Wearing Out the Concrete

Though I’ve lived in this neighborhood for seven years, when I stop to think about it, I’m still surprised by that fact. Years ago I parked in front of the house I now call home to visit a church down the street, and I distinctly remember finding the house a little scary. Soon after, my not-yet-husband bought the place because the price was right, not intending to make it his long-term home. Now we have no intention of leaving.

Such rootedness was not part of my Original Plan. I used to imagine the path my life would take as an elegant line winding its way around the globe into shapes that would look interesting from space. Instead, it more closely resembles a knotty tangle—like the web I weave as I walk through the kitchen to prepare yet another meal.

The sense that we’ll be here for a good long time has turned me into a literalist—at least when it comes to the command to “love thy neighbor.” As a child in Sunday school, I felt awed to understand that my neighbor might be half a world away. Now the revelation is that my neighbor is the one who walks his pug past my house at the same time each morning.

The things that build community among our neighbors surprise me: ringing the doorbell without calling first; running out of cumin or eggs; escorting home the black lab who shows up on the porch again, wriggling with joy.

I could also call these things interruption, need, and inconvenience.

Our neighbors tend to be cross-the-street, wear-ruts-in-the-pavement kind of people. Maybe it’s partly because we know for certain that we need each other. When we find ourselves wondering who tore the boards off the fence yet again or which teenager sliced the window screen to break in and steal, we need to be reassured that we’re in this together. Our human vulnerability draws us closer to each other.

And then there are the mundane chores of life. I’m grateful to discover that a communal mountain of mulch can transform first into a shared meal and then into the balm of carrying sorrows together. My neighbors’ care gives me hope. It helps me trust that the soil in this place is rich enough for a lifetime of growth and rebirth. It was made by the God of faithful seasons, the God of abundant and persistent seeds.

My 3-year-old urges me to join him in the backyard sandbox. As we pat wet sand into mounds over our planted feet, I pray that our neighborhood will be invaded by tangles of roots, tender sprouts, fragrant blossoms—and by people who cross the street so often that concrete wears through to earth.

About the Author

Gwen Penning Genzink and her husband, Ryan, welcomed son Ruben Christopher into the world Sept. 28. Gwen works part-time for Friendship Ministries and belongs to Sherman Street Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Mich.