For two and a half years the big blue rental house next door sat quiet.
Back in 2008, when angry late-night yelling moved out, so did the family that had lived there long before our family moved onto the block.
As it turns out, we knew the yelling far better than the people. Grandma barely gave a look our direction. The teenage girls knocked on the door every few months to borrow our phone when they were locked out. And though we tried making small talk about the weather and their latest jobs before they walked back onto the front porch, it was clear they barely trusted us.
One girl seemed to have a baby that was sometimes with her, sometimes not.
The grandmother and granddaughters left the neighborhood, and the on-again, off-again boyfriends that looked menacingly, lit things on fire and hollered cuss words did too.
So did the sorrow voices that wailed at night.
It was quiet.
It made me feel sad.
I am still learning what community on this street means.
A few summers ago, I heard that being a good neighbor is partly about just showing up. Paying attention. Refraining from creating an agenda or a get-to-know-everybody-plan. Searching for what God is up to and joining there.
It felt true.
Soon after hearing this, we joined some neighbors to host a block party because the woman across the street (a long-time resident) wanted one last hurrah with the people on our street before she moved to Spain. We shared food. Kids swapped sidewalk chalk and bubbles.
During the party, and for another year after, the rental house on the corner sat quiet.
And then this past spring, the big blue house again filled with sound.
Clamored with unfamiliar words that rose and fell like music, utensils banging against the insides of metal pans, babies crying, drums beating, praise songs echoing from the shower and through the open windows.
The women wore brightly-patterned clothes and smiled. The men nodded respectfully. A young boy came to our backyard and helped us water our growing vegetables, played with our girls on the swing set. They were recent immigrants from the Congo and, just before coming to the United States through the sponsorship of a Portland church, lived in a refugee camp in Tanzania.
We brought them muffins, and they brought us a shiny purple bag filled with giant grapes, fried bread, sparkling cider and a note saying how thankful they were that God had given us to them as neighbors.
A month ago, the matriarch of the family — a woman with a broad smile and strong hands — walked door to door, delivering to the neighbors invitations to her daughter’s wedding.
The family was still barbecuing meat over bricks borrowed from our backyard when we headed to the Pentecostal church across town that looked like a converted bank. White tulle and red roses covered pew ends. Children ran between rows while we all waited for the service to begin.
We waited an hour and a half.
My girls and I took pictures on my phone and played in the church nursery. We talked to young kids.
A handsome African boy introduced himself to my daughters, then turned to me. “Many people do not realize that being late is a part of the African culture,” the 10-year-old paused dramatically, as if to make sure I understood that this waiting was entirely normal. “I have a good explanation for why it is difficult for me to make it to school on time.”
At 3:30 in the afternoon, our neighbors and the entire wedding party pulled up to the church in a long white limousine. The mother of the bride wore a cream colored suit that appeared to be second-hand. The young men from next door sported black tuxes with burgundy ties.
Women wearing head wraps and African dresses gathered close together.
Soon, accompanied by modern pop, the bride walked down the aisle to her groom — another recent immigrant to the United States.
The pastor’s sermon was translated into Lingala by a man next to him who held his son close.
When the bride promised to be faithful, to have and to hold, until death do they part, a small bell rang joyfully. When the groom promised the same, another bell rang.
When the pastor spoke of love and commitment, of the joy of marriage, the sanctuary filled with shouts of “Aye Yae-Yae-Yae-Yae-Yae!!”
Pulling out of the church parking lot, we waved to the mother-of-the-bride and her sister. Then, realizing we had not given the young couple their card with money enclosed for their new life together in Georgia, I circled the car around and headed back to our neighbor, standing uncomfortably in high heels.
“Could you give us a ride back to the house?” she asked in broken English.
Our neighbor sat with me up front, and her sister in the back seat next to my three-year-old. I asked their thoughts about the wedding, heard about their love of God and their journey to the United States. Told them how much we’ve loved living next door to their joyful family.
At times it was quiet, but for the sounds of the radio playing low in the background.
I let the women out in front of the big blue house and pulled around the corner. And I said a prayer, thanking God for the opportunity to share space with them and listen.
Share space. Listen. That is beginning to sound and feel more like community to me.