Considering that I've moved nine times in my life, I've also experienced my share of neighbors. Some good, some so-so and definitely plenty that still stick out in my mind.
One of the most recent realizations about the people-next-door, though? How much they have actually taught me about loving my body and myself! It's no secret that self love is a touchy topic, especially among teenage girls. In fact, surveys show that 7 in 10 girls feel like they aren't good enough (in looks, academics, athletic performance or otherwise).
Here are four secrets I've learned from neighbors to help keep me - and hopefully you - from becoming one of those statistics!
1. Nothing is more beautiful than following your passion.
One of our closest neighbors in our last house was an awesome guy named Kevin. In the three years we lived there, my mom worked with him, they celebrated birthdays together (ironically, they were born on the same day, ten years apart!) and he became an honorary member of the family.
And, as part of the family, he had a front row seat to the battle of Casey vs. Celiac - and he saw me losing, not only weight but also spirit. Until, months after my diagnosis, my hospitalization and freshman year, he heard the familiar bounce of a soccer ball on our driveway. While I didn't notice him watching at the time, he later told my mom, "It's so good to see her playing soccer again and looking healthy!"
Because beauty is so much more than wearing size zero jeans; in fact, I've never been more unhappy with my body than when I was the "thin" body shape so many girls strive for. Beauty is passion - like the love between a girl and her much-missed soccer ball.
2. There's no age limit to rockin' a bikini.
She's in her fifties or sixties. She's taking out the trash, checking her garden or just relaxing in a lawn chair in her front yard. And she's wearing nothing but a bikini.
For one of my neighbors, these three sentences sum up her everyday routine. The first time I noticed her - shall we say slightly unusual - attire, I couldn't help but laugh. A bathing suit without a beach, a swimming pool (or even a sun for tanning) anywhere nearby? No way!
As I shared the story with one of my roommates, though, another reaction hit me: You go girl! I hope that by my fifties, I can rock a bikini anytime anyplace without a second thought. Heck, I wish I had the confidence to walk around in a bikini now - even though I'm in what many would call my "golden years" (aka young 20s).
Because, really, having a bikini body doesn't mean being of the right age, height, weight, fitness level, etc. It means being comfortable in your body...an important goal for any age!
3. Extraordinary can hide in plain sight.
Looking at it from the outside, it looks like another cookie-cutter house built in the 70s. Same yellowish stucco exterior. Same cracking driveway. Same bushes and grass fighting to survive the California drought.
Yet, the moment my mom and I accepted John's invitation to tour his house, we discovered it was anything but average. John, an engineer with a tendency to tinker when bored, made small adjustments all over the house. Address numbers that glowed in the dark. An orange tree with an irrigation system that NASA would envy. And that was just the house; its owner was equally intriguing, sharing stories of his four huskies that ate at the dinner table (using chairs and everything) or about his time serving in Vietnam.
When later asked why our visit to John took several hours, Mom and I didn't even know where to begin. In my experience, getting to really know someone for the first time results in the same awe and confusion. And the same tendency to search for that little spark of "extra" in every "ordinary" day, thing or person.
4. Inner joy outshines any external appearance.
For those whose family or friends have had it, "cancer" is the dirtiest c word there is. Similar to the cancer itself, the effects spread from the patient to their family, friends and even, in my case, the neighborhood.
She'd been undergoing chemotherapy for several months when my mom and I finally ran into her during our nightly walk. Sweatpants replaced her sleek dressed and a pink headscarf covered where her long brown curls used to live.
Yet, at that moment, she glowed. Excitement over her treatment working, gratitude for being able to get out of bed that day and love for the family members and friends supporting her shone brighter than any new hairstyle or shade of lipstick ever could.
She still has several battles to fight and treatments to undergo, and I know she would appreciate prayers. But I know I have something to be grateful for too: her reminder that the saying, "Beauty comes from within," is as true as it is cliche.
For better or for worse, we are shaped by the people who surround us. Countless people - including scientists - have explored how their mothers or fathers affected their self esteem (if you don't believe me, just Google it!), and you can probably think of a few personal habits you picked up from high school or college friends.
But, as I've discovered, you can learn about self love, the meaning of beauty and general life lessons from unexpected sources too, such as the common neighbor. In fact, if you pay attention, you might learn even more than you ever imagined.
Like how beautiful being passionate, confident, attentive and joyful can be.
*Also found at Best of the Blogosphere, Totally Terrific Tuesday, Wine'd Down Wednesday, LovePastaToolBelt, Let's Get Real and ShareFest!*
Have you ever learned a life lesson from a neighbor? Do you relate to any of these tips? Tell me what you think below!