Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Community of Neighborhood

The morning sunlight filters through the lace of my curtains as I sip my coffee and read the Saturday morning newspaper.  I treasure quiet weekend mornings when I can leisurely read the paper and take the time to read a bit more deeply.  I was particularly interested in a piece by Peter Lovenheim, "In Search of our Neighbors."  Lovenheim has written a book, In the Neighborhood:  The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time.  I have not read this book, but will place it on my book list to read in the future.  A tragedy on his street ten years ago sparked his interest in the value of "community." 

The disconnection of our modern life, when we often feel closer to a "chat room" buddy than our next door neighbor, is sad.  Lovenstein cites several reasons why neighborhoods still matter.  He states, "They matter because if we want to start rebuilding a healthy civil society by learning to understand and live peacefully with people whose ideas may be different from our own, a very good place to start is with the people on our own block."

I have been fortunate to live in a neighborhood with a tremendous sense of community for forty years.  When we first moved into our old Victorian house on this quiet deadend street lined with homes of similar vintage, we were the youngest couple on the block.  We were welcomed with open arms.  The street has always housed a generational blend, from newborn babies to the very elderly.  Over the course of these forty years, the residents have changed, but the spirit of community has not.  People very seldom move by choice from this neighborhood.  Most of the vacancies that occurred were the result of an elderly person's unwilling move to a nursing home, or a death.  The new young families that have moved in were all looking for that special something that existed here -- a safe place to raise their children in an atmosphere of acceptance and mutual caring.

When my children were young, there were others close in age to play with, and they formed bonds with these friends that still endure (in fact, my older son and his wife grew up here together).  The children were also able to develop relationships with the older folks on the block.  Some of these relationships were warm and supportive; there were also some neighbors who met the criteria for "mean old man" perfectly.  Yet, even the "mean old men" were there in a heartbeat if a child was hurt or needed help. 

There has always been a level of caring on this street that is amazing.  We watch out for one another and keep up on each others' lives and families.  Everyone is busy -- this is not a neighborhood where we get together frequently for coffee or parties -- but we manage to stop and talk when we meet, and fill each other in on the important happenings in our lives and of those around us.  One of our oldest neighbors is a strong-willed, spirited man whose health problems necessitated a leg amputation.  Fred knows he can always call on us when he needs us, and I know that if I needed him, he would be out the door in his wheelchair and wheeling up my driveway without delay.  The cycle of life in this neighborhood is always completing itself.  My little grandchildren love to visit with Fred, and they brighten his day. 

The young children on this street feel safe and secure with the people around them; the older neighbors know that they are not isolated or adrift -- one call for help will summon a caring neighbor to their door.  This is what community is all about, and I feel extremely blessed to have lived on this street with all of these special people for forty years.

My hope for the future is that people begin to look next door for their sense of community, as well as to the internet and the workplace.  Learning to live with and care for our close neighbors is a tremendous life lesson, as well as a source of comfort and security in this often cold world.

Friday, April 1, 2011


While April 1 holds the title "April Fools' Day" in the minds of most people, to me it is one of the most beautiful dates on the calendar.  In my heart it represents the true beginning of spring -- the mud of March is behind us (although, not this year), the birds are singing, crocuses, daffodils and tulips are poking their heads through the warming earth, and the air is filled with the promise of re-awakening.  What a joy it is to contemplate the rebirth to come.

This year spring represents new beginnings in my life as well.  Last weekend my new granddaughter, Emma Christine was born.  Nothing can compare to the profound awe of holding your newborn grandchild in your arms for the first time, tracing her silky cheeks with your finger and tenderly kissing her.  As I looked into her eyes, deep blue like her Daddy's, the deep connection was immediate and profound.  We will love and cherish this child, and her genes will carry a part of all of us into the future. 

My children are all in the midst of their own new beginnings, too.  Emma's Dad is in the process of having a new house built for his growing family.  My other son has started his own business, and my daughter has moved into an apartment in our home to continue her education and find a more fulfilling path in her life.  

Our family business has succombed to the economic slowdown.  While we had planned to continue working until retirement and then pass a healthy business down to our son, this, unfortunately, was not to be.  Juggling the care of my grandchildren and hours of office work have been difficult, but to be suddenly unemployed is a shock.  However, though this is an unexpected ending, I also see it as a beginning of a different way of life.  In the fall I will have my new grandbaby to care for along with her brother and cousin, so my days will be full.  We will "downsize" our lifestyle to match our reduced income -- gone are the days of two cars and dinners out.  But, there is also a challenge in economizing and watching pennies, and my evenings and weekends will be my own -- no office work will beckon to me.  As a stay-at-home Mom when my children were young, my lifestyle was frugal, and I will once again return to old habits.  There is a peacefulness and simplicity of sorts in frugality.

I have always believed in the old adage, "When God closes one door, he opens another."  As our new lives take shape, I will have more time to smell the roses and plant the vegetables and tend the precious grandbabies, and explore what God has planned for my next life chapter.