What I Learned From 15 Minutes Inside My Neighbor’s House (& How To Recover From Our Skim, Scan, and Scroll Culture)

We knocked at the door hesitantly and were greeted by a cheerful couple who ushered us inside.

I wasn’t expecting such warmth from people I had never met before; it had been years since a neighbor showed interest in getting to know me and who shared their own lives with such openness. 

Once inside, they proceeded to give us a tour around their house, even walking us upstairs to the newly remodeled shower in the master bathroom. Within 15-minutes we received the business card of their highly recommended painter, learned about their previous work before retirement, the condo they almost bought, and how they planned on never moving from this current house.

As our visit wrapped up, the conversation took an intimate turn and the tears welled up in the woman’s eyes at the mention of her beloved sister who died a few months ago, followed by her son’s unexpected passing in his sleep only a short time later.

Sometimes 15 minutes is all it takes to engage in a full sensory experience with our fellow human beings. And don’t you think we’re all desperate for more dimensionality and depth?

Out of all the friendly, smiling neighbors we encountered on our new street (we’re collecting names and contact information for an updated neighborhood roster) this couple stuck with me. Their warmth as tangible as the sunshine on a perfect Pacific Northwest July afternoon.

Not only did they implore us to come in, but they waved their hands through the air as if to propel us to leap over the invisible line keeping us apart and alone. Soon, my feeble-front-porch-first-glances were woven into a richer, more layered, and mysterious story.

Our culture is training us to skim, scan, and scroll on from millions of faces and images every day either on our phones or out in public.

I fear I’m settling for too many partial peeks and conspicuous front covers of people’s lives and not retaining my hunger for the wrinkled pages and honest realities that tell the bigger story. 

But everyday we are presented with opportunities to beckon others through the front door of our lives, take them behind the scenes, and decide to show them around our home, our hearts, and our colorful, complicated, multi-faceted human selves.

Although connection might be their intention, quick glances tend to stir up contention and envy within me. Take this week, for instance, flashing before my eyes were…

the homemade batch of pancakes you served your children on Saturday morning, 

your remodeled home and new decor, 

the vacation you went on this summer, 

the books on your nightstand, 

the meal you cooked for dinner,

the date you went on with a friend, 

your porch and your cup of tea, 

your flourishing backyard garden, 

the new job you landed and the desk you sit at, 

your post-workout sweaty face. 

Without any back story and void of context and conversation to accompany these tiny splices of your life, I’m left to flounder in a cropped sensory experience, with only my limited vision to guide me. Ultimately, I end up making faulty, dangerous assumptions about you, about us.

We are losing our ability to look further, deeper, and closer at one another, and worse, the rest of our senses sit dormant, shriveling up from lack of use. 

It doesn’t take long though, 15 minutes is plenty of time to share the story behind your smile, your sickness, your son’s death, or your new shower.

Fifteen minutes is enough to offer people a wider lens through which to view you.

Fifteen minutes is enough to move beyond the front door pleasantries and into the place where compassion, understanding, and commonality can actually take root.

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