Over the past few months my driving routes to and from work and other places have taken me by one of two new schools being constructed. If I take the route going west towards the farmland, at the border between suburb and rural there is a new high school being built  on the south slopes of Cooper Mountain, a sign of the rapid growth along the outskirts of the land that Beaverton and Hillsboro are able to develop, of the suburban sprawl that is happening despite the best intentions of those responsible for zoning within the Portland metropolitan area. If I take the route going north and then west, though, within a couple blocks of my current (although not for much longer) condo there is a building whose purpose was for a long time obscure.
It was not until the building was nearly finished, with its unfriendly walls seeking to bar would-be neighbors like myself who have a curiosity and a fascination with construction sites that has been true since my youth, that it became clear what sort of new neighbors we had. As it happens, the building being constructed in secrecy with a distinctly unfriendly and unneighborly air was the Oregon Islamic Academy, a private faith-based middle school and high school, run by the Muslim Educational Trust for the Portland area. Since the building has been finished, no longer do those of us who live and travel through the neighborhood wonder what sort of building it is, but rather we hear the sound of drums and music, and see the cars attempt to turn into the neighborhood a bit furtively, or try to avoid being run into by people leaving the school in a hurry as we turn left to head towards the freeway. We dwell in the same neighborhood, but we are not yet neighbors.
What is it that keeps us from being kind and neighborly to those around us? There are some sorts of people with whom we hit it off easily, and mere proximity to these people is all that is required for there to be lively and pleasant conversation, and an enjoyment of fellowship and camaraderie. There are other people who circumstance forces us to be around which is treated as something to be endured, something to steel oneself into being able to handle, without any sort of enjoyment in it. This is the case even when we may have a great deal of fondness for and a wish for the well-being of others, and where there may be many common interests  and common engagements that continually bring us around each other. But though we are often near each other, we may not be neighbors, or certainly not act like neighbors, because our hearts are filled with fear and concern instead of lovingkindness and grace, towards those who happen to be unwillingly near us.
What a waste it is, though, to be cold and unfriendly to those who view us with a sense of innate friendliness or polite curiosity, simply because we are not willing to communicate over the silence that shows that those who are close in space may be emotionally far apart. What would it take for there to be friendliness between the madrassa next door and its new neighbors. Assuming that there is nothing hostile to be found, surely it would not be asking too much for such an institution to welcome its neighbors with an open door policy, to show that it means no harm and shows no hostility, regardless of the suspicion or mistrust that others may naturally feel for such an institution. Trust takes a long time to build, but more than that it takes a willingness to speak our concerns, our hopes and our fears, our longings and wishes, and to be able to listen when others return in kind. It is only when we can talk, however awkwardly or uneasily, with the knowledge that what we say is being heard with respect, that we can tear down those walls that prevent us from being good neighbors, and that allow us to leave with those around us in a state of peace and harmony, even if we may sing with different voices.
After all, the Oregon Islamic Academy is not the only curious and quirky sort of organization that I happen to consider a neighbor of mine. Far from it, in fact. While driving to and from the house of a friend of mine who lives on the outskirts of Southwest Portland, I came across a building with various Scandinavian flags around it, and a wide and open and friendly approach into its parking lot, making it clear that it was a friendly building, open to strangers and neighbors. While I have yet to visit this building, I did look up what they were about, and found that they were the Scandinavian Heritage Foundation, with film festivals and restaurants and other cultural events that are open and accessible to those in Portland who, like me, share an interest in Scandinavian culture and history , even if we do not speak the language or have a great deal of Viking ancestry, save perhaps a little bit second hand through the Scots and Scot-Irish, as is the case for me. But that does not prevent one from being a good neighbor—it is not blood, but love, that binds us together, and where love is lacking, blood is not enough to keep us together. Let us therefore love one another and be good neighbors, so that we may feel at home with those who are around us, and not close our hearts in fear and worry and anxiety about the intentions of those who, regardless of our own interests, are near us wherever we are.
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