“Wrapped up like a scroll in our mailbox was this little treasure. An event between the foundational families of our little street… and they included us??
I was in shock they were kind enough to translate the message from German into English. We are the only American family on the block in our sleepy village, in a house most often rented to transients that only stay a few years at a time.
The note read: ‘Dear Neighbors, tonight there will be some Christmas music out of our window. If you like you can join us and open your window. Everyone can have his hot tea or ‘Glühwein’ (hot mulled/spiced wine) to start the Christmas time. We would be happy to see you.’
We have lived in Germany for over 3 years, stationed here by the U.S. Military. We live off-base in a rental home among a town of people, of whom many have been here forever. We say friendly ‘hellos’ to our neighbors every time we see them and try to speak the language as best we can. We even took our neighbors gifts from our home town in the Seattle area, in an effort to break down the barriers… or maybe even to buy their affection!
Nearly all of them are incredibly kind to us when they see us. We all attempt to make small talk, they giggle about how cute our toddler twins are, and a few of them have given us gifts, notes, and local assistance. But as a collective… we still naturally stand outside the fixed circle.
We know, and they know, our time here is temporary, so maybe we are all trying to avoid building a deep friendship? After all, it is an investment of life and heart. I know many people don’t believe the risk is worth the potential reward to build a friendship with a military family, let alone a family difficult to communicate with. Maybe they are as embarrassed with their English as we are with our German? Maybe it’s just too tiresome to struggle our way through a hybrid sign-language and spoken-word conversation?
Regardless, this note (as trivial as it may be to some) feels like an offering. Like an open front door invitation to come in. Or the gate left cracked open on the path to the backyard BBQ. It feels like acceptance and kindness, even if we are all still in our own homes. They included us. They took time to walk across the street and climb over the language barrier to extend a hand in our direction. What a gift to even be invited to open a window.
It was a Monday when we pulled the treasure from our mailbox, and we were all excited to take part in this little neighborhood gathering later that night. With strict lockdown and COVID restrictions here in Germany, we have really missed connecting with others. To do something ‘social’ like this felt like a party!
My kids spent the day practicing music to prepare for the event, I pulled out my flute (which I hadn’t played since high school) to reacquaint myself with a very basic First Noel, and our house was slightly abuzz with joy and curiosity. None of us knew how it would work, who would play when, and how on earth we could make the piano heard on the front street.
As I left the house to run an errand, I called out to my neighbor (in my broken German) to tell her how thankful we were to be invited. I let her know we looked forward to ‘tonight’ and she suddenly looked very confused. We fumbled around between our words and I soon understood the music party took place the night before… and we had missed it.
Not only had we missed this precious invitation entirely, but my kids later informed me they were outside playing basketball (think: incessant ball bouncing) and, ‘We heard a bunch of instruments playing music, but we didn’t know what they were for!’
Our first invitation to something as a community and this is how we handle it? By annoyingly bouncing a ball through their attempt at a beautiful music medley?! Thankfully, our sweet neighbors had planned for this to happen every Sunday of the Advent season, as well as on Christmas Eve, and we would have plenty of time to join again in the weeks following.
An open window turned into standing at the end of our driveway, along with the rest of our cul-de-sac also standing in their own driveways. We air-toasted our warm drinks in one another’s direction and voiced pleasantries across the cobblestone. The soft notes of Christmas music played through those open windows and we sang to the songs we knew and enjoyed hearing the traditional German holiday songs we were just now meeting.
Children ran in circles with each other, happy to FINALLY see someone their size, and it seemed like everyone had the biggest, safely-distanced smiles on their faces. It was one of the most beautiful memories of Christmas in Germany, and even of 2020, I will take with me wherever the military or life sends us next.
If you have ever lived in a place where you don’t speak the native language, where you don’t understand what button to press on the automated phone menus, or you are scolded for not understanding rules everyone else seems to just know… it is very humbling. It can be very isolating. It can feel incredibly lonely.
Who can you invite to open a window? Who can we reach out to and bring into the fold? Who do we know who came to the cul-de-sac late or might only be in one place for a short time? How can we make them feel welcome, loved, a part of the collective? Write a note, bake something, open a window, and share yourself with someone, even if it is hard. You have no idea the impact even the smallest gesture can make. You have no idea how much it might mean to someone when you invite them into the circle.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Amy Ballard from Germany. You can follow their journey on Instagram and YouTube. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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