Sunday, December 13, 2009

Getting to Know the Neighbors

"We don't do neighborhoods like we used to."

"We don't do cookouts or block parties or Halloween or even look out for one another very much. How come? Maybe it's because we're too busy, or our neighbors are different from us, or it's a bother to stop for a conversation. Maybe it's lots of things."

"Ultimately, I think it is fear. I think we don't risk being known by our neighbors because we think it's safer to keep to ourselves and mind our own business. We think, "I'll just do my thing and hope my neighbor does his and we don't infringe on each other.""


This is an excerpt from an earlier post which cited an op-ed piece by Jon Myers, a former educator. For me it was challenging, especially since right after I read this, I received an invitation from our neighborhood association to a holiday gathering.

Myers is right. No matter the neighborhood, one of the reasons crime persists, communities decline and we live with this sense of isolated dread, is because we are far more interested in being homeowners than neighbors. So I went to the holiday gathering hosted in one of the homes in the neighborhood.

We are among the new homeowners in the area, having moved here three years ago and most of the ones at this gathering have been here for less time than my family. The get together was held, ironically, in one of the first houses we thought of buying in the area. It is owned by a single mother who works for the school district. I didn't buy because I thought far too much work would have to be done to get the house livable. But this young mother has made the house absolutely beautiful. While in her kitchen, I noticed a Christmas greeting that had a picture of a mother and a daughter. They were members of a church where I served as interim pastor for about 6 months a couple of years ago. It's a small world.

The world got even smaller when I another guest and I started talking. He's a member of a church where I preached a few weeks ago. Reads my column in the paper and is married to the cousin of a very good friend of mine who pastors a church near Boston, Massachusetts. Wow!

I met him, this past summer as he was landscaping the home he recently bought. At the time, he was still doing the remodel, but he let me and my wife go through it. It's near finished now, but he has put a lot of hard work into it and everyone was raving at how beautiful it now looks inside and out.

Another neighbor has recently brought a beautiful house down the street from us. Its a young couple and he evidently is a great cook. We all shared I likes and dislikes about barbecue in from Memphis, to Kansas City to North Carolina.

My neighbors behind our alley were there. They are a young Hispanic couple, with two children. My granddaughter has gone there to play with their children. They also live in one of the first homes we looked at in the area. They too have done a great job. They bought the house partially remodeled and are finishing the work. They've recently put up a beautiful wrought iron fence, with great looking gate. As we shared our stories, some of us know the same people, others of us have traveled to the same places.

Some of us have similar stories with interesting twists. We all have work to do in getting the houses to look the way we want. Some of us have skills we can share, advice we can give and references we can provide. We have concerns about economic development in the area. Property values. Crime and safety. We exchanged email addresses and telephone numbers so that we can stay in touch, get involved and stay involved. We've all moved into a wonderful older neighborhood, with great looking houses and we all talked about how fortunate we felt to live here.

I have to admit, I was apprehensive about giving up a portion of a Saturday to go hang out with strangers. After all, there's stuff to do and rest to get caught up on. But this was a really good time. And it wasn't just because it was the holidays.

It was good to get to know some of the people who live around us. They're our neighbors after all!

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