Life in Community

A Beautiful Day in the Overlook House

April 13, 2021 by

Luke’s gospel tells of how an expert in the law asked Jesus to define the term “neighbor.” Jesus answered him with a parable about how a priest and Levite ignored an injured man but a Samaritan took care of him like a true neighbor. In other words, living out God’s law involves action, not just theory.

When I think about “loving my neighbor as myself” I have a clear mental picture of the two families whose houses are about ten feet down the hall on either side of my living room. I need to love these two families and they need to love me. Platte Clove is a big community and there are many large residential buildings such as the Beechwood House, the Woodcrest House, and the Overlook House. I live in the Overlook House. There are six apartments on the top floor. Having neighbors so close by takes an effort from each one of us to stay calm and think before we speak. For instance, my mom and I try to keep our house clean but everyone is different and has different priorities. One of the ladies who lives at the other end of our floor called me over recently. “You really need to mop your hall,” she told me. “It is full of salt and grit and streaks. It looks like you haven’t mopped it in days.” At first I was seething. How did the sight of our hall, at least twenty feet away, do her any harm?

REmbed2Photo by Danny Burrows

Luckily I recently learned a technique called “the loving kindness meditation.” Basically this technique involves sending loving and kind thoughts (as in telepathy) to a person who makes you really upset. Eventually you will realize that this person has a completely different viewpoint and background than you do. You will understand that she is probably feeling the same intense irritation at you that you feel at her. After realizing that and truly loving this person all your anger will disappear. As I started mopping my hall I realized that my neighbor was absolutely right. I should have done it a long time ago.

We also love the kids from down the hall, and the noises they make singing in the mornings and playing soccer, using my parents’ door as the goal. My dad got a box of toy cars and a car track that live under our couch specifically for their visits. We want them to feel as free to visit our house as my siblings and I felt about the neighbors we had during most of my childhood.

Although we always respect everyone’s right to privacy, my siblings and I felt free to visit the neighbors we had when we were kids. Whenever I needed something my house had run out of – pens, paper, scotch tape, chocolate – I freely took it from the neighbors. I admired their teenage and young adult children, following them around and trying to be as cool as they were. Meanwhile their elderly dog Millie also felt comfortable in our house. We would sometimes come home to find that Millie had dumped our trash can. Their cat was also a huge asset and worked overtime to brutally exterminate all rodents.

Although it can be tiring to juggle fridge space, oven space, and counter space, living in close community is not always exasperating. People can bear each other’s burdens and find support from brothers and sisters when their biological brothers and sisters aren’t around. A few weeks ago, our neighbor down the hall asked for prayers for a family situation. My mom lit a candle – her personal prayer preference. When we had to leave the house we blew out the candle – and promptly set off the smoke detector. A fire alarm shrilled as our blood pressure soared. Men from all over the community ran to our house with fire equipment while everyone evacuated. Overlook House residents, aged one to eighty-five, stood shivering in the snow.

“We’re so sorry,” we told everyone. “We’re so sorry. We were just trying to light a candle for you guys.”

Every day in our neighborhood is beautiful.

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About the author

Esther Keiderling

Esther Keiderling

Esther Keiderling lives and works at the Platte Clove Bruderhof.

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