Won’t You Be My Neighbor?


(My beloved hill in autumn. By the way, that satellite dish was there when we came, but we never activated it.  Who needed television in a place like this?)

In my last post, I alluded to neighbors who seemed to find us odd because we were so frequently outside wandering about, open-mouthed with awe.  When we first moved to the mountains five years ago from the flatlands of Raleigh, we woke up every morning and looked out the window and were amazed anew and so grateful to be able to gaze out at green hills and blue ridges and endless sky.  We were like babies seeing the world for the first time.  And, having been through a great deal of hardship, we found comfort  and rest in those ancient hills. 

There was a hill rising up next to the house we used to live in, and I loved to run up to the top where you could see not only mountains stretching out to forever, but the whole bowl of the sky.  I felt like Maria in the Sound of Music but, being shy, I neither sang nor twirled around as I ran, though I sort of did in my heart.  But every day, I climbed that hill and stood at the top and looked up at the expanse of the heavens—the always changing face of the firmament. 

And almost every day, I’d see our closest neighbor driving by in her SUV, and I’d wave.  She not only never waved back, but she’d stare at me, sort of the way you’d stare at a freak show at the circus.  I wish I could say I didn’t care and to heck with her, but I did care.  We had just moved to the area and were eager to meet our neighbors and make new friends.  And the people from whom we bought the house had told us how friendly these neighbors were. So the rejection seemed personal.

The funny thing is, we never did meet them in the three years they lived next door to us.  Lord knows we tried.  The four of us took frequent walks that took us past their house.  When we’d see them out, we’d holler hello and sort of pause in the way you do when you think someone might actually walk the twenty steps toward you and greet their new neighbors.  But they’d usually go back inside or else their golden retrievers would run towards us barking and snarling.  First time I’d ever seen unfriendly golden retrievers. 

But, anyway, I did what I often do when confronted with something painful—I wrote a poem about it.  I’ve hesitated to put it up here because I thought you might find it mean.  But, really, I think it expresses perfectly what I felt at the rejection—sometimes a bewildered hurt and sometimes an acerbic bitterness.  Poems have a way of wrenching the truth from you, I think.  And writing the poem was cleansing and helped me to release my hurt and bitterness.

So here it is.  If you find it too sour or unkind, forgive me.  I’m human. At least, it’s honest.  And if you just plain don’t like it, well…forgive me, too. 🙂

And, by the way, our new neighbors where we live now may find us odd, too.  (Because, after all, I suppose we really are—at least in the eyes of the world).  But they don’t seem to hold it against us.  They not only talk to us, they wave.   And they don’t look at us like a side show at the traveling carnival.  

I really appreciate that.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

We have come to these mountains
From the flatlands,
Pilgrims seeking higher ground,
Seeking refuge from
Our valley of shadow and death.

It is more beautiful
Than our imaginings.
The ancient hills enfold us,
Absorbing our grief.
We are cupped in God’s hands.

I am a tight fist,
Slowly unfolding,
Brought to tears
By the way the sun
Gilds the edges of the clouds.

So we ask forgiveness
From you, our new neighbor,
If we still gawk like tourists,
If we look like babies
Seeing the world for the first time.

I saw you staring from your SUV,
As you drove past me in the field,
Walking with my face skyward, mouth agape.
I waved, you just stared,
Your face wrinkled in…puzzlement? Disgust? 

You seem to find us odd.
But is it strange
To be looking heavenward
In this place where
God seems so near?

Or is it stranger still
That I’ve never seen your feet
Touch the ground.
You, your cell phone, your SUV
Seem inseparable.

Can’t we just see ourselves
As fellow pilgrims–
Supplicants taking
Different paths
On our spiritual journey?

Me, looking upward,
Seeking benediction.
And you, on your cell phone,
Waiting on
A call from God.


21 Responses to “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

  1. Sara Says:

    Wow. That is a powerful poem, full of feeling. I love the last line. Touche.

  2. Judy Says:

    I love your poem, too, and your field is truly beautiful. I can see why you are always walking there and looking at the wildflowers and wildlife.
    My neighbor to the left of me has never said a word to me and runs inside when he sees me. I have been here 4 years and I walk a lot, too.
    He lives there alone, except for another man once in a while that may be a brother because they look so much alike. I thought it was just me but another neighbor told me he acts that way with everyone. I saw a woman there one time in 4 years. I was working in my flower bed and someone behind me at his fence asked me what I was planting. I thought I was hearing things and almost ran inside myself!!! She was very friendly but I have never seen her again and I did not ask any questions. We just chatted about weather and such and she went inside.
    Guess it takes all kinds but how much effort does it take to be friendly to someone…..

  3. wesleyjeanne Says:

    I love this poem–especially the last two stanzas. Such wonderful imagery.

    Do you have a hill to climb like that where you live now? Your view from your porch is probably enough, but I so like the image of you as Maria.

    Lovely post, as always.

