Neighbourly Thoughts

Recently I came across a Chinese proverb in a magazine: Love your neighbours, but don’t pull down the fence. It made me think about neighbours in general and the act of being a neighbour.

Growing up in a Sydney suburb, we knew our neighbours in part because there were other children in our street. Neighbours on one side kept an eye out for us and there was a doorway in the fence to allow easy movement back and forth. These neighbours were older than our parents, and there were grandchildren of a similar age who visited regularly. There was a golden Labrador called Cleo who never seemed to mind being roped into various games and activities. Other delights included a steering wheel attached to a fence, a mulberry tree in a corner and for some reason that I can’t recall, a poker machine in the kitchen. It was an old-style machine that was played with shillings or ten-cent pieces, and what a thrill it was to pull the handle and ‘win’ the occasional jackpot.

I’ve lived in villas, in student accommodation and on a property with acreage as well as in country towns and now in the mountains, and I’ve had a mix of neighbours along the way. The farming neighbour was usually spotted at a distance, and there were sensory delights at cropping time, especially with a paddock of coriander close to the property boundary. Living with an abundance of space made it a bit challenging to get used to people living close by when I moved into town but I’ve been lucky to have had good neighbours.

Neighbours can be a friendly presence, someone to keep an eye on your place if you are away for a while, to collect mail and newspapers and give you peace of mind. A wave and a smile can be enough to make you feel at ease, and it feeds into a sense of being part of wider community. Neighbours share news and plant cuttings, turn up with extra servings of food and even Christmas gifts for my dog. They know what is going on in the neighbourhood, and a quick catch up can be most enjoyable. Neighbours keep an eye out for each other without infringing on each other’s space.

My neighbours are one of the reasons why I love mountain life. From my arrival here I was made to feel welcome, and there are many small gestures of kindness shared between us without any sense of expectation or reciprocation required. During weather events – such as heavy snowfall or the bushfires in 2013 – we keep an eye out for each other and share news and updates. It is impossible to put a value on the peace of mind that comes with having good neighbours.

There was another quote on the page of proverbs that I read: A stranger nearby is better than a far-away relative. There is truth in this Korean saying.

What are your neighbourly experiences?

Proverbs spotted in Issue 3 of Breathe Magazine Australia.

[Photo: snowfall in July 2015]

A Little Gratitude

In recent years there seems to have been a shift towards the power of gratitude in daily life, of being thankful for what you have rather than the endless pursuit of what you don’t have in your life at this time. It is a deceptively simple idea.

I have read of people using gratitude journals on a daily basis, or at least regularly, to track moments of gratitude in their life. Part of me acknowledged that this could be beneficial in various ways, but still I did nothing about it apart from being a little more mindful about the many good things in my life.

Then about a year ago a friend mentioned that various studies confirmed that one of the best things that you could do for your long-term mental health was to keep a gratitude journal. I made a mental note at the time then moved on to the next thought. It was only during November last year that it floated back up through my mind and I started to keep track of what I was grateful for. Short and sweet, three little things each day. And I’ve kept up the practice.

Off the top of my head, the main sources of gratitude in my life are my family and friends, my dog and my garden. Writing and creativity feature quite a bit too. Sometimes I am surprised at what comes to mind when I pause to think of what has brought me joy during the day. Here is a sample.

  • Watching pelicans paddle past, the almost impossibility of their gravitational pull.
  • The purple blossoms of jacaranda trees.
  • The clever reuse of old buildings as space for creative use (old dairy in Bellingen).
  • For the world having so many books of wonder.
  • For having a heart and feeling, even sad things.
  • Sunset.
  • Arriving home. Instantly better.
  • Watering the garden and finding new flowers.
  • Heavy fog on the way to work – altered perception.
  • Laughing with friends till we cry.
  • Feeling flat but writing anyway.
  • Walking with the start of a story in mind.
  • Smiling at strangers and collecting smiles in return.
  • Hearing kookaburras. Anywhere, anytime.

Do you take stock of little moments of gratitude in your life?

[Photo: a repurposed candle holder in my Mum’s garden]

A Friend for All Seasons

Recently I was able to catch up with one of my oldest friends, LJ. We met in primary school playing handball, or KP as it was known in our school. Throughout the decades we have remained in touch although our lives have taken various tangents and we now live in different states.

One of our ways of keeping in contact has been through correspondence. This ranges from postcards to lengthy letters, often on exquisite stationery and sent with a stack of photos to keep each other up to date with what matters most. If you have ever received a stylish envelope holding several folded pages of news, observations and updates, you will know the joy that it brings.

LJ has surprised me several times with carefully chosen books. When I moved to the mountains she gave me a copy of In The Service of Clouds by Delia Falconer, the perfect introduction to living under dynamic, cloud-studded skies. In a nod to our continuing correspondence, she also sent me Women of Letters, a wide-ranging collection of heartfelt letters filled with humour and honesty.

Our long friendship means that we know habits and mannerisms, not only of each other, but of families and friends. We can commiserate and share stories of work place triumphs and challenges, along with the wisdom that comes with getting a little older. It also means that the back story is already there; we can communicate in shorthand, regardless of how long it is between catch ups. When we do connect there is a crossfire of ideas and stories, as well as sharing lists of books, music, podcasts and movies that each other might enjoy.

There are many attributes that I admire in LJ, including intelligence, compassion, humour and integrity. She has a keen sense of the absurd and doesn’t take everything too seriously. She has been there for me whenever I have needed her, as well as when I have been unable to see that I needed a friend. I know how lucky I am to have someone like her in my life.

Do you have a friend for all seasons?

[Photo: old tile spotted in a pub at Strathfield]