Growing up in a small, rural community of just over 800 people meant that everyone knew everyone else. In this small environment, I witnessed what it meant to be a neighbor to someone. My parents were friends with those people who lived around us. They would spend nights playing cards at each other’s homes. There would be times when they would get together for coffee and conversation. Whenever there was a need, either for a missing baking item or because of something having gone wrong, my parents and those who lived around us were the first to respond and supply whatever was needed. Together they parented each other’s children and had no issues tattling on us kids when they felt warranted. My image of what it means to be a neighbor is one of being similar to an extended family.
Having grown up and moved away from the community of my youth, I began to live in larger and larger cities. Some of these locations still had an understanding of being a neighbor similar to my own, but others had a much different concept. The city in which I now reside is a part of a metropolis of over seven million people. I would have to say that being a neighbor in this city is very different from the understanding which I have had most of my life. Being a neighbor to most whom I have encountered means having adjoining property lines or being across the street and that is the extent of the definition. While this is not completely shocking, I am not convinced that this is how it has to be. In fact, I would go so far as saying that I do not think it needs to be this way.
I have decided that I want to show those who live around us, a much different possibility of being a neighbor. Realizing that I am new to the neighborhood in which I now live, I know that I need to take small steps. The key to making this change is small steps which create trust. The first step which I have deliberately made is to be visible. We are fortunate to have with our house not only an awesome patio in our fenced off backyard, but a terrific front porch. My husband gave me wooden Adirondack chairs for a Christmas gift. Per my request, he painted them white. After taking down the outdoor Christmas decorations from our front porch, we moved the new chairs to the front porch. We added a half, wooden barrel (which he also painted white) in between the chairs to provide a stand for our drinks or other items. With this set up, it is possible for me to spend sunny mornings or afternoons sitting on the front porch, reading, and sipping a drink. By doing this, I am visible to my neighbors and gives me an opportunity to at least say hello whenever I see them out.
Another small step which I have taken is to be deliberate about introducing myself to neighbors whom I have not met yet. I share a little bit about myself and my husband, then I ask about their families if they do not offer information on their own. I work hard at remembering their names and a little bit about them so when I see them outside I can call them by name and even ask a question regarding something which they have already told me.
My hope is that by taking these small steps, I can build trust. By building trust, it will be much easier to interact more frequently and to do more in looking out for one another. The days of going over to one another’s house to play cards in the evenings may be gone. However, I think we all could use a little more feeling of being a neighbor in a world which can be so impersonal.
Like Mr Rogers would sing….. “Won’t you be…my neighbor?”