At least once a day, we hear a soft knock on our front door. We’ve only been in our new house a few weeks, but we have already come to expect him. Last week, when I was picking up in the front yard, he came over with his sister. They asked me to fix the handlebars on their bike. I got out my husband’s wrench and tightened the bolts.
“Can she come play outside?” the almost six-year-old in well-worn shoes and a torn coat asks.
Brigid comes bounding around the corner to see who’s at the door.
“Hi, Tommy!” she shrieks.
Ever the sensible one, I begrudgingly reply, “let’s get our coats and shoes on.”
He’s a “free range” kid. Despite “free range” being a popular parenting philosophy among my age group, Tommy’s status as a free range kid is more of an outcome, rather than a conscious choice by his parents. When he’s not knocking on our front door, I often see him riding his bike or hiding in a tree, usually by himself.
“Watch this,” he says constantly. And I watch him ride his bike and blow bubbles and draw kittens with sidewalk chalk.
“How old are you?” he asks. I tell him how old I’ll be on my next birthday and then I say how old he’ll be on his next birthday, which happens to be in 6 days. I know this because he’s told me at least twice a day since we met.
As the new family in the neighborhood, I know we’re a bit of a novelty right now. Maybe he’ll get bored over of coming over and asking to play with a toddler. Maybe a new family will move in down the street and he’ll have someone new to hound. I do know that he’s a kid who, for whatever reason, needs some attention. I could certainly hypothesize about those reasons, and I’m sure you could too. But I’m not his social worker; today, I’m just his neighbor.
I once heard a preacher say God doesn’t care about your comfort. Nearly a decade later, those words are still rattling around in my head. It would be much more comfortable for me to stay behind the front door, playing with my toddler and picking up the house and sticking to our routine. It would be easier for me to keep my head down and ignore the reality happening around me in this forgotten, urban city in the middle of the Midwest. I would rather delude myself into thinking that being a good neighbor means not having loud parties and waving when I see a neighbor in the alley. But that sure isn’t the call of following Jesus, is it? Not once in the Gospels does Jesus take the easy way out. Ever aware of his humanity, he prays for it in the Garden, but he does the hard thing anyway. He was involved in people’s lives, in the lives of people that you and I would rather ignore or judge.
I can be selfish and ungrateful and most days I groan when I hear Tommy knock on the door. And yet, I put my shoes on and then I put Brigid’s shoes on and we go outside to play. I’m sure someday she’ll ask questions about Tommy, but for now, all she sees is a friend.
Children have so much to teach us about hospitality and the significance of mundane kindness. At the end of each day, I am fond of asking Brigid about her favorite things. I often expect her to tell me about the awesome activity I planned for her, be it the trip to the library or gymnastics class or the Pinterest-worthy art project we did together. But for the last few weeks without fail, her reply has been “playing with Tommy.”
People over perfection, that’s consistently the lesson, isn’t it? At least it is for me.
Kelsey Hart is a friend and supporter of Celtic Way.