The Courage to Say Hello

Read this reflective narrative about why you need to meet your neighbor.

Despite having lived in the same neighborhood for years, Chuck had few interactions with his neighbors. When a family moved in across the street from him, that all changed. What started as curiosity about the new family turned into a friendship that has impacted Chuck in a big way — here’s his story about meeting Nick.

You know that moment in flight, that fast final descent, when all the tiny houses and cul-de-sacs become more prominent, and you can see actual people in their backyards? You’re flying over so many rooftops and underneath those rooftops are unique, one-of-a-kind stories. I’ve lived in my house in my quiet, blue-collar neighborhood for almost ten years. I’ve never knocked on a door or attended a neighborhood barbecue. I don’t know anyone’s stories. I only know Instagram Stories.

That is until I met my new neighbor, Nick.

Nick and his family moved into the large two-story brick house across the street from me about a year ago. There are two enormous pine trees in their front yard. Winters are great because they look like frosted Christmas trees. The house has sat empty for almost nine years — until Nick’s family showed up. Mom, dad, son, and daughter. I thought about walking over to introduce myself, but as all too often happens, just never got around to it.

Then one day, I heard a loud howling coming from across the street. It was out of the ordinary. I quickly lifted my blinds to see if everything was okay, and there was the older brother, wearing large, red noise-canceling headphones, long basketball shorts, and an oversized football jersey, standing out in front of the brick two-story house howling and singing at the top of his lungs. It lasted all afternoon. It soon became clear that this was a routine. Every day Nick serenades the entire neighborhood — and I love it.

In the morning, when I hear the boisterous hoots and hollers, I smile, knowing it will be a good day. I watch his parents do yard work, Nick lying on the front porch playing with his iPad — hands and arms are moving excitedly at times. “I wonder what he’s watching? I bet it’s awesome whatever it is.” One time, I looked out the window to see a police car outside Nick’s house. They were putting on a show for him, turning on all the lights. Nick was wearing his red headphones, gazing at the car, head tilted. I know he was excited because of the way he was holding and coiling his hands. I was so moved at this moment and Nick’s wonder and excitement, I found myself crying.

Why was I so drawn to Nick? Two reasons, I think. First, Nick is an adult but still has many child-like qualities, and so do I. My He-Man collection is massive. Ask anyone. I fiercely hang on to nostalgia and all those childhood, Levar Burton, Reading Rainbow feelings — I want them back.

The second reason: Nick is unabashedly, unapologetically himself.

Working in video production, I try to be friendly, outgoing, talkative, and inquisitive. But recently, I was told I was “a lot,” and I can’t seem to shake it. It makes me doubt and second-guess every sentence that comes out of my mouth in public. I am terrified of being myself. So when I see someone genuinely being themselves, it makes me happy and even a little jealous, because I struggle to be authentic.

Eventually, I built up the nerve to walk over and introduce myself. I wanted to know Nick’s story and his family’s story. I felt that there was a lot to learn from him, so I devised a script to recite to his mom and dad. “Hi, my name is Chuck. I live across the street. Here is my card. I make movies, and I’d like to make one about your son.” Nick’s mom and sister were tickled by the idea.

Cut to a few days later, Nick’s mom and sister rang my doorbell. “He’s being talkative and really funny right now. You should come over.” Even though it was a Saturday, and I was busy with another project, and my camera battery was dead, this was a bit of a breakthrough, so I couldn’t pass this moment up.

Sure enough, Nick was in a giant inflatable above-ground pool in the backyard. He was singing, making spitting sounds, and just being silly. His dad stopped doing yard work and came to hang out. We watched Nick in the pool, and I asked tons of questions. His parents were eager and excited to answer.

It turns out Nick is 22 years old and runs in the Special Olympics — and he’s fast. I also learned that he’s adopted and is originally from Bacau, Romania. Nick loves talking about his Christmas list. “Momma, gummy bears for Christmas? Slinky dog for Christmas? Football jersey for Christmas? Momma, sharp cheddar cheese for Christmas.” He’s all about the details.

Later, Nick’s mom asked if I’d like to see inside the house. I excitedly took her up on the opportunity — partly because the house had been an enigma for the last ten years, but also because I was moved by her hospitality. I had been living in this neighborhood for years, and I’d never opened my door to another neighbor. Nick’s family had been living here for a year, and already, without a second thought, they welcomed me into their home.

Afterwards, as I walked back across the street to my house, I started thinking about how I could return the favor. Maybe a bonfire? Or I could show Nick my tripped-out basement and He-Man collection? I bet he’d like that. I surprised myself by realizing, I would too.

Now, every time I see or hear Nick singing outside, I make a beeline to him. I walk across the street and talk to him. This is new for both of us. We review his Christmas list ad nauseam and give each other high fives. The best part is, when we are sitting on the curb talking, I feel like I am being myself, and he is not judging me, and that feels nice.

Nick and his family have taught me the power of welcoming others and accepting them exactly as they are. I’m thankful I found the courage to walk over and introduce myself to Nick’s family. I gained new friends who I can be myself in front of, and that feels good. They were so welcoming, earnest, and truly fascinating. And who knows, maybe they think the same thing about me.

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