At Random for Jan. 18, 2013

If you’re still looking for a New Year’s resolution this month, here’s a suggestion: Knock on a neighbor’s door, and ask him over for dinner. I thought about this on New Year’s Day, when our neighbor, Zelda, died after a long and valiant struggle with cancer.

While talking with Zelda a few months after moving into our neighborhood a decade and a half ago, we suggested that maybe we should share dinner sometime. It’s one of those vague aspirations we all mutter in social circles — we’ll have to have coffee, we’ll go to lunch, we’ll have dinner. Too often, such pledges to reconnect lie dormant, along with so many other good intentions.

Although we often exchanged pleasantries with Zelda when we’d meet in the neighborhood, that dinner idea took years — yes, years — to become a reality.

In 2006, while renovating our house, we found ourselves without a functioning kitchen for a number of weeks, improvising with restaurant take-out and what we could whip up in a microwave perched near the piano. Zelda, anxious to provide us with a real, home-cooked meal, proposed that we should finally follow through on getting together for dinner. She offered to cook at her place, giving us a respite from the renovation.

But our then-5-year-old son got an unexpected visit from a classmate as the dinner hour approached. We didn’t feel comfortable bringing not one, but two boisterous little boys into Zelda’s antique-filled home.

By default, we fell upon an expedient. Why not shift the venue to our place, battered though it was by building construction? Few places seemed worse for a dinner party. Our kitchen was gutted, and the home improvement project had forced us to squeeze three roomfuls of belongings into one, cramped den. But we sighed, banked on Zelda’s tolerance, and invited her in.

As we quickly realized, the sad condition of our house had no real effect on the quality of the evening. We ate on the backyard deck, enjoying Zelda’s meal on paper plates with plastic forks. We came to understand that Zelda hadn’t come to see our house; she’d come to see us.

Our first dinner with Zelda proved liberating. If she’d seen our place at its worst without batting an eye, why decline subsequent visits because of the occasional batch of laundry on the sofa, the pile of dirty dishes in the sink?

In the years after that initial shared meal, we traded many casual visits with Zelda. She never arched her eyebrow while sipping tea near the mound of newspapers on our living room floor, and we didn’t care, of course, about the bedsheet she sometimes draped across her couch to accommodate her dog.

Now that Zelda is gone, we miss her terribly. But we’re also grateful for our times together — and our decision to drop silly pretenses and more fully enjoy a neighbor’s company.

Do that favor for yourself. Wait for the perfect time to have a neighbor over, and you could be denying yourself a great friendship.

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