By: Teresa B. Duffy
I drove by a house with about 73 of these signs stuck in the front yard. I turned around and stopped, because I needed one of those signs in my yard, which is odd because I have never placed a sign on or in my yard.
Hold on, there was that one time I told the company who replaced our gutters that I’d display their sign in my yard. Up went the sign.
Other than that, my neighbors have no clue the political slant we take, where I donate time or money, or the messages signs tell you about the people who own the yard where the sign sits. They do know who replaced my gutters.
I donated $10 for this sign, which went to support an organization teaching refugees. I had an enriching conversation about the condition of our nation with the family hosting this small sign party and walked away feeling hopeful, until I got home.
Reality Sunk In
Driving through my neighborhood, I began to realize how many neighbors I’ve never actually talked with or invited over. Of the hundreds of homes in our suburban hood, I know five people. And it’s the level of “knowing” that results in waiving or chatting at the end of driveways. One person has actually joined me in a run around our neighborhood while we pushed our kids in jogging strollers. None of these neighbors have ever come over for coffee or lunch or dinner. We’ve never barbecued together or shared beers around our fire pit.
That’s all okay, I thought. I’ll still display the sign, and maybe it will start a conversation. Super passive, right? Ick. I carried the sign into my house.
I stood in the entryway and looked out onto my front lawn, then leaned the sign up against the wall. I jumped onto Facebook and read the “About” section of the group Welcome Your Neighbors, which is the group that began this hopeful signage. Here’s exactly what I read:
We choose to reach out to our neighbors and neighborhoods, welcome those who come from different backgrounds and places, and practice hospitality through the open doors of our communities.
I Don’t Live This
I love this. I don’t live this. And, here’s where it gets really hypocritical, the neighbors across the street from me are from Nepal. I know this because my other neighbor told me. I live in a city with refugees from 30 different countries, and my neighbors are first-generation-in-America neighbors. What am I doing!? I’m not doing anything, which I guess I thought was fine because we’re all doing great just living as neighbors who don’t really know anything about each other. That’s easy. That’s comfortable, but it’s not what this sign says, and I still can’t shake the thought that, I need to put it in my front yard.
This Sign Is A Sign
I needed that sign in my life to spark a conversation between my husband and I about how we want to be more intentional. About how we really want to practice hospitality. Practicing hospitality takes energy and planning and the ability to be okay with being rejected. In our case, it also takes being okay with language gaps and messing up social norms.
I love what Krista Tippet, the host of On Being, recently said during her interview with Eula Biss. Tippet and Biss where talking about the topic of whiteness in America. They were talking about how to live redemptively and reparatively, while acknowledging it is a messy journey, but a necessary journey. This is what I love; Tippet said, “We need also to allow ourselves to have inadequate conversations and not think that we have to begin by getting it right, or perfect, or complete.”
Yes! This. This is the start knowing our neighbors. Allowing ourselves to be inadequate, while praying there’s grace extended outwards for such social fumbles. If we can move past the thought that we need to be perfect before we begin being relational, we might get somewhere—together.
The sign is still in my entryway. I’ll let you know when it makes it into my yard, because that will be a sign that we’ve made it into the messiness of being neighbors. While allowing for inadequacy.