Letting Your Neighbors Into Your Life

W

hen we moved to Westchester
in 1998, the three acres surrounding our new home felt like a delicious buffer zone, a suburban moat that would keep both neighbors and marauders at bay. 

We had just moved from an apartment in Manhattan where we measured distances in feet: 750 square feet of living space. Four feet across to 10A. Twelve feet to 10C. In Waccabuc, we were now talking acreage—we’d never again see our neighbors’ damp umbrellas in the hallway. Heck, we’d probably never even see our neighbors.

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The common wisdom among apartment dwellers is that neighborly interaction beyond “good morning” is perilous. You share walls, literally, but you put up walls, metaphorically. New Yorkers are litigious, annoyed, and sure that you’re doing things the “wrong” way. Moving meant we’d no longer have to shush our crying baby. We could walk across the wood floors in our shoes! In other words: No more neighbors.

Just a few hours into unpacking, though, there was a knock at our new door. I opened it to a khaki-clad dad and a 4-year-old boy on a tiny bicycle. They lived up the hill and came to welcome us. Not only that, they invited us to their New Year’s Eve party. Hmmm. Hobnobbing with the neighbors countered everything we’d gleaned from 10 years in Manhattan, but we went anyway. And through the years, we’ve gone and gone again—to pumpkin-carving parties, bar mitzvahs, Sweet 16s and 50th birthdays, to wakes and funerals. I’ve consoled my neighbors through loss and illness. And they’ve done the same for me.

At some point over the years, our neighbors became our friends. When you live so close (yet just far enough away), you become like family. And like family, you know that unless you’re ready to move out, you’d better make it work.

Fifteen years later, that dad who knocked on our door is still khaki-clad, and our daughters are best friends. That 4-year-old on the tiny bicycle is now a freshman at the University of Michigan. I often think about how isolated, how sadly quiet life would have been here if we didn’t have the kind of neighbors who come knocking.

We moved here to gain distance. But despite the acreage, we’ve never been closer to the people who surround us. We’ve come a long way from Manhattan, and from wanting to see nothing more of our neighbors than the occasional damp umbrella in the hallway. If we did ever move again, I know I would miss our neighbors—no, make that friends—and the life they’ve helped us create in Westchester.

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