My seminary boyfriend broke up with me just a few days before I was supposed to go house-hunting. It was my senior year, and I had just accepted an exciting new call as an assistant rector. A girlfriend of mine named Mary peeled me off the floor of my dorm room and insisted on driving me to look for houses in this town in which I had never visited, much less lived. Moving away from all that I knew felt terrifying. Mary metaphorically held my hand while we visited apartment after apartment, until I found "the one." The townhouse was brand new, painted a cheerful cream, in a somewhat Pleasantville-like neighborhood. Mine was a sweet two-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath, with a rent in the outer limits of what I could afford.
I moved in two months later. By then I felt like myself again, and had
even met a man in the new town, but I was still nervous about not
having friends in this new community. As I moved in, I noticed several
people about my age around the neighborhood. Not knowing what else to
do, I threw a "Welcome myself to the neighborhood" dessert party, and
invited all my neighbors.
That was one of the best decisions I have ever made. What was scheduled to be a three-hour mid-afternoon open house, turned into an eight-hour party, replete with food, festive beverages and board games. I came to realize that my neighbors on either side of me were both named Sarah, and we assigned ourselves the titles Sarah1, Sarah2 (that’s me) and Sarah3. While the woman in the fourth house is named Mandy, she too became part of our circle of friends.
We have been through enormous changes together. When we met each other three years ago, only one of us was married. Now, all four of us are married, Sarah3 has a year-old baby, and Sarah1 and Mandy are both expecting babies this summer. I, to their consternation, do not intend to add to this brood anytime soon. Babysitting this lot will be overwhelming enough!
We walk our dogs together. When the weather warms, we break out the grills a couple times a summer and enjoy a leisurely evening. We have thrown elaborate joint Christmas parties featuring Christmas treats from across the globe. We borrow sugar, eggs, and butter from each other. We look after each other’s pets. When one of us is feeling blue, we bake her cookies. We celebrate our good news, and mourn our bad news together. When one of us gets caught up at work and we don’t see her for awhile, we miss her. When there is an eclipse, meteor shower, or fireworks we bring blankets out into the courtyard, lie on our backs and try to catch a glimpse of something spectacular. Some of us, goaded into it by Sarah3, even trained for a ten-mile race together. (Never again.)
When the aforementioned rebound relationship ended badly, Sarah3 lent me her stuffed dog that had seen her through many a breakup. She was also the first to predict that I would have an early engagement when she met the man who is now my husband. I have had the privilege of seeing her baby nearly every day and celebrating the miraculous leaps this child has made.
When my husband and I adopted our dog, Sarah1 brought over a Ziploc bag full of food, another of Milk-Bones and a stuffed toy. When Sarah3 had her baby shower, the overflowing basket of gifts Sarah1 brought her was so beautifully and generously put together, all of us were humbled by our meager presents. She is the person always ready to run to the store and get you something if you are sick, even if she is also under the weather.
Mandy, who studied women’s spirituality in graduate school, provided a safe place for me to talk about what it was like to date while being a clergyperson. I knew I could be totally open with her and that my story would be respected and guarded. She has the kind of gentle disposition that radiates. She is the only person whose face my dog covers with kisses.
While each of our personalities is very different, we are all oriented towards helping others. Sarah3 is a lead teacher for an at-risk preschool program, Sarah1 is a special education teacher, and Mandy is a high school counselor and cheerleading coach. Perhaps because of this, and because I drink wine and occasionally let a colorful word slip, my neighbors do not seem too fazed by the fact that I am clergy. If my profession does come up in conversation, it is often in a humorous way. For example, Sarah1’s husband is very handy and is always working on some project for their house. He also happens to be Jewish. One day, as I was getting into my car to go to work and he was sawing some crown molding on his back porch, he said something to his wife, who rolled her eyes. When I asked what he had said, she replied, "He wants to know if it makes you happy that you live next door to a Jewish carpenter."
I love these people.
I knew by going into a life of ministry that developing friendships outside of church would be challenging. For whatever reason, God graced me with these wonderful friends literally flanking my every side. We know we cannot stay next-door neighbors forever. (Sarah3 and her husband are already looking for a larger home so they can expand their family. Occasionally, I baby-sit their perfect daughter when they go looking at houses, and I not-so-secretly hope that each house will contain at least one fatal flaw.) Life is fluid and with time come changes, but for these three blessed years, which have ushered me into my thirties, and into married life, these women have stood beside me and allowed me to be fully myself. There is no greater gift.