18 footsteps. That’s all it took. Laughter, friendship, support, salvation? What more is only 18 footsteps away?
When I moved to South Morang 15 months ago I saw the potential for living in an amazing community. We were situated in a new housing development estate and the longest serving resident had only been there for eight years. Thousands of houses had been built and there were still a few hundred on the plans. While we were only renting our townhouse we were dreaming of planting a new congregation in the area, so our future plans were to be here long term.
By the end of the first week I realised that I had not just naturally bumped into any of our neighbours. We were sharing a wall with two neighbours and yet we had not met them face-to-face. I was determined to get to know people however it was not going to be as casual as I had first thought. So, I plucked up all my courage and went door knocking! Let me just state, this is not my usual behaviour. I am generally very friendly to people I meet but I don’t like to push myself on anyone. However, I realised that I only had a very short period of time where I could use the ‘I’ve just moved into the area’ line. So I went with all the courage I could muster and a friendly smile plastered all over my face.
I met Donna first. She lived next door with her husband and three children. She was incredibly chatty but had only just moved in to the neighbourhood herself. They had sold their house that was closer to the city and had moved further out to find a bigger place. Open and chatty was a good start and so, with my renewed confidence, I moved on to the next house. Dee was only a little younger than me. She and her partner had bought the corner townhouse and were planning to marry at the end of the year. She invited me in and we chatted for quite a while. ‘This could be the start of a beautiful friendship,’ I thought as I waved her goodbye. The neighbours on our other side were not home so I thought I would retire for the day as two out of three aint bad! Now that I had just met my new future best friend and a lovely motherly neighbour, I was quite content. Little did I know that in the next 12 months I would only see my ‘new future best friend’ twice and that was as she drove past me in the car!
It took me another week to find our neighbours on the other side at home and introduce myself. Ben and Amanda were a couple, about the same age as my husband and I, and were planning on buying in the area sometime after their wedding which was scheduled at the end of the year. They had not met anyone else in the neighbourhood but were quite friendly.
Well, three neighbours in the first two weeks. That wasn’t bad, however soon enough two weeks turned in to two months and I realised I had not had or made the opportunity to meet anyone else. Not just that, but I hadn’t even had the opportunity to pump into the neighbours I had already met. This called for drastic measures. So we worked out a date when we were free and decided that we would invite Ben and Amanda over for tea. This was a big step and yet I knew that Cam could make conversation with a wooden post if he needed to and it wasn’t far to run home for them if things went terribly wrong!
With great relief to me, they accepted my dinner invitation and it was all set for a couple of weeks time. On the night I was busy in the kitchen and so Cam answered the door when they arrived. They were already chatting when they came into the kitchen and so the night had been kicked off well. It was a great evening with lots of conversation and laughter and they were really easy to get along with. Just before they walked out the door five hours later they said they needed to confess something. Before they had arrived on our doorstep that evening they had no idea that there was a male who lived in the house. They had met our foster daughter and me and yet had never seen Cam. I could have been a single mum for all they knew! We laughed and made a few jokes about it but I was not able to shake off the realization that came to me in that moment: Our houses share the same side wall and yet after three months of living side-by-side they had never even seen Cam before. How many more people live like this?
Our new estate was filled with many houses and yet there was so little community. People didn’t know their neighbours let alone people who lived across the road. I thought that maybe it was just because we were all so new to the area, however one year later I woke up to myself and realised that I had not met anyone else in our surrounding streets. So, I decided to host a BBQ for the two streets that we are connected to. I dropped off a little invitation in everyone’s letterbox, realising that I was just some nutty neighbour to most of them, but was willing to wear that label if it brought some more people together.
It was at that BBQ, hosted 13 months after we had moved in to the area, that we met Lisa and Gerard. They and their two beautiful daughters were a barrel of laughs. We connected with them instantly and enjoyed their company straight away. By the end of the night we had connected many similarities, one being our joint love of Indian food. So they said we should go out to the new Indian restaurant down the road some time soon. For once I was not the stalker neighbour arranging get togethers but had received an invitation of my very own!
Over the last few months a great friendship has developed. We instantly became Facebook friends, we did go out for that Indian meal as well as a few others, we’ve helped out when things have got tough, and Lisa is even doing a piece of artwork for our church gatherings.
The whole time we have been here they have lived just on the other side of our lane. In fact, from our garage to their garage it is only 18 footsteps. We almost feel disappointed that we have been living 18 footsteps away from these people who we connect with so well and yet it took us 13 months to meet! I’m so glad that I persisted in being a stalker neighbour so that we could meet this wonderful family. But it did make me think: how many of us live only 18 footsteps away from connecting with someone special. We close ourselves off in our own little worlds that we hardly know the people we live next to, work with or workout beside at the gym. There are so many opportunities that we are passing up because we are not willing to take 18 footsteps.
Who knows what will come of our future friendship with our newly found neighbours but I’m just so relieved that we finally opened the door and took those 18 footsteps.
This article was written by Linda Bailey
Linda started theological studies in 1999 in Australia. After working for ten years in various church ministries, she now works as the breakfast producer at 89.9 LightFM - the Christian radio station in Melbourne, Australia. She writes blogs every day about passages she is currently reading in the Bible. Follow her on Google Plus +Linda Bailey or Facebook by clicking the like button on the right of this page.