530. Neighborhood and Community

When I was a young child, the parents in our neighborhood (mothers only, back then) organized a “story hour” – a time when most parents could shop, do housework, or take it easy while one parent read stories to the neighborhood children. It was a good idea. I looked forward to it, and I’m sure other children did, too. Not to mention parents, who had some rare and valued time when they could catch up with themselves.
As a parent, I got nostalgic about those days. Everyone seemed too busy to have a neighborhood. Wherever we lived was sort of a pit stop; it was mostly a place where we put food in our bodies, slept, and did whatever else we had to do to get ready to rejoin the rat race. There were people who lived near us, and most of them were probably nice people, but we didn’t visit their pit stops, and they didn’t visit ours. The neighbors we noticed most were the few who did things that bothered us – played their stereos too loud, smoked, or had noisy or messy pets. A “good neighbor” was one who let us eat, sleep, and prepare for our next day in peace.
I live in a neighborhood now. It’s a condo complex. Many of the families own their own homes, and once in a while, a few of us hang out around the playground near our buildings. The children know each other; children often seem to make connections more easily than adults. Adults often take a little longer. They’ve had time to develop criteria for their friendships, and they carry their criteria around with them. They may say hello to someone who doesn’t share their political, religious, or other convictions, but they won’t do much more. They save their best relating for whatever more intentional communities they belong to, or they stay isolated.
I understand that. The Children’s Music Network is one of the intentional communities I belong to. When I go to the annual national gathering of that network, I get that warm feeling of togetherness that I love so much. I don’t see my next-door-neighbor there, but the people I do see are dear to me. Seeing many of them only once a year, I may not remember all of their names, but I know that we can talk about all kinds of subjects without offending each other. And when I go home, I go wishing that everyone in the network would move to the condo complex I live in.
That’s not going to happen. It’s possible to build intentional communities. Some people do. But it’s easier, and maybe a little more realistic, to try to introduce some community feeling into where we already live. So today I printed up an invitation to a picnic we’re going to have in my neighborhood. People are asked to bring food, friends, games, and musical instruments. It will be on a Friday, but I know there will be some people who will still have to use their homes as pit stops, and won’t be able to come to the picnic. But I’ll bet many will come. Some may even cancel other plans so they can be there. We won’t discuss religion or politics much; we probably disagree strongly on many issues. What we’ll do is enjoy each other’s company.

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