The Neighbors

Nichole Nordeman we love

I love a good personality test. Myers Briggs tells me I’m an introvert. Off the charts, actually. The Enneagram test tells me I’m a nine. (I regularly abuse and misuse this information at my convenience.)

“Ma’am, your water was turned off because you didn’t pay your utility bill.”

“Gah. I know, I just forgot. I’ve been busy travelling and I’m very sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“Um. I understand that you’re sorry but you have to pay the bill to actually use the city’s water. Would you like for me to sign you up for auto … ?”

EXCUSE ME, SIR. I’m an INTROVERT and a NINE.

(Sometimes our social and emotional tendencies aren’t the best explanation for our inadequacies.)

But sometimes they kind of are.

Introversion for me, means living in pretty constant tension. My artistry and vocation have demanded a hard won extroversion skill set, but I constantly fight the inward pull to retreat and withdraw. I crave time alone. I get almost none. When I am not militant about creating space for myself to renew and recharge, I can quickly feel the beginnings of that one loose thread, tugged too hard, and unraveling the whole sleeve of the sweater.

Being an introvert makes for a terrible neighbor.

Actually a terrible neighbor has loud parties and leaves beer cans in your bushes. A terrible neighbor lets his dog poop in your grass and looks the other way, whistling.

I’m not a terrible neighbor.

Being an extreme introvert makes me a non-neighbor, I guess. I barely exist. I just don’t interact with the rest of the hood. I’m fine with this. I justify this behavior by reminding myself that my life is so busy and full, and my home is my sanctuary, and it’s perfectly acceptable to retreat into it, without shaking hands and kissing babies first.

In my own defense, it’s not like I’m the only one on the street who’s not very social. Most everyone in this neighborhood keeps to themselves, pretty much. We observe each other’s cars pulling in and out of garages. We smile politely and nod behind our sunglasses. But mostly, we all live quiet, private lives, stirring soup and running vacuums from behind our heavy doors.

Until recently.

The city is replacing all the water lines on our street. (Evidently this is why they need me to pay my bill. Shrug.) It’s a massive undertaking and we’ve known it was coming for months. The new pipes are long overdue. We’ve received notices galore in our mailboxes reminding us that we can no longer park in our driveways or anywhere on the street. For several weeks we’d have to park many blocks away and walk. Sure enough, right on schedule, the heavy equipment rolled in to tear up all of the old pavement, to dig enormous trenches in all the yards, and covered everything and everyone in 2 inches of dust. When people ask me which part of Tulsa I live in, I’ve started answering, “Bosnia.”

Some days it’s not that bad, depending on the weather. But other days – schlepping two kids with backpacks, armloads of groceries and a dog through a thunderstorm for several blocks, does not bring out my best personal self. Only adding to the rage: the bright flame of pizza delivery has been swiftly snuffed out.

Here’s what’s happening though: All my neighbors have to do the same thing. All of us have to walk the same long and inconvenient distance, back and forth, back and forth, around the looming piles of dangerous debris. Navigating cones and wet cement with high heels and briefcases and baby strollers.

And.

We’ve started actually seeing each other. Like for the first time ever. As neighbors. We’re stopping in the middle of the rubble to introduce ourselves and pet one another’s dogs and roll our eyes at the massive disaster our quaint little tree-lined street has become. “Whaddya gonna do?” we ask, shaking our heads and chuckling. “Now which house is yours again?”

We have to interact to navigate around the disaster. We didn’t have a choice.

Big messes do this, I think. They force us outside. This metaphor is currently messing with my loner issues. I do think that sometimes it takes a bit of disaster (and not even a catastrophic one) to make us throw open the door and recognize that other people are wandering around a little dazed and damaged too, trying to find the safest way to walk home.

We were wired to be in community. Even the reluctant introverts. We weren’t meant to be in pain by ourselves. It makes the debris easier to navigate if you know you’re not the only one choking on all the dust.

Pepper, my 7-year-old, does not share my reclusive tendencies. She runs 90 mph at everyone she meets with a fierce joy. She will assess your character, only after she is certain you have been hugged adequately. Pepper sees the beauty in everything and won’t be convinced otherwise. Early evening yesterday, she was rummaging around in the kitchen for a “vase” and then was halfway down the street, before the wind lifted my “BEEEEE CAREEEEFULLLL” up and away from her tiny perfect ears. All the construction workers were gone for the day and she seemed awfully busy, bending down by a certain smallish front loader.

By the time I made it to her, she had already carefully arranged a handful of daffodils she’d picked from a neighbor’s yard (Sorry, neighbor) into one of my expensive Ridel wine glasses (SHE RAN DOWN THE STREET WITH A WINE GLASS, GUYS) and placed it gently next to the front loader.

“That’s better,” she declared and skipped off.

I left it there along with the lump in my throat. I cared more about the potential she saw in the rubble than I did about the glass. I noticed that the construction workers moved it carefully to the side this morning, essentially working around it, making my throat even more lumpy.

Tomorrow, I’m going to introduce myself to them, and thank them for making things better, even though they had to make things worse, first.


Nichole Nordeman will share of her story, and her perspective on the BELONG Tour, which hits 12 cities this fall. For a full schedule of when she’ll be in your area, visit the website: belongtour.com/events

And P.S: If you are of the few in the world who hasn’t heard her beautiful song Slow Down, here you go. Get tissues first though. LOTS of them.