentleman who lived quietly on the far side of the complex. No one encounter seemed to phase her as she greeted one person after another.
As someone relatively new to Dallas and still searching for her community, Amy reached out to me and invited me into hers. For every party she had at her place or even ones with members of her active church community, she made sure to extend to me an invitation if she could. And I noticed at these gatherings, she was always incredibly good at making sure everyone seemed heard and seen. Foundational to Amy’s generosity lay a strong faith in God that all would be just as God intended it to be… and everyone deserve to be encountered. Even today, when we are separated by 1000s of miles, I can reach out to Amy and still see that faith-filled, generous person continuing to make others feel right at home.
I glimpse this possibility in my sons and I hope that I can foster in them this joy they have for others. In addition, I hope a little of it can rub off on this introvert as well!
“We become neighbors when we are willing to cross the road for one another. (…) There is a lot of road crossing to do. We are all very busy in our own circles. We have our own people to go to and our own affairs to take care of. But if we could cross the road once in a while and pay attention to what is happening on the other side, we might indeed become neighbors.”― Henri J.M. Nouwen, Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith
May we all be inspired to reach across courtyards and cross roads to encounter our neighbors today.