Neighbor: neigh·bor /ˈnābər/
There is a house near us that has children a few years older than our own. For months my husband has been encouraging me to knock on the door to meet this family. For whatever reason, I had resisted. I was feeling shy, or just wasn’t sure how to connect. I have found myself feeling a bit bolder as a result of the conference I attended a few weeks ago (possibly because I was talking non-stop to strangers for 36 hours). This past week, I saw the family unloading their car from some fun summer activity and I turned my car around and stopped. I crossed the street and said “hello”. I introduced myself and asked if any of their kids might be interested in being a mother’s helper for us. They were all incredibly nice and friendly. I learned that this family has chickens, which is glorious, because now I don’t need chickens. (My kids are obsessed with getting chickens.) Now they can go and hang with the chickens at our neighbor’s house! I don’t know where this relationship will go. We gave them apricot jam and they gave us a bowl of fresh eggs. But, I am so glad I stopped and said “hello”. Sometimes, all it takes is stepping outside one’s comfort zone and being a little bolder than normal.
Community: com·mu·ni·ty /kəˈmyo͞onitē/
As I have mentioned a few times this year (okay, maybe a few dozen times), our oldest will start kindergarten this fall. I feel the typical growing pains associated with this transition; nervous, excited and a teensy bit anxious. But, I have also begun to feel confident. Confident that the community we have chosen to live will help with this process. This is a pretty new feeling for me and I find it really exciting. We moved two years ago to the town where we live with the themes of “community” and “education” in mind. And over the past few years of living in this place, we have grown to feel more and more comfortable.
Randomly, on multiple days this week, a “suspicious individual” has been spotted discreetly snapping photos of children playing at a local elementary school playground. Obviously this is a creepy situation that no one would like to see occur near your home or progress to something worse. But instead of quietly stewing, parents called the police after spotting this guy and another parent sent out an email to alert friends of these strange incidents. I heard about it, but didn’t expect much follow-up. In the last few days, I have received at least five forwards of this original email alert from other sources within my community. Our police department has been taking this threat seriously and patrols the parks more regularly. In a different frame of mind, I could get pretty paranoid about this. But, from this negative event, I feel the strength within the community where we live. I hate the idea of anyone dangerous being anywhere near our children, but I find myself feeling hopeful as I see that this community truly cares for our children’s safety.
By speaking up and making sure that people know to be on the look-out, we are seeing community in action. This is exactly what I hoped for in choosing a community to raise my family. I realized today that I am putting my trust in this community. I will still send my child to kindergarten in less than a month. The alternative is staying in at home all day and night with the doors locked and starting to home-school come September. I see that children are still playing in these parks, but eyes are open and people are talking.
August 6th is Seattle Night Out, an event “designed to heighten crime prevention awareness, increase neighborhood support in anti-crime efforts, and unite our communities.” (http://www.seattle.gov/police/nightout/whatis.htm) This block-party type event is the perfect time to get together with neighbors and get to know one another! If your block doesn’t do this yet, start this year! You can find out more information and register your event with the Seattle Police Department here. We used to celebrate this annual event in our old neighborhood, and I am going to take my newfound boldness and make sure that we start doing it in our new neighborhood.
The Dalai Lama said recently, “A compassionate community will not be achieved only through prayer; I pray myself, but I accept its limitations. We need to take action to develop compassion, to create inner peace within ourselves and to share that inner peace with our family and friends. Peace and warm-heartedness can then spread through the community just as ripples radiate out across the water when you drop a pebble into a pond.”
Community can come in many forms. It can be people in close proximity to one another or a group of people you feel a connection with. It can be people with whom you share interests or activities. It can be family. The important part is connection. It is easy to live anonymously these days – technology makes this even easier. But, our lives are less full when human connection is missing. I want this connection for all of us. To live in places and in ways that people speak up, smile, and offer help to one another. We are all better for it.
Author note (added 8/7/13): Sometimes it is necessary to admit momentary defeat… I wasn’t able to pull a block party together on our block this year, but there’s always next year! On this particular day we just had one too many activities and we all benefitted from a quiet night at home. That was just the right choice for the day. Happy Summer!!