Are You a Good Neighbor?

Storytime! Last week, my son was outside watering the flowers and the lawn at our condo when our neighbor went by. About 3 units down lives a nice family, with a boy and a girl that are somewhere between middle school and high school-aged.

We don’t know the family well, but they are always so friendly, going out of their way to wave or ask how our day is. They never fail to address Anthony by name, ever since they saw his name displayed in big letters on a Superman yard sign for his birthday back in April.

The parents are always doing something outside with the kids- the father even wears a silly chef’s hat when he’s cooking on the grill. The kids are always smiling, respectful. They go out of their way to acknowledge us when passing by. In today’s society, their character displays several qualities that I’m so impressed by in young kids.

As Anthony was watering the lawn, I saw the parents coming out of the house to go on one of their daily family walks. I immediately told my son to shut off the hose. He can be mischievous and I didn’t want him to spray at them, thinking he was funny. The father started laughing, then said, “Anthony! When José comes out of the house, spray him with the hose. You have my permission.”

The son and daughter came out of the house a few minutes later, smiling, as usual, dressed nicely, put together. I noticed that José had on nice sneakers, pressed khaki pants, his hair done as if he was doing something more important than going for a casual stroll with his family. I probably wouldn’t have noticed the details if I wasn’t waiting for Anthony to spray this poor kid with the hose.

Anthony looked at me and I shook my head no. So, he looked over at José’s father for a second opinion. “Do it, Anthony,” he said, “your Mom can yell at me.”

Without hesitation, Anthony sprayed José with the hose as he walked by. I knew that this poor boy had no idea that was coming. I expected him to be upset, annoyed, maybe force a fake smile to be nice, while all us adults would know he was really agitated. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by his reaction.

José had a big smile on his face ( I mean huge), clearly surprised by what Anthony did, but beaming as he watched Anthony let out a big, lingering belly laugh. As the family walked down the sidewalk, Anthony still laughing, José kept looking back with a smile. It’s a vision I’ll always remember.

A couple of days later, Anthony came in from playing outside with an insane amount of excitement. I had no idea what was going on. His sister was here so I assumed she said or did something that made him happy.

He handed me this bag of water balloons. I assumed that my husband had gotten them the last time he went to the store and forgot them in the car.

I was wrong.

They were from José.

“No way!” I said. “Yes, way!” Anthony responded with a huge smile. “He just handed me these water balloons and told me to have fun.”

I think Anthony was as blown away as I was by this simple, but powerful, display of kindness. “Can you believe how nice it was of my neighbor to get these for me?” I was thinking the same thing when Anthony asked. “Maybe one day when this sickness is over, José and I can play together and have a water balloon fight.”

Now, I’m not sure that José will want to have a water balloon fight with Anthony, but I do admire his response to Anthony spraying him with the hose. While he could have been annoyed, or even just laughed it off to be kind, José went out of his way to further his connection with Anthony. He sees his young neighbor playing in his blow-up pool, running through the sprinkler, washing the cars, playing with water balloons, and he knows that it makes him happy. I’m sure the whole neighborhood can hear Anthony laughing when he’s doing anything with water.

So, as an act of kindness, José went out of his way to bring yet another smile to Anthony’s face, his much younger neighbor who he barely knows.

As I watch the world around us continue to be crowded by chaos, hate, and anger, I think about our sweet neighbor boy. Walking the neighborhood at an age when life is already tough and many kids are glued to a screen, he’s outside with his family, walking, playing, interacting with his neighbors.

José went out of his way to make the day of the little boy who lives next door. As I’ve watched my son struggle with difficult emotions lately-feeling extremely lonely, missing his friends, confused by the current state of our society- José’s small gesture had such a huge impact on my heart.

In a world filled with madness, sadness, and uncertainty, sometimes what we need most is something simple. With things as difficult as they are today, the smallest gesture can come at the perfect time. It might not take much effort, but the ripples of its effect can last for days or weeks to come.

What can you do to make someone’s day? How will you contribute a little bit of kindness to the world you live in? There are so many ways you can show compassion in your everyday life.

Call a family member you haven’t spoken to in a while. Reach out to a friend “just because.” Be kind. Go the extra mile. Smile at a stranger. Be a good neighbor.

We may feel so disconnected and divided today. But the fact remains, we’re all in this together.

In a difficult world, be a José.