How do you find new neighbors?

It was a strange coincidence that our last day at our home church  was September 25, 2003–“Friendship Day.”  As our church celebrated reaching out to their neighbors and shared a salmon barbecue with the community, we were saying goodbye.   The past six weeks had happened so fast we hadn’t even gotten to tell our pastor until that day that we were leaving the community we had spent 26 years in and moving to Seattle that week with our two college-aged kids.  It was a good day to celebrate the friendships we’d enjoyed, and to say goodbye to people we loved.  It was good but it sure wasn’t easy. 

Our whole family was in a time of transition at that point: our son graduated high school in June, our oldest daughter got married in August, the house we had built from scratch and raised the kids in sold, our son and middle daughter were going to start college and needed somewhere to live…and it goes on.  It was like the pot was getting stirred but I didn’t always feel in control of the spoon.  Sometimes I felt more like a little mouse tossed in the toilet after the handle had been pulled to flush it.  My husband had lived in different places, but moving was a new experience for me and for the kids. 

What bothered me most about moving was leaving my church.  These people had been my neighbors.  Kai Erikson in “Communal Trauma: Loss of Communality” defines a neighbor as “… someone you can relate to without pretense, a familiar and reliable part of your everyday environment; a neighbor is someone you treat as if he or she were a member of your immediate family” .  I had raised kids with these neighbors.  We’d helped each other build houses, shared weddings and births, made music together, home schooled kids together, and experienced life together in major ways.  It was disorienting.  I didn’t know who my “neighbors” (in the communal sense), were going to be now, what my connections and point of reference were supposed to be.  I wasn’t even sure how I was going to find out. 

Speaking about the loss of community experienced due to a disaster, Erikson states, “… within so tightly knit a community…where most residents spent their entire lives without ever leaving, the sense of self was so closely tied to a sense of belonging to the community as a whole that loss of community meant loss of personal identity.  The closeness of communal ties is experienced…as a part of the natural order of things, and residents can no more describe that presence than fish are aware of the water they swim in.  It is just there, the envelope in which they live, and it is taken entirely for granted”.  She goes on to add “…those neighborhoods were like the air people breathed—sometimes harsh, sometimes chilly, but always just a basic fact of life”.  The residents in Erikson’s essay had lost their community due to a disaster.  I was being transplanted for happy reasons, but the sense of loss and lostness was similar. 

I was leaving neighbors to whom I was that kind of close to.  The closeness I’m talking about didn’t come from all being Republicans (we weren’t—although the media would probably assume otherwise), or having the same income level, identical theology or similar family backgrounds.  The church included folks with a variety of marital statuses, drug addicts and alcoholics in various stages of recovery, pastor’s kids, business owners and the unemployed.  Some were on public assistance and some were wealthy.  There were folks counting the days to retirement and stuffing their 401ks and folks just trying to figure out how to survive if they lived long enough to get old.  Some wrestled quietly with secrets they did not yet feel safe to share.  There were a lot of kids.  Closeness and a sense of community came from sharing values bigger than our own lives, and when there was conflict, unity (in spite of diversity) was maintained, by choosing to “treat other people the way you would want to be treated.”   

Starting over gives you a chance to reevaluate what you’re looking for, to see with new eyes, to write a new script for how you want things to go.  Seattle was definitely not Whidbey Island—the choices seemed endless. 

 We tried several churches the first few weeks we were here, but weren’t really sure how we fit.  One Sunday morning, I did a web search and found Quest, a fairly new church in Ballard, which is where we work.  The web site gave a glimpse of a church where justice and compassion were part of the foundation, not an afterthought.  For the past few years, we’ve been involved with World Aid, a non-profit group based here in Ballard that sends medical and humanitarian relief supplies to folks in Burma.  Our hearts are strongly pulled towards doing justice in practical, hands on ways.  We figured it was worth checking out. 

Like Andrea Lowenstein wrote, “For me, as for most people in modern society, the question of identity is a complex one.  Some of my identities are old, others are new or in transition”.  Although some of the roles in my life were the same as many of the women at Quest, (wife, mother, daughter, sibling, Christian,citizen, musician, poet, songwriter, employee), other roles were a significant contrast.  Quest  was composed of an ethnically diverse group of mostly single (70%+), college educated people under age 35, who were in good shape.  I’m over 45, uneducated by comparison, slightly round, a mother of three grown children, and have been married to the same wonderful man for 26+ years. 

Still, in spite of the differences, it seems like our place in life is similar to many others in the congregation.  We’re trying to figure out what’s next for this stage of our lives, to find ways to use the skills and gifts we’ve been given to do justice and compassion in a world that has needs wherever you look.  In their reading of the story of the Good Samaritan in the Bible (Luke 10:30-37), the vision at Quest seems to be to become the ones who pick up the guy off the street instead of walking by on the other side, who offer acceptance, love and a listening ear, and meet practical needs both here in our city and in other places. Even though we are in many ways different than the majority there, the principles we form our life around are the same.  Quest seems like a good place to find new neighbors.

(wrote this for an English class in 2005-reflecting on it again as we approach our 5th year anniversary of being in Seattle….)


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