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Reform Magazine | November 20, 2017

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Commitment-Phobe: Advent challenge, day two

Commitment-Phobe: Advent challenge, day two

Commitment-Phobe is taking part in the Bible Society’s advent challenge and keeping a journal of how she gets on.

commitment-phobe-cropIt’s 2 December, and, in true Commitment-Phobe style, my initial enthusiasm is wearing off and I am already wondering if I will keep up the challenge for another 22 days. 22 days! I guess this is one way in which Advent Challenge is making me view Christmas differently. Instead of wishing I had more time to shop before the big day, I am wishing it could arrive sooner so that I do not have another challenge to do!

Today’s choice of challenges were all based on our relationship to neighbours and the request in the Bible to “Love your neighbour as you love yourself”. Well, it’s hard to love your neighbours if you don’t even know them. With this in mind, the challenges were:

1) Send Christmas cards to the neighbours you don’t know
2) Join a local group or club in the New Year
3) Invite a neighbour around for tea.

This whole getting-to-know-your-neighbours thing is a bit tricky for me. Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner, “I love London town.” I remember reading a fun article in Time Out about 10 years ago which listed the various nods, grunts and subtle visual signs that most Londoners will use in order to avoid communicating in words with shopkeepers or fellow commuters. This can also apply to communication with neighbours. I have always lived in flats, and although it is useful to be on good terms with the people with whom you share a building and doorway, it can also be pretty awful when you don’t get on. Living in the same building is no guarantee of having anything in common. Since becoming a parent I have got better at this, as unlike adults, small children will always go out of their way to know who is sharing their environment rather than shut other people out.

Like most people, I have watched the latest Christmas Sainsbury’s advert and wished that my relationship with my neighbours was a bit more warm and gregarious. It’s just over a year since we moved into this flat, and although we made and have stayed friends with our ex-neighbours, we are barely on speaking terms with our new ones. I’ve dreamed up plans to have a building party for Christmas or an open invitation for pudding once every Sunday, but today proved to me that I’m still not quite ready to make the effort and that as a person and a Christian I still have a long way to go.

I chose option one – sending Christmas cards. I felt too shy and awkward for option three, which would involve trying to catch one of my neighbours on the stairs as they tried to leave the house. Frankly, it would be a bit odd staying by the door of your flat half the morning to do this. Option two – joining a local group in the New Year seemed like a great idea but I wanted to do something now. So the card option is what I landed upon.

Even this virtually anonymous activity I avoided for most of the day. Interesting. Once I did get down to writing the cards I sent cards to the other residents in my building that I had shared passing hellos with. I also sent a card to the owners of the house we share a wall with (who we have only communicated with once, when the music they were playing at two in the morning on Christmas Eve got a bit much for us!) I gave our door number and names, so that maybe we will begin a sense of familiarity. I think my getting the number wrong for their card might have spoilt the goodwill effect. Not only do I not know their names I don’t know their number! This level of loving detail is not going to progress our relationship further, and I do hope I don’t bump into them too soon. “‘Tis the season to be mortified, tralalala, lala la la.”

I am telling myself that sometimes failing is the best way to learn to do something. Well, I feel that today I failed at being a loving neighbour; but that just means I have to keep on trying and I challenge myself to do so, tomorrow and the rest of the year.

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Update on advent day one

I went back to the nursing home today, where there were hardly any residents to be seen as the lifts were broken – all those residents stayed stuck in their rooms. But Cynthia was having lunch with a visitor. Cynthia didn’t recognise me, but her sister who was visiting said that she had always loved flowers and used to arrange them. I felt a bit odd going back but I’ll get over that. I made a plan to go back next week with my little girl in tow. Elderly residents don’t get to be around children very often, and children don’t get to be around elderly people much either. Maybe someone will be cheered by it.

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Read Commitment-phobe’s regular column for Reform here.

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