After living in my neighborhood for almost three years, I discovered tonight that I know people down the street. My dentist lives just down the road a short piece. Parents of a high school friend live next door to him. I found this out in idle chat with Mr. Robert — retired Navy, robust frog pond, puts out salt for the deer. Our backyards share a fence. I went over to ask if he minded my wife planting morning glories along our shared fence. Some people don’t like morning glories because they spread quickly and take over. He was delighted.
He was more delighted at the opportunity to stand in his driveway and chat for a few minutes. “Nobody ever comes to talk. There’s good people here, but you never see anybody outside.”
That’s true. I had noticed the same. My family spends a lot of time outside. Gardening, playing ball, moving stuff around. We don’t see people often. We wave at our neighbors when we see them. Occasionally, we spend a few minutes chatting about something growing in an unexpected place or the heavy rain that swelled the creek last week. Less frequent, the conversation about what makes truly great bourbon and an enthusiastic preview of upcoming BaconFest (this is a real thing).
We have made our homes into self-contained, air-conditioned, entertainment palaces and rarely leave them. When we must leave it is only through the air lock of the garage through which we pass ourselves into the private confines of our vehicles. We live most of our lives encapsulated.
After the election, I have been thinking a lot about what’s actually broken in our country. I don’t think it is lost military dominance or a lack of ambition to do big things. It isn’t the Affordable Care Act or a rising influx of non-Western immigrants. The thing that is broken is our neighborhoods. The fact that we don’t know each other and what each of us is about.
After the election, we all collectively freaked out to find ourselves trapped inside media bubbles that distorted our views of each other and our shared reality. I tried to fix the situation by tweaking my news feed, following a few more conservative blogs and news outlets. It didn’t help.
Realizing that my dentist lives nearby and parents of a good high school friend live even closer, I wonder how much I am missing inside my own neighborhood. Perhaps exploring the neighborhood is the right next step. Taking walks. Stopping to say hello. Talking about bourbon and BaconFest and whatever other random things come up. We can start knowing each other as full people with interesting, difficult, wonderful lives. We can call each other my name and know the hobbies and curiosities that go along with us.
This may be more than just being neighborly. This may become a radical political action. This may just make our neighborhoods great again.