This is kind of random, but over the years I’ve found myself wondering about the concept of neighborliness, and what it means to share a physical community with people.
As a young girl, 3 of my closest friends lived on my street. I could walk a few houses down to play with them, and often did. Our parents took turns babysitting. We invited each other to parties, whether at the neighborhood pool, the clubhouse, or in our own homes. It was a modest row of townhomes, but it felt like the Cleavers. Like the stuff we see on TV.
In middle school, my family moved to a neighborhood that looked more like suburbia, but none of the kids were quite my age. The boys down the street were cute, but too old to be interested in me. The girls nearby needed me as a babysitter, not a friend. My parents introduced themselves to everyone, but no one ever really became our family friends. We waved as we drove by, or said hello as we picked up the newspapers from our lawns, but we didn’t borrow cups of sugar or anything.
College dorms are their own special ecosystem, full of hormones and alcohol and gossip and stress. But they are also the most “neighborly” community I’ve ever lived in. (Especially the freshman dorms.) I could ask anyone for anything — a blowdryer, a snack, a tampon, a condom. I could knock on someone’s door at 2 in the morning if I had an emergency — and often even if I didn’t. I had privacy when I needed it, but I never felt isolated or alone. It was that place where everybody knew your name, and they were always glad you came.
Now I live in a condo complex, a small but diverse, new-ish development. There are lots of old people, a spattering of families, and then several “yuppie” couples like me and Andy. Because I walk Riley so much, we’re minor celebrities in the neighborhood, but honestly I wouldn’t call myself close to anyone here. Or at least not anymore.
The neighbors I thought I was close to — a young couple with a dog and a new baby — recently moved away. Without telling me. Not even a note on the door, or a casual mention that they were looking for a new place. One afternoon I passed by their patio — where we had chatted about football, jobs, TV shows, the dogs, the baby — and all their stuff was gone. A few days later, someone else’s stuff was moved in.
To say I’m sad would be melodramatic. But surprised, certainly. And a little disappointed. Part of me wonders, What’s the point? Why bother reaching out? Maybe modern technology means we don’t need neighborliness anymore. Our family and friends are just a drive, call, or click away.
But part of me clings to the ideal that “home” is about more than four walls and a roof. It’s a place you want to go back to at the end of each day. Obviously the people inside those walls should be ones you love — but shouldn’t the people right outside at least be ones you know? Possibly even like?
Don’t worry, I’m not scarred for life or jaded. (Yet.) In fact, for several weeks I’ll be helping a woman who just had hip surgery by taking her dog out twice a day. I don’t want to be her BFF or anything, but it’s nice to know that there’s someone in my neighborhood who feels comfortable asking for a favor. It’s nice that there’s someone in my neighborhood I feel comfortable doing a favor for. And I’m sure that if either one of us were to move away, we would tell the other.
That’s not too much to ask, is it?