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My Neighbors Get Together

June 27, 2011
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I’m a renter.  I do not yet own a home, and will probably not cross that life milestone for several more years.  I like renting.  It is somewhat of a carefree process, and has provided me freedom and anonymity in the years since college.  As I’ve lived in different apartments, I have certainly known the faces of those who came and went at the same time I did, but I never stopped to get to know anyone.  For a while the anonymity of renting an apartment didn’t bother me – it was actually quite nice.  The privacy of coming home was a welcomed difference from the fanfare of walking in the doors at work.

Last year, my husband and I started renting an apartment in a house.  We are not living in a complex with numbers on doors.  There is no maintenance office to quickly pass by.  We are in a neighborhood.  Our house sits on the corner of a street in an historic part of a small New England town.  We are in a community.  With trees and dogs and little kids on bikes.  There are grills outside, lawn mowers humming, and people who wave at each other as they drive by. We have lived here over a year now, and I am starting to wish we weren’t just nameless faces pulling in and out of our driveway.  I am starting to wish we were known.

A few days ago there was a car accident in front of our house.  Police shut down the two lane road running past our home for hours.  As I watch, it feels like everyone in town is standing on our lawn at some point or another.  People come and go, come and go.  I just sit on my front porch and watch and pray as police clean up the mess.  An older gentleman comes and sits next to me.  We chat.  He lives in the house behind ours.  Another man walks up carrying his little girl.  He is bald and big and friendly.  He sits down. He lives across the street.  The three of us discuss what we’re seeing and where we were when it happened.  The bald man waves at a middle aged woman, and asks her to come join us on my porch.  She lives next to him.  She is happy to come sit among friends.  The woman brings her two teenage children to sit down too.  We are all lined up, sitting on my front porch, talking over the tragedy in front of us and talking about our lives.

We sit on my porch for over two hours.  More neighbors join us.  Spouses, kids, dogs – they all come to this impromptu gathering and become part of the conversation.  Throughout the afternoon, I learn two of my neighbors are also teachers.  One woman is a runner and offers for me to join her any day I’m up for an early morning run.  There is a couple with a two year old son and a dog – both of whom I am welcome to come over and visit any time I want.  I listen to their stories and share my own.  I shed a few tears as my neighbor, who was one of the first to arrive and help at this accident, recounts what he saw, what he did, what he couldn’t do.  Someone puts their arm around him to show their support.  Someone else tells a joke to lighten the mood for all of us.  I smile because I am sitting amidst a real community here.  People who know each other, are there for each other, and depend on each other.

The police are in the final stages of cleaning everything up.  I don’t want my neighbors to go.  I want them to stay on my porch all day.  I wish I had asked them to sit on my stoop before this car accident took place, and I sit with mixed emotions of gratitude and grief.  I am grateful they sat down.  I am grateful we got a chance to meet.  But I grieve the circumstance.  And so do they.

Before everyone finally decides it is time to go home, someone mentions the idea of a block party.  Everyone emphatically agrees it is something we must do, and I am perhaps the most excited in the group.  In just one afternoon, these people are not just nameless faces to me anymore, and I am not nameless to them.  We are a little community, a little group.  We are a place to belong and a place to be known.  We are neighbors, and for the first time in a long time – I really like the sound of that.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 27, 2011 3:43 pm

    We now live in a community like that for the first time in our married life. I LOVE my neighbors. We would do anything for them and they would do the same for us. We have BBQ’s, babysit eachother’s kids, do B-day parties, late night pit fires, etc. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to live by. I’m so glad that you’ve found this in your neighborhood!

  2. June 28, 2011 6:16 am

    “I smile because I am sitting amidst a real community here. People who know each other, are there for each other, and depend on each other.”

    Yes. Community, whatever form it may take be it online (great!) or in the flesh (even better!) is such a blessing, and those moments where we REALLY connect, where we realize that we are all part of the same body, those are transforming moments. So glad for your experience, though obviously, not for the event that brought you all together… beautiful, and meaningful post here. Bless you, friend.

  3. June 29, 2011 12:11 am

    What a lovely story of how community can be used as redemptive space even in the midst of tragedy and mess. And kudos to you for welcoming everyone to your porch. I am delighted with you that this marks a transition of sorts – from observer and occupier…to neighbor, one who belongs. Just lovely.

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