I was raised to keep to myself, and I’ve been searching ever since to find some kind of community in which I could participate and feel a sense of belonging.
Civil War Reenactment - Hickory, North Carolina - 2009
The representation in film and literature of tight groups, whether composed of soldiers, medieval villagers, gangsters, prisoners, or some other version of interdependent coexistence, I find irresistible.
Here in cyberspace it’s easy to be the perfect community member (although it’s near impossible to find the perfect community); you can edit your posts and comments before anyone ever sees them, you can show your best face and even avoid the internet altogether on those days that you know you would just be a bear on a rampage.
But in a real neighborhood, you will see each other on your worst days. You will see each other chasing the dog across the yard in your p.j.s, you will run across each other on that day that you just wish the whole world would be vaporized, you will have to make nice when you just wish everyone would shut up and go away.
Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina - 2007
Our impending move has me pondering — besides thinking ahead to where to put the furniture, how to decorate, what to do with the yard, and all the physical details, I have to wonder, what kind of a neighbor will I be?
Now certainly this depends partly on what kind of neighbor everyone else is. Everyone will be part of the Habitat for Humanity program, so we will have at least one thing in common, some sort of foundation for introductions. Almost all of us have kids, and since I have a whole age range myself, I should certainly be able to relate to most people on that level.
What makes this really different for me is, I’ve never owned a home before. I’ve always rented, and been around mostly renters, in which case, there is a lot less pressure. You can think to yourself, maybe one of us will move soon, so why even strike up the first conversation with that weirdo over there? You have the luxury of tolerating the temporary.
But we will all be there as homeowners in our Habitat neighborhood. Not to say people won’t sell and move someday, but the possibility exists to a much greater degree that we will all be neighbors for the rest of our lives. Like marrying someone you’ve never met, only it’s not even an arranged marriage where your parents see some kind of merit to the relationship, but an almost purely random wedding between complete strangers.
San Francisco, California - 2006
But we Americans are used to dealing with strangers, especially out in the Wild West of California, where we know just how to treat neighbors – like the suspicious strangers they are. Don’t get me wrong, I did have a few good neighbors over the many years and in the many neighborhoods I resided on the West Coast. I got a taste of what it might be like to live among friends, or at least comrades, or perhaps just among other individuals that you’ve established a polite civility with.
But it has to start with me. What will my attitude be? How will I present myself and my family? How open or guarded will I be on a day-to-day basis? Will I encourage bonds between my own children and the neighbors’ or will I try to be a barrier to keep my kids safe against the unknown?
Snow day for the neighborhood kids at Family Student Housing - Eugene, Oregon - 2007
Will I give in to my idealistic desires for community and try to be everyone’s great friend, or will I give into my ingrained fears of people and hold everyone at arm’s length? Or will I walk a wise way balance somewhere in between?
Tell us, what is your neighborhood like? Have you dealt with much conflict? Have you developed techniques for dealing with the more unpleasant aspects of being a neighbor? What kind of neighbor are you?