New roofs make good neighbours

There has been a rash of roofing in our neighbourhood this summer. I can count at least five houses on our street that have had trucks deliver big skids of shingles and a garbage bin to their driveway. Not long after, a crew of the workmen arrive (they do always seem to be men). They strip the roof down to the plywood and then begin loud, methodical banging. Sometimes they try to drown out the sound with a really loud car stereo, which is not particularly effective.

Predictably, our neighbour came by a few days ago to warn us that they would be having a new roof put on. “I just wanted to let you know,” he said. “It will be noisy. Sorry.” He came by again the next day and knocked at the door. He was worried, he told my husband. Work would begin on the roof the next day and he didn’t want our clean laundry getting dusty from the work on the roof.

I had all but forgotten about the roof next door until this morning. I heard unfamiliar voices outside in the backyard and went to see who it was. I didn’t find anyone, but I did see a blue tarp hanging over the fence. It extended from my neighbour’s roof down into my flower bed. How nice they were concerned about not getting garbage on their client’s property, I thought. Too bad it was now going to end up on mine!

I decided I could probably remedy the situation, or at least make it a little better. I stretched out the tarp (thankfully there was a fair bit to work with). I got out a hoe and used it to lift the edge up so that any garbage would be cradled in the hollow instead of falling out into the soil.

When I finally caught sight of a man on the roof, I waved a friendly wave to him. “I will be careful,” he said, which made me feel better. He had picked up on the fact that I was concerned. “OK,” I said with a smile. “I don’t care about the grass so much but don’t want shingles in my flowerbeds!” “Yes, yes. We will be careful,” he said.

Here in the suburbs, we like to think that we live in our own private space, set apart from anyone else. We are completely self sufficient, and self-focussed. We don’t have front porches, we have front doors. There has actually been a nasty exchange in the local paper this summer in which people are debating whether or not children should play outside. Some think organized sports are enough, and get the kids off my lawn already.  

Today I was thinking of this because the roofers made me realize just how close I am to G.’s house next door. He couldn’t do his roof without infringing on my yard. He couldn’t do his roof without infringing on my ears and maybe even my laundry. We usually choose to ignore this kind of closeness, preferring the illusion that each of us lives on a grand estate or some kind of private island.

It is hard to be patient with one another when we come to the sudden realization that we are, in fact, living in community. Sometimes kids walk across our lawn. Sometimes cars wake us up in the middle of the night. Sometimes roofers bang loudly all afternoon or threaten to spill shingle refuse in your hostas.

Perhaps it is at just that moment when we are annoyed with our neighbour, or even just aware of them entering our space, that we need to remember that someday soon it will be our turn. Someday it will be me coming home from a pastoral visit at 4am, or my son cutting the grass when the couple a few doors down are sitting outside on their patio, or my husband and I having a party that crowds the street with cars. Then it will be me depending on my neighbour to have patience.    

I remember this today, because from all the roofing going on around here these days, it won’t be long before there’s a blue tarp on my roof. Then it will be my turn to warn G. and his family about the noise and dust. I suspect he will be gracious about that.

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