Story Bryan Parys '04
Illustration Grant Hanna '06
I stood there, pretending I was enjoying the smoked salmon that lay before me, while my landlady festively played an angry phone message she had recorded from my neighbor. The fuming female--who referred to my wife, Natalie, and me as "gypsies"--was upset that we had hung a string of white Christmas lights on our back porch.
The house that we called home--our second rental since Gordon--was being derogatorily referred to as "the Dawhmehtory" (translation: dormitory). If only Terry Charek, dean of housing at Gordon could see us now. . . .
At Gordon I lived two years in HUD halls, one year abroad in England and my senior year in a two-room hobbit hole in Gloucester that I shared with my wife (yes, I was one of those married students . . .). I was a resident advisor my sophomore year, and, even in my senior year off campus, I still frequented my friend's apartment in Tavilla Hall for lunch almost every day. You could say I was doing what Gordon hoped: being intentional about community.
But once I was out on my own, intramural competitions and "cheese nights" were replaced by grown professionals obsessing about how close I was parked to their fence. After my band had its first rehearsal in the basement (which was more rock than Rachmaninoff, I might add) any chance at intentional community hotfooted angrily to detentional.
Which brings me to our third rental: a seasonal, Methodist cottage community that not only had its own library, coffee shop and chapel, but, yes, that most necessary of necessities, a dirt-floored Swedish tabernacle. Other than the uncharacteristically cheap rent, Natalie and I were interested in becoming part of a community again, even if we were the only ones between the ages of 15 and 42.
Busy schedules being what they are in your twentysomethings, life pretty much thwarted our attempts at joining the annual road race, lobster bake and weekly Vespers services. As we drove through our community (at seven miles an hour, mind you--allowing even Mrs. Vendicoot's toy poodle enough time to beat us to our cottage), the awkward initial waves "hello" turned to awkward stares. I recalled the words of one of the board members who interviewed us prior to living there: "We get very disappointed when people live here and don't take part. . . ."
We were suddenly the bad kids-l-ike preteens who would rather sleep in than dress up for church. I felt guilty. I wanted to take part--I really did--but it would have been only to fulfill their definition of community. So, is community possible when you're not forced to share a bathroom with 17 other people?
As it turned out, our only neighbor--the rest of the cottages around us were decrepit homes to carpenter ants--wasn't afraid of Christmas lights. Through conversations in between weed-whacking, we got to know Jim a little. Enough so that I found out he liked iced tea and he found out I wished I had taken biblical Hebrew. So I brought him a glass or two--for which he was very thankful. A week later he returned the favor by presenting us with a box of gourmet tea bags. He also--shovel aimed at my head--made me promise to look into taking Hebrew, since there was no good reason why I shouldn't pursue it, having the resources at Gordon in front of me. I'd seen the way he used that shovel, so I knew he meant business. It was the kind of raging conviction that made you feel you were letting him down by not constantly pursuing your own life's goals.
So if you hear the question, or pose it yourself: "Who is my neighbor?" then you're going to have to ask those around you if they are or not. And there's a good chance they'll make it clear that the answer is "No, I don't like putting up with your shenanigans." But community is not lost.
On the last Sunday of the summer I noticed that the clock had waned past 4:30 p.m.--Vespers was half-over. I had lost track of time memorizing the Hebrew alphabet for the class I was now auditing. I looked up from my textbook and saw Jim in his Sunday best: dirty overalls and a bleach-stained sweatshirt, digging up weeds with his rusty shovel. He waved. I returned the gesture, and went back to fumbling over the language of the First Testament.
bryan parys doesn't like to capitalize his name and holds a B.A. in English. He is currently the web editor at Gordon and has become close friends with his computer screen as a result. He resides (for now) in Rockport, Massachusetts, with his wife and three plants.