Imagine the pleasure of being greeted with a smile and a hello, as you take a walk near your home. Imagine strangers welcoming you, simply because you’re passing by. Picture living where most of the people are open to conversation from their street-side porches, if you want to engage. They might ask your name, and it feels right to respond in kind. It may occur to you that this is a good way to make some new friends. This is the place I live.
I have never known a neighborhood like this. I’ve waited a long time, and traveled a long way, to get here.
It seems to me that significant power can be had from the unity of similar types of people. I’m not talking about those of us who look alike. Not the same gender, or education. Not the same nationality, nor common language. I’m not even talking about the same faith, or political party.
What do I mean, exactly? Well, if our consistencies happen to be the values we hold– for example, the manner in which we treat others– then men and women can create something wonderful. The phenomenon translates to home turf if the majority of our neighbors share one more common thing.
Where I live, our unity is this: Absolutely everyone from street to street, three-miles wide, have moved here within the last six years. That’s it. We’ve decided, one family at a time, and without a coordinated plan, that we’re starting over, right here.
A forest was cleared, and we came, and we built.
We left what we had, from all corners of the country, to make a better life. Everyone’s starting over, since about 2016.
Let me tell you what it’s like. I set out each day for a brisk 40-minute walk. The sidewalk starts right outside my apartment door, and I make a beeline for the street next to the park. A woman is walking her dog, and she says hello. A jogger smiles and opens his fingers in a tight, right-angled wave. I respond in kind.
I pass the central pond with its automobile-sized island, until recently home to a family of eight geese. I’m in the thick of the houses now. Below me, neat white sidewalk squares separate front lawns of homes from the small sections of grass that abut the street. Tiny centipedes, thin as a pencil lead and one-half inch long, walk this cement path too. In fact I step over centipedes on the average of one per second, which translates to over two-thousand of these curious creatures during my two-mile routine.
Innocent enough and quite cute, they too are excited to be here.
The scent of Confederate Jasmine is sweet and plentiful. This plant is something like a wild vine, with white flowers emitting their fragrance. Believe me, the aroma is one that you’d never get tired of.
Porches are typically about ten feet from the sidewalk, and are adorned with signs. “Life Needs More Friends and Front Porches”, reads one. “Welcome to the O’Neil’s”, says another, in carefully-painted script. With all this, and more, the thoughts that rise to my mind are natural, and soothing. Hello neighbors, hello people I haven’t met yet.
I don’t force this. I don’t pursue the bond out of a need to fit in. The environment simply makes it easy for this group.
Here’s the secret. People are happy because they know how fortunate they are to be here. They’ve escaped. From where did they come?
Perhaps their former states’ politicians didn’t represent their interests. Maybe neighbors never glanced up from years of car-door-to-front-door. No matter what anyone says, or thinks, or writes about, people don’t truck to a new neighborhood across the country, just for better weather. It takes a massive push to get people to move from the state of their origin.
The secret, part two: People from across the United States got tired of a certain way of life, got tired of a way that wasn’t going to change for the better, and did something about it.
They had to work to get out, and to get here.
This is not Utopia. This is not a commune, nor a gated community. There is crime; we lock our doors, and keep aware of what’s going on around us.
Recently a fire alarm was pulled and the residents of my building filed out into the night. As we stood, in no particular grouping, just waiting for the fire truck to investigate and let us go back to sleep, I heard a woman say to no one in particular: “Well, this is one way to meet your neighbors!” I didn’t even bother to look up.
A few days later, a lady was waiting outside for her husband. I stopped and asked her, “Were you part of that fire alarm last week?” She said yes. Was she the one I’d overheard? It was. We introduced ourselves, and in the end, she had been right that night. And if she hadn’t said it then, I wouldn’t have had anything to mention now. We’d have remained strangers.
I have met others. Not just in saying hello, but exchanging phone numbers as well. Does that sound strange to you? It does to me. Mainly because I’ve only lived here six months and old attitudes die hard.
A few weeks ago my family was invited to a new friend’s home for dinner. What a wonderful time we had! Not only was the food delicious, but we got to know a little more about someone new to us, someone who would text and ask how we were holding up in the latest wild rainstorm raging outside.
That kind of connection is a beautiful thing. Because the only way a full life works, is with friends. Welcome to the neighborhood.