I often hear from folks who tell me they miss what they call ‘the old neighborhood.’ By this they mean a close knit community of people who all live on the same street, have children about the same age, and not only know each other, but actually spend time together. There was a time when this neighborhood dynamic was common. People felt connected and protected. They knew if they couldn’t make it home their child could just go next door, or that when they went out to get the paper in the morning they would see a friendly face and have a chat. Doors were not locked, there were dinner parties where everyone on the street was invited, and all the children played together (outside) from dawn to dusk on long summer days.
It is a strange thing to think that in an age where we are theoretically so connected, we have in actuality become so distant from one another. We live in larger homes and stay indoors watching our TVs and surfing the internet learning about some far away country or arcane bit of knowledge, but we don’t know the people living next door to us. With our computers and now our smart phones, we have everything at our fingertips, but what do we have in our hearts and souls?
Knowing the people in your neighborhood makes a difference. If you know them, even a little bit, you’ll care more about them and the place where you live. You’ll feel safer and more content, you’ll feel that you are part of something important, and your quality of life will improve. Believe it or not one of the best ways to get to know your neighbors today is to get a dog. I know this isn’t for everyone (just ask my wife!) but walking our dog over the last years has given me the chance to truly know my neighbors and love my neighborhood. I know when people leave for work and when they get home. I know a bit about their lives, their children, their work. I wave when they drive by me or I drive by them, and they wave back. It is not rocket science, but it makes a difference. And it makes an new neighborhood feel like an old one. In the very best possible way.
Of course you don’t need a dog to get outside and meet your neighbors. Frequent walks without a dog will accomplish the same thing. But you’ve got to reach out. Extend a hand or a friendly wave. Introduce yourself. Take someone’s garbage can up to their house from the curb every once in a while before they do it themselves. Whatever it might be, the old neighborhood will never come all the way back, but the sense of community that it represents to us can be created just about anywhere. And that happens in the same way it always has – with a kind word, a shared moment, a friendly handshake, and a gentle smile.