It’s an all too familiar paradox that we can feel most alone when we’re surrounded by others. While city life provides great opportunities for community, it is also incredibly isolating when it seems individuals abound, but no true friend can be found.
When I’m lonely, I idealize other places, other times. I picture “the way things used to be” — neighbors greeting each other as they go out for their morning newspapers, chatting as they manicure their front yards, sitting on porch swings in the evening. Perhaps this still exists somewhere. Perhaps it never existed at all.
Regardless of whether we can achieve some Utopian neighborhood ideal, neighborliness is still something that we can and should practice.
These days it is difficult, because our communities have largely shifted away from being geographically based. People don’t necessarily work or play near their homes. Community forms around shared interests, and much of it has shifted online. But there is something unique and irreplaceable about interacting with those physically near you.
A friend of mine recently told me how she has bonded with her neighbor’s dog across their shared fence, but has never interacted with the dog’s owner. I, too, see my neighbor’s pets more often than their personal faces. I see the same collared cat prowling around my parking space, I hear my neighbor’s energetic kitten tearing back and forth across the hardwood floors. Subtle reminders of the invisible human neighbors that I do have, but never see. Even with a shared parking lot, we simply never cross paths! If I lived in a suburban bubble, with my own house and an attached garage, the seclusion would make more sense. But it happens even in the city if you’re not intentional about reaching out.
I try to be out as much as possible, watering plants on my small porch, or walking down to the corner store for just an item or two. I’ve met two neighbors in the building next to mine this way, just by being outside at the right time. One was out walking her cat on a leash, and unless you live on my block, you don’t see that every day! That made for a good, if awkward, conversation starter. The other was out walking his two dogs, and since I happen to have some dog-sitting on my resume, I offered to watch his dogs if he ever needed to leave town. We haven’t reached the point of sharing iced teas and long conversations on the front porch, but it’s a start!
I tried to come up with some more creative ways to meet neighbors, but legitimate trust issues can make it difficult to do anything out of the ordinary. I can’t just walk over to the neighbors’ apartment, the one from which I occasionally hear a baby crying, and offer to baby sit. I probably won’t just knock on random doors until I find someone to take a walk around the neighborhood with me.
So, I realized, it may be best to stick with some tried and true strategies:
Give housewarming gifts to new neighbors–plants or home baked goods are good bets.
Invite neighbors to a barbecue, or to join in providing items for a group yard sale.
Share your abundance. Too much basil in your window garden? Give it away!
Borrow something you need. The cliché cup of sugar may work. Personally I prefer to borrow a small appliance, like an electric mixer, that I don’t have the cupboard space for.
Whether you’re new to your neighborhood, or you’ve been there for decades, it’s always the right time to start meeting neighbors. It’s easiest if you seize the opportunity while it’s fresh. But even if it’s not, it’s better late than never! You might not create the ideal neighborhood overnight, but you just might make someone’s day.
Photo Credit: http://angels-overcome.tumblr.com/page/4