My life has most recently started resembling the TV shows of my youth. In this scenario, I’m Steve Urkel from Family Matters, Kimmy from Full House, and Wilson from Home Improvement. It all began a little less than a year ago when a young married couple with three kids moved in next door.
Having lived in cities my whole life, I never really did the whole “‘welcome to the neighborhood, here’s a casserole” thing. My interactions with the new neighbors mostly consisted of me awkwardly making conversation as I fumbled for the keys at my front door. One day I spotted my neighbor on our way out of Mass and before I knew it, I did something completely out of character and said, “Hey, Kathleen, would you want to have coffee one of these mornings?” With a baby carrier nestled in the crook of her elbow, she smiled brightly and said, “How about next Sunday?”
When the following Sunday rolled around, I walked five steps to next door. It felt strange not getting in the car to drive to our little meetup. As I peered through the window of the front door, she waved and signaled me to come in.
As we sipped on coffee and nibbled on donuts, I quickly discovered that Kathleen is one of those people who skips the small talk and gets right to the good stuff — the type of person who’s not afraid to laugh from her belly and makes you feel at home just by being around her. As we leaned against the island in her kitchen, we chatted like longtime friends. When I eventually went home hours later, I thought about how rare it is to find someone who is so similar to myself. I couldn’t believe she lived right next door!
What initially began as coffee dates in her kitchen turned into late night conversations over tea sharing the trials and successes in our spiritual lives and relationships. But I knew our friendship was the real deal when I told her about how my dad stole our other neighbor’s dollhouse from the trash and we laughed so hard that we cried. I honestly don’t think there’s a more clarifying moment in a friendship than that silent, open-mouthed, red-in-the-face hysterical laughter you can’t control and aren’t ashamed of. Kathleen very quickly reached sister-status and her kids began calling me “Aunt Lilly.”
Another layer of this unexpected friendship is Kathleen’s equally cool husband, Mike. I never had an older brother in my life and just as Kathleen fills a sister role, Mike became the brother I never had. He took on the task of teaching me guitar and encourages me to not give up when I get down on myself and want to quit. He listens and gives me sage life advice when I storm onto their porch with my hands in the air, asking, “What should I do?!” In the past, I didn’t have many male figures in my life and I struggled with trusting men in general. Around guys, I’ve always modified my behavior to be interesting and cool enough, but when I’m hanging out with Mike, I’m just a kooky little sister — I’m good enough the way I am. That’s healing in more ways than I can even say.
My friendship with Kathleen and Mike is a constant consolation in my life. Their marriage and friendship with each other have been such a powerful example — they push me to think, “Hey, maybe marriage isn’t so scary” after years of harboring a secret fear and disdain for it. Not only that, but their relationship with their children has moved parts of my heart that were closed off to having kids of my own one day. Suddenly, I’m open to the two things that initially repulsed me, and it’s honestly because of the joy that this unexpected friendship with my neighbors has uncovered. Their joy has changed my perspective and challenged my fears. They’ve welcomed me into that joy and it’s healed me in so many ways.
In all of this, I can’t help but see a greater plan at work. People come into your life for a reason. Kathleen and Mike could’ve been anyone’s neighbor, but they became mine. The friendships we experience in life aren’t random, and some have more impact than others. There’s always a good to be gained and a lesson to be learned from the people we encounter.
One of the most beautiful things about friendship is that the joy we feel urges us to grow and change to become capable of more of it. It’s like sunshine for a plant — it’s nourishing.
My friendship with my neighbors is simple and easy: it’s laughing in the kitchen while drinking coffee, it’s playing music on the porch, it’s talking through open windows, it’s comfortable silences on the couch — it’s nothing but enjoying each other’s company. Yes, I’ve become the suburban equivalent of Joey Tribbiani and honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever knocked on their door to come inside. But whenever I walk the few steps it takes to get next door, I can’t help but smile in wonder at the strangers who became neighbors, who eventually became friends, and then finally became family.