Fences and neighbors

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about fences and neighbors.

Earlier this week I got word that my next-door neighbor had been moved to hospice, and yesterday received word that she had died. 

Which made me think a lot about fences and neighbors.

I met her husband first. I’d come to look at the house that I was considering. It was in mid-flip, and as I was checking out the backyard he came over to introduce himself. As we talked he was excited to learn that I was a therapist because his wife was a social worker who also saw clients. although her primary work was as a teacher

That was my first introduction to Liz. 

I soon learned of her passion for her students and for her family, and that her family most especially included her dogs. Within months of moving into my house, I got my first dog, Oakley. At that time they had two golden retrievers, Ellie and Annie. As they were all meeting each other through the fence the dogs were barking excitedly, followed by our reprimands.

So if you were listening, you would have heard repeated over and over,

“Annie!”

“Oakley!”

I’ve been thinking about fences and neighbors this week as I wash dishes at the sink and look out over the corner of our yards, over the spot at the fence where our dogs have gathered. As years passed, and dogs passed with them, they got a new golden retriever puppy, Gracie. At that time I had the legendary dog, Ralphie (whom Liz called “the quirkiest dog ever.”) Gracie fell for Ralphie hard. There’s no other way to say this but to be blunt. Before her surgery, Gracie was a wanton hussy when Ralphie was around. It made me feel like Liz and I were almost in-laws.

I’ve been thinking about fences and neighbors this week because so much of our friendship was formed talking over the fence. We never went for coffee together or had dinner in each other’s homes, although we did bring food when the other was in need. Last fall when I was sick with double pneumonia, Liz texted me that she was going to the grocery store -- what could she get for me? I texted back a few items, including dog food. At first, I was puzzled by her response. “Do I have to go to Russia or can I just get Purina?” Then I saw that autocorrect had changed Purina dog food to Putin dog food

We never went out to dinner together. But when my collision with a Buick during a bike ride landed me in a wheelchair for a couple of months, they gladly took my dog in and welcomed her as family until I was able to bring her home.

Over fifteen years, nearly every conversation we shared was either as we stood in our respective driveways or as we stood on either side of our backyard fence. Most of our conversations took place over the din of barking dogs. And yet, out of such conversations came friendship, genuine friendship based on mutual caring and respect. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about fences and neighbors and friends this week. My friendship with Liz reminds me that friendship doesn't have to look just one way. Friendship grows through shared experiences, but it can also grow through driveway conversations. The well-worn ground on either side of the fence can be sacred ground as well.

In these days, give thanks for your own “over the fence” style conversations, in whatever shape they take. Pay attention to the gifts that don't come in expected packaging. Notice the people who bless your lives in such ordinary and extraordinary ways.

Give thanks for them, even as I give thanks for Liz, my friend and neighbor.

Over the fence.

 

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