I am part of a rare ecosystem, one which is fast becoming extinct.
Let’s not let it happen.
I’m part of a neighborhood.
That doesn’t mean I live in a cookie-cutter subdivision surrounded by lots of other people of similar socioeconomic persuasions. That’s called a block. Or a development. Or a high-rise.
I live in a neighborhood.
The difference? Pointed out to me by my nine-year-old son’s friend on Halloween.
As we trick-or-treated, I ushered five boys from house to house. Only a couple of these boys were from my neighborhood. The others were from a different town. One from a very affluent town. His family owns multiple homes around the world. This little boy (we’ll call him Cameron) watched quizzically as my neighbors up and down the block greeted my son by name, and he them. They asked who his buddies were and if he’d had a party at school. And then asked where his older brother was.
At a couple of houses, I asked after a neighbor’s health or how wedding planning was going. Nothing earth shattering. But still, Cameron looked stymied.
Finally, he spoke up: “You know all the people that live around you. That’s weird. I guess in a good way.”
I didn’t have to ask why he thought this way. The town he lives in is rife with money but not time. Not a desire to get to know those living closest to you unless they can advance your career or get you into the right ladies’ group.
And suddenly, I was back in my office in downtown Chicago, about 15 years ago. The CEO of the firm I was working for was giving me sage advice. We worked closely together at times, as I wrote speeches and did some government affairs work for him. This particular golden nugget was regarding choosing a town and neighborhood. This CEO was an accomplished, charming man in his sixties. He had begun humbly, as a warehouse worker. So he was not a fan of bullshit. And he knew what it took to succeed.
“Don’t buy as much as you can afford as your career progresses,” he advised. “When we lived in a more humble abode, our neighbors dropped off soup if my wife was sick. They offered to carpool. We had barbecues. Where we live now is a block full of millionaires. I don’t know these people. I rarely see them and when I do, it’s usually at some damn fussy cocktail party where nobody tells the truth about anything. I hate it.”
I’ve heard similar laments from my financially successful friends, who bemoan everything from not being able to do their own gardening because it’s “not what’s done” to missing the old gang back in their previous neighborhood.
As I continued to escort my trick-or-treating troupe, I thought about how lucky I am to be around people who care. An elderly neighbor died recently, and most of the block was there in the pews at his memorial service. We chatted afterward and I know Hugh would have liked to see us all together, catching up.
We all know that Kathy talks too much but has a heart of gold—and that’s why her husband is so very quiet. He relishes the moments with no talking. But they work together, somehow. We know that the house around the corner flies a flag because their son is serving military duty in Afghanistan. And we are sure to ask if they’ve heard from him recently.
We bring food when someone’s daughter miscarries or a parent dies. When I need advice on my son’s ADHD, I go to my neighbors who are in education. When I was down after my divorce, who showed up at my doorstep but two sweet neighbors—replete with wine and goodie basket. We enjoyed it all together.
When someone’s youngest starts a new sport, be it hockey or lacrosse, there is almost always used sports equipment making the rounds from child to child. When a new dress is bought, there are sure to be house calls in response to the frantic, “Does it make me look like a stuffed sausage?”
It reminds me of growing up in my own childhood neighborhood, where my next door neighbor gave me cookies each day. And my mother trusted they were safe to eat. How many of us could do that nowadays? I know I could.
Mr. Rogers was not a fave of mine when I was young, but he had a point with that whole crazy song of his. I could have done without the sweater and tennis shoes he favorited but he did know his neighbors. And they him.
There’s something to be said for that.