It’s October, and our family is spending our first fall in a new place. This summer, along with our four boys (including a newborn), we packed our bags and headed west. In doing so, we left behind our home of twenty years — my whole adult life. In that time, we brought home four baby boys, we ate approximately 866 000 meals in our dysfunctional little kitchen, and survived several university degrees, not to mention one high school graduation. We laughed and cried and, most of all, we LIVED.
Over the years, we also learned to love our neighbours. I remember receiving a call from a neighbour who thought we might like to know that that our son was peeing by the fire hydrant…AGAIN, and, another day, that our then-little guy had climbed to the very top of the tree in front. I remember watching wheelchair races, water fights, and basketball pick-up games. I remember hosting a “use-up-what’s-in-your-freezer” barbecue after Hurricane Arthur hit our city where we mourned all the lost trees on our street. We shared eggs, wheelbarrows, and jumper cables, and each year, our kids would don their “Christmas ninjas” costumes to deliver not-so-anonymous goodies to everyone on the street.
Before I pulled out of the driveway for the last time, I said goodbye to the maple tree in our front yard, the one that will have turned a glorious red by this time of year, and also to the raspberry and rhubarb patches that have faithfully fed us each summer. After digging up pieces of my favourite perennials and snipping a few last herbs to dry, I drove away and didn’t look back. A few days later, on August 10th, we checked in with our less-connected neighbours to break the news that there had been a fatal shooting only 800 metres away from our old house, and that two city police officers were among the casualties. While we were glad not to be so close to the danger, we felt for our friends still living nearby and wished we could be closer to them.
At this point, I should probably make a confession. The move was not as monumental as it might seem: our new house is only an eight-minute drive away from our old one. Still, I am reminded every time I look out the window that we now live in a different place. We are not in town anymore, and we now share the space with a different collection of plants and animals. The bald eagles keep watch from the dead tree across the road, and our lawn is frequented by deer, foxes, raccoons, and monarch butterflies. The plants here are also different: there are butternut trees and wild grapes, hawthorns and stinging nettles and milkweed. Even the weeds in the garden are different from the ones at our old house.
We can see the Wolastoq from here, the Beautiful and Bountiful River, and my seven-year-old likes to venture down a narrow trail to play on its bank, where igneous rocks and clamshells are common. In a few weeks, when the leaves fall, it will be more visible from the house. In the meantime, the hills are changing to red, orange and yellow, mingled with the ever-constant deep green of the conifers.
And our new (human) neighbours? After two months, we are still in the process of meeting them all. Here, we are further away from them, although still within sight. It takes a bit more effort, a bit more intentionality, to spend time with them and to build relationships. My son, Matthew, the seven-year-old, had been used to walking across the street to visit folks on their front porches. Here, he can’t do that yet, and he misses that. I have to remind him that the friendships we had with our old neighbours were built over the course of two decades, and that he just needs to be patient.
How do we live in shalom in this place? How can we faithfully embody God’s peace with the kids across the road, with the eagles and butternuts, with the Wolastoq?
Matthew is not the only one who needs to learn patience: the rest of us also need to spend time watching, listening. Shalom does not happen overnight, it happens over the course of decades as we walk humbly alongside the rest of God’s creatures in this place.
May the one who is our peace keep us in peace here.