My neighbours taught me how to be a neighbour.
Over four years ago, my partner and I arrived in Ratho, and were quietly given the warmest welcome I had ever encountered to a community. Our neighbours in one direction brought us wine and the offer (enthusiastically accepted) to fetch us fish and chips for our first evening’s meal. Our neighbour in the other direction left a card on the doorstep that first night; by the next afternoon we were in her living room drinking tea. It was all simple stuff, but bravely offered when we were still totally unknown. It was all I needed to feel that I had moved from a vague, sprawling locality to a neighbourhood.
Today I noticed a van outside the house that has been for sale in our street for several months. The front door was open and as I approached a young woman appeared. I asked if she was moving in and I honestly felt a rush course through my body; adrenaline reminding me this was my one chance to give what may have been her first welcome to our street.
I have given talks in front of groups that were much bigger than I had expected, done interviews where I was asked obscure and befuddling questions. I have travelled alone through foreign continents, taken on physical challenges that I was ill-equipped to complete, and sung the solo in the school play. I am not saying that giving a good welcome is as nerve-wracking as any of these situations. But I feel an equal sense of the importance of getting it right, just as much determination, and that extreme alertness usually particular to ‘high-stakes’ circumstances.
What we give out matters. We are incredibly powerful, tiny little beings in a huge universe. My sense of my neighbourhood was defined by those first couple of welcomes. If I pay it forward when new neighbours arrive here, another person’s sense of place can be more secure and contented. And isn’t that an exciting place to be?