Confessions of a Good Neighbor Gone Bad

I became a bad neighbor today. I’m not proud of it.

There’s no “confessional” for neighborly sins, so to speak, so I’m just gonna confess to you all instead. Judge me or don’t, I just need to get it off my chest.

An ambulance has just pulled away from a house up the street from me. I stood at my kitchen window gawking almost from the time the first firetruck pulled up. I don’t know what happened to the individual. Frankly, I don’t even know the person who lives there. The house has been in rough shape for years. I’ve heard other neighbors say the person is a hoarder. ambulance

Here’s where my neighborly sin happened. Instead of standing at my window hoping and praying for the best, I gave into a thought that went something like this: “Hey, maybe they’ll have to give up the house to someone who will take better care of it.”

That thought played out in my head for a minute or two before the sickness of it dawned on me. The house?! I’m watching a neighbor get wheeled out on a gurney, unsure whether they are even alive, and I’m thinking about paint colors and landscaping?! I felt like I turned about as green as my kitchen walls. I have always wanted what was best for the neighborhood. I love seeing people rescue these adorable bungalows and bring new life to the street. Somewhere in my head, that was the justification for my terrible thought process. I just wanted to see the house improved for the good of the neighborhood, right?

One of the core ideals in Minne Lusa has always been, “If you want a better neighborhood, be a better neighbor.” Tonight, I perverted that into, “If you want a better neighborhood, hope for a better neighbor.” Wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG, WRONG!

Here’s where I went wrong. First, human life, especially that of a neighbor, should always be priority. I should have been concerned with the well-being of my neighbor, not their house. Second, I should know my neighbors. I’ve never so much as knocked on that door to say hello and tell them my name. Good neighbors are friendly and outgoing. Maybe that person wouldn’t have opened their door or wanted to hear my name. But I should have tried. Third, if I am concerned about the condition of the house, I have had plenty of Saturdays or Tuesdays or whatever to stop by and say, “Hey, I’m offering my time to the neighborhood today. Is there any work I can do for you as a neighbor? Gutters? Painting? Yardwork?”

“Be a better neighbor. Be a better neighbor. Be a better neighbor.” This keeps running through my head tonight. “But I have other commitments that take up my time!” “Be a better neighbor.” “But what if they think I’m a weirdo for offering?” “Be a better neighbor.” “But . . .but . . ” “BE A BETTER NEIGHBOR!”

If my confession can do anything for you, let it be this. Let it be a reminder to you that a neighborhood, this neighborhood, is made of people, not houses. Whether a house is pretty on the outside is less important than the neighbor living on the inside. Minne Lusa is a communitywonderful community. People love living here . . . because of the people. There are other neighborhoods in Omaha with bungalows. There are other old houses to buy. There is a whole network of boulevards surrounded by old homes with charm. What sets Minne Lusa apart from all of them is the PEOPLE. When those people become less important than the houses they live in, our community will start to fade and we will become no different from the beige plywood wonderlands of other communities where people tend to live rather isolated lives in their covenant-governed paint schemes.

Confessions mean nothing without a change in actions. So, with that in mind, I will be trying to connect with my neighbors throughout the summer. I will be introducing myself. Stopping for occasional chats on front porches. I’ll sacrifice an hour or two on a Saturday to do some raking or haul some trash. I want a better neighborhood, so I will be a better neighbor.

I hope you will, too!

PS. I’m feeling a little exposed and vulnerable after this confession. Help me feel better by letting me know your neighbor experiences in the comments. What have you done well? what would you do differently?


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2 thoughts on “Confessions of a Good Neighbor Gone Bad

  1. Sherry

    Don’t feel too bad because this happens more often than any of us would like to admit. I’ve got a situation next door to me that instead of complaining and staring at their trash littered yard, I’ve often thought about just going over and cleaning it up. But I haven’t. Why? Or perhaps the better question is Why Not? I can’t really answer it except I haven’t (nor has anyone else in my neighborhood and EVERYone complains about the mess next door to us). Doesn’t make it acceptable but it happens everywhere.

    Loved the How to Build Community – I’m going to print it and hang it on the cluster mailbox at the entrance of our subdivision…in rural Iowa!

  2. Sue

    Well first of all not that this is important — but there are more than bungalows in Minne Lusa. There are colonials, four squares, etc. Your column struck a real tender chord with me. Ten years ago my mother died in her home. She laid on the floor for four or five days before her body was found. No one noticed that her newspapers were piling up. Her mail was piling up. Trash barrels weren’t taken out and back. Her car didn’t move. A sibling who lives just a few blocks found her. But could have maybe gone past the house each day/night on the way to/from work. Thank you for the wake up call. Thank you for even taking notice when the rescue vehicles came. My mother’s neighbors even ignored the firetruck and rescue squad. It was very hard for me to come to terms with and I guess I still haven’t. I remember looking in on elderly neighbors and having a “code” where they turned their porch lights on at night when they went to bed and turned then off when they woke up. I had to call for a well check on a neighbor whose porch light was still on when I was leaving for work. When he didn’t come to the door, I made the call and sure enough he had passed in his sleep. We also made the effort to shovel these people’s walks, take trash barrels out and back and get groceries when weather was threatening. I now live many states away but still look after neighbors as best I can. Thank you again for the wake up call. We can all do better.

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