Tonight, as the late-afternoon clouds threatened a summer thunderstorm, I began to dust off my long-neglected bike. As I dusted each part, I thought of the summer I rode this bike to and from work at 6:30 a.m. each morning, singing praise songs and breathing in the fresh, slightly salty air on my way to a bookstore job only miles from the beach. That summer lives on in my memory as a happy one; the rust on the bike evidence that it was ridden and enjoyed.
After I dusted off the bike, I vacuumed the spider webs from the outdoor wicker furniture, pounded the seat pillows, and laid some magazines on the side table. Remembering my childhood and lovely summer afternoons and evenings spent reading on the porch, drinking lemonade, and catching up with the neighbors, I had decided to spiffy up the little area I have on my apartment porch.
My wicker is worn, the pillows are slightly stained, and the table a little uneven, but does that really matter?
Since I moved here in September, I’ve barely had anyone over. Embarrassed a bit by how small my place is, how the carpet is stained and torn in places, how the furniture is mismatched, I’ve just let the days go by, leaving the apartment for people time. As such, this apartment is quite lonely. It’s just me and my cat Alfred most days. A friend suggested I invite some girlfriends over—“bring some light and love to the place” is what I think she said.
So last weekend, I invited a close friend to stay overnight with me. When this friend spent a weekend with me at my last apartment in the Amish countryside, a place where I felt isolated and out of place, she made me see the beauty in not only my apartment but also in the world around with her fresh eyes and appreciation for the little things. She spent the first hour commenting on all the treasures in my apartment and how “writerly” my place was. The earlier drive from the airport to the apartment involved numerous stops so she could take pictures of the snow, the quaint churches, the buggies, the gothic college in my little town. I felt so warmed and blessed by her visit. So I asked if she would “christen” this apartment with her light and love.
In the last few months of living in that little country apartment (which was actually an older turn-of-the-century house divided into two), a new neighbor moved in. I’ll call her Barb. Barb brought light and love with her two daughters; a golden lab and orange cat; and a neighborliness that was refreshing.
Upon moving in, she politely asked me if the arrangement of her additional furniture was okay. She then added comfortable pillows, magazines, and books to the porch. Many days she could be found lounging on her wicker couch, reading a magazine and drinking an icy beverage.
Most importantly, though, “she” reached out to the neighbors. She didn’t wait for them to come to her. She invited them over for a drink, for cheese and crackers. She lit the candles on the porch at night and chatted with friends. She and I had many happy moments in my last few months there, sometimes just the two of us and sometimes the dog, cat, and her youngest daughter—a cute and inquisitive little girl with glasses and a slight lisp who aspired to be a writer, a little girl I simply adored. When I needed a break from working, I just stepped outside and either Barb would be there or her little writer would come bounding down the stairs, golden lab and golden cat in tow. We’d relax, talk, laugh, read, and sip icy drinks. Sometimes, other neighbors would drop by to chat as well.
As I put a stack of magazines on the porch table tonight, including a Better Homes and Gardens that reminds me of my lovely neighbor Barb, I resolved to learn from her. My new apartment may not be perfect; I may not technically have a “porch” but rather a section of balcony shared with others, but I can bloom where I’m planted, adding little welcoming touches that make me and others want to sit, talk, drink a beverage, and relax.
Tomorrow, I am having a new friend over for dinner—simple fajitas—and I hope she will sit on the porch with me after. I hope we can share lemonade and some laughs while breathing in the fresh air of summer. Perhaps a neighbor will drop by and join us…