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.