Kriss: A good neighbor, Lydia is there

May 8, 2017 by

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I live in a section of duplexes in northwestern Philadelphia. Tucked back from the street, I have the option of less interaction, compared to others who have front doors that open directly onto the sidewalk.

Stephen Kriss


I share a wall with the neighbor to my right and a walkway with the neighbor to my left. I have lived here for eight years, but the tone of interactions with my next-door neighbor was set when I moved into the house.

Within those first few days, my shared walkway neighbor, Lydia, knocked on my side door to introduce herself. She said she was grateful I had moved next door and declared her intention to be a good neighbor. This is good advance planning, considering that when I look out my side window I can watch the wall-mounted TV in her living room. Our side kitchen doors are almost a whisper apart. She said the house had been empty for two years and it was time for someone new to live here.

I’ve learned a lot about neighboring from Lydia, but I’ve also learned neighboring takes time. I’m often rushing in and out of the house. I am usually already 10 minutes late out the door. I rarely have time for more than a pleasant, hurried greeting.

But Lydia and her son Paris have invited me to take time. They have also made this neighborhood feel like home. Paris often mows my grass, helps shovel snow, checks in when I travel. They have a key to my house and my truck. We share meals and bounty from the garden. Lydia grew up in Puerto Rico and lets me practice Spanish.

My house has a constant stream of guests, an array of ages and ethnicities. Lydia has learned to know most of them by name. And if they’ve been here more than once or longer than a few days, they’ve come to know her. Lydia gives out hugs liberally. Her own family is a mix of ethnicities and languages. She extends welcome readily. I am deeply grateful for her.

Lydia worries about my church work, though she doesn’t attend church. She especially has noticed how much busier I have become since taking on new responsibilities earlier this year. She knows I’ve been stressed more about immigration issues since the election. She stopped in one night after attending a protest in Center City, both invigorated and exhausted. In January, she hugged my 20-something cousin goodbye as he left the city after living here a few years to return to college. Our lives have become intertwined.

When Jesus talked about who the neighbor was in the Good Samaritan story, he said it was the person who took the time to care. Neighboring takes time. It takes resources. It takes intentionality. Neighboring means stopping long enough to notice others and to assume some responsibility. Being a good neighbor requires also being open and trusting. It’s both respect and vulnerability.

Many of us who profess to follow in the way of Jesus know that being a good neighbor is an essential part of living the message. But neighboring is an interruption in an age of virtual relationships, overbooked schedules and prioritization of biological family.

There’s no doubt Lydia has been a real neighbor when she shares food, when Paris mows the grass while I’m traveling, when she sold several of our “No matter who you are or where your from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor” signs. With neighbors like these, I’m reminded to be a real neighbor, too.

Stephen Kriss is a teacher, writer, pastor and follower of Jesus living in Philadelphia.

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