    Oddly, our most hateful neighbor has lately turned out to be the best one. Not my kind of person, still, but a good neighbor. And I still haven’t ever spoken face-to-face with the schoolteacher and her husband, who were the only neighbors when we moved in (2 1/2 years ago). Go figure.

  4. wesleyjeanne Says:

    By the way, I also love love love the first three stanzas.

    You have such a lovely way with words.

  5. Benjamin Says:

    Agreed…I especially like the choice of ending phrases. We all seek benediction; just in different places. “Waiting on a call from God” is a very interesting phrase. It can have different connotations–from bewilderment to pride (which, sometimes, can be the source of said bewilderment!).

  6. Peggy Says:

    That is a beautiful poem. Thanks for sharing it.

  7. chris Says:

    I really enjoy your posts and this one is wonderful. I’ve been living in the country all my adult life after growing up in cities. I’ve thought a lot about how neighbors relate, I’ve experienced a wide range of relationships with neighbors. As they say here “Hits a curiosity.” Your writing seems so straight from the heart, I appreciate that.

  8. eemilla Says:

    I didn’t think the poem was mean, and I am glad you shared it.

  9. Linda H Says:

    Thank you for sharing your poem…your heart. You do have a way with words…a way of clearly expressing your heart. I like that.

  10. Ariel Says:

    It’s so brave of you to put any bit of writing out there, so much more when it’s something so close to your heart. It’s beautiful and lucid, like all of your other writing.

  11. Ariel Says:

    PS: I’m so happy to see a new post! I’ve been looking eagerly everyday. 🙂

  12. Cathy Says:

    I would like to be your neighbor….I would find you on the hill and bring out some hot coffee and we could wander around all day with our mouths open in awe looking at each new bud on the trees and new flowers waking up….sounds really nice……like your poem. Love it!!!!!

  13. Debi Kelly Van Cleave Says:

    I’m not a poem person but that poem was beautiful! I really liked the end.

    I don’t know; people can be strange. Sometimes there’s something going on in THEIR lives that you don’t know about–sickness or worries about something. Maybe even just shyness. You have to try not to take it personally. I admire it that you admitted your feelings were hurt. Mine would be too. You’ve inspired me to remember to be honest in my writing. That’s what makes it good. And it’s good for us.

    But then there’s some real evil people that some of us are unlucky enough to have as neighbors. I had some so bad one time that we had to move away. And then God or karma or luck, whatever, put me across the street from my new neighbors Pearl and Eldon. I feel like I went from hell to Heaven.


  14. Jeff Says:

    I didn’t find your poem to be mean at all! It is a wonderfully heart full poem. I’ve had it explained to me that folks in the South are very slow to warm up to new-comers, perhaps because they figure that the new-comers will be neighbors for a very long time. Perhaps they are reluctant to extend a welcome until they know a lot more about you. After all, if you don’t fit into their world and they are overly welcoming, then there could be some awkwardness, no? I don’t know.

  15. June Says:

    Your words hit their mark! You need to come visit Floyd…seems everyone waves at everyone. Actually, more of a finger flick, but it’s the index finger! It’s been my observation that country folk are either very friendly or very private. I think Jeff explained it well.

  16. blueridgebluecollargirl Says:

    I thought I might clarify a couple of things about my post. First, my unfriendly neighbors were most definitely not Southern country people. They were “from someplace else” just like us. The difference was that they were quite wealthy (their house dwarfed ours. Ours looked like it could be their tool shed.) So I always wondered if it was a class thing, though the people who we bought the house from said they were “super friendly.” But then, people trying to sell their house will sometimes say whatever it takes. So, I guess it will always be a mystery as to why they were so cold. But you have to wonder about anyone with vicious golden retrievers! 🙂

    Also, I wanted to mention that this was the place we USED to live—a hundred miles north of here. Our neighbors where we live now ARE Southern country people, and they are nice as can be, though I suspect they find us a little “different.”

  17. ginger Says:

    Enjoyed my visit to your blog. many nice thoughts, photos, I enjoyed the poem and can share many mouth-wide open moments. Nice to make your acquaintance in blogland!

  18. Main Street Diaries Says:

    Oh Beth, I LOVE this poem. It’s beautiful and I’m glad you got over feeling like it was mean spirited. It isn’t. I always find that if I edit myselff to make sure I don’t hurt people’s feelings, I take a lot of the emotion out of things. And then I usually fall down or get a migraine, as if my body wants to remind me that it’s paying attention to what I was really thinking, even if I wasn’t.

    Beautiful post!

  19. CountryDew Says:

    I thought it a lovely poem and not mean at all.

    We are all neighbors in the larger sense of the world; too bad so many forget it.

    I hope you are happy where you live now.

  20. Clara Melvin Says:

    Hi Beth, I wish I were your neighbor. I certainly would enjoy your wisdom, your poems and your flowers, your love for nature. I think we are of a kindred spirit. You are blessed to live in such a beautiful place.

  21. colleen Says:

    Love it! Stanza 3 and 4 are my favorites. 3 gave me a chill and 4 follows so well.

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