As a child, I remember playing with other kids on my street. As an adult, I had noticed a sad trend of people locking themselves away in their homes, isolating themselves from the people who live near them. Over a decade of witnessing negative neighbors created a sense of fear and paranoia when it came to people coming to my home. This was something I learned to live with, thinking that it was now just the way people are. But, I was so wrong.
I moved a few times as a child because my father was a college soccer coach and would switch colleges every few years. This meant that my childhood was filled with different types of neighborhoods. Our neighborhood in New York had all of the houses close together with a sense of community. I would play in my neighbor’s yard and sing songs about the neighbors walking by with their dogs. When we moved to the bluffs of Minnesota, our neighbors were more spread out, but still, I had the sense that I could play with my neighbors. Florida brought warmer weather which meant I could spend more time outside playing or swimming in a neighbor’s pool. Yeah, I was the kid on the block without a pool which meant I needed to make friends with my neighbors or I would be stuck in the backyard with the hose. All three of these states had different types of neighborhoods, but in each one, I felt as if I could create relationships with my neighbors.
It wasn’t until I was married with my first home of my own that I began to see a change in our neighborhoods. The moment I knew that our first neighborhood was not one that I could make relationships in was when my landlord, who lived next door, was chasing a chicken in circles around my house. This same man had limited English but always managed to be able to ask me if he could have my stuff whenever I opened my garage door. I saw a trend of people either ignoring each other or being overly friendly in order to get something from you. I no longer saw kids playing in the yard or neighbors talking on the sidewalk. Instead, people would stay within their own property lines and avoid eye contact at all cost. What had happened to our society to change the way we interacted with our own neighbors?
We moved several times over the years and almost all of the neighborhoods were uninviting. Neighbors kept to themselves and did not welcome you with a basket and an invitation to dinner like in the movies. I began to lose all of that sense of community that I had as a child. Once a man came to our house to sell magazine subscriptions and the whole time I kept thinking that he was scouting our house to see if he could take stuff. I am not sure if this man intentionally was giving off this vibe or if I had gotten so isolated in my own home that I felt like all outsiders were only there for harm. After that point, I would look through the peephole and if I did not know them, I would not answer the door.
Recently, we moved to a small town in South Dakota. I did not know that this new residence would bring back my sense of community that I once had as a child. From the moment we arrived, I noticed people walking around the neighborhood, kids riding their bikes, and neighbors stopping to talk to each other. How did this town still have the sense of community that I hadn’t seen in years? I had not seen people interacting like this on a regular basis in so long that it had become foreign to me. At first, I doubted that this place could have a true sense of community that I had been missing.
Then our neighbor two doors down began to put out piles and piles of clothes for free. Since we were not prepared for the coming cold weather, I knew it would be good to see if any of the clothes were in my children’s sizes. The woman who was so generously giving away clothes went out of her way to find clothes in my children’s sizes. We ended up with at least two garbage bags full of things. She even threw in a twin mattress as well.
This kind gesture, mixed with the smiles and greetings of all of my neighbors have been slowly fixing what the past decade had done. I may not be fully ready to embrace everyone I see. That comes with time. But, I am ready to receive the kindness of neighbors once again.