Yesterday Hoco blogger P90Noir asked "Is Howard County an Un-friendly Place?"
This made me think about my neighbors and about being neighborly. What does it mean? And how does one become neighborly? I wasn't born that way, and I certainly didn't learn it from my parents. My mother had intense social anxiety and my father was a workaholic. Other than an occasional child's birthday party, there were no social events in our home. Ever.
We need role models to become neighborly. Mine is my husband. He grew up in Northern Ireland and Wales, and, perhaps because of this, he knows how to apply an easy, unselfconcious friendliness to everyone.
In the years since I came to this little microcosm that we call "Cinnamon Tree at Talbott Springs," I have seen him stop and chat with Ms. Yolanda and help her change a tire, offer to give Mr. Fridley a few guitar lessons, give Mr. Melvin advice about where his kids can take music lessons, lend an elderly neighbor money for groceries...
At the beginning I shrank from these encounters. A little voice inside me said. "Don't do that! People don't want to be bothered."
But a few years ago a friend suggested that we could become a better neighborhood by getting on Facebook and using it to communicate with one another. I was dubious, but I gave it a shot. It turned out that Facebook was great for shy people like me who don't want to "bother" people. I began to practice my neighboring skills by reaching out to friends through social media.
I didn't know there would be a test.
But there was—the winter of 2009-2010. Remember Snowmageddon? Remember being trapped inside with television and your Facebook/Twitter lifeline? I watched as people used that lifeline to offer help—and give it. To ask for help, and gratefully receive it. I also watched out the window to see when, if ever, our neighbors would start digging out.
One day it came, a sunny day, no more snow, and we awoke to the sound of shovels. My husband went out. I offered to help, but my bad back really made that impossible. A few hours later my husband returned, all smiles. "Come out! Come out and say thanks!" he said, grinning.
After he had finished digging out his car, he had started on mine. Neighbors from either side of our house joined in and dug out my car. No one asked; they just did it. Mike and Heather (the young couple who were always adopting homeless cats) and Ms. Sonya (who fosters and trains dogs with a magic touch) just pitched in and did it. I was overwhelmed.
After saying my thanks, I went in the house and made them all brownies. And then I 'friended' them on Facebook.
Since that day I have had no trouble chit-chatting with Mr. Terrence about the deer that eat the roses, or our new neighbor (whose name I haven't memorized yet) about getting a new roof, or the best places to park. I've had the best possible teachers on how to be neighborly.
So, to Mr. P90Noir—don't give up. No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. You are teaching the rest of us as you go. Someone, somewhere is learning from your example.
Maybe those bumper stickers should say, "Choose Neighborliness." If we make that a priority, perhaps civility will follow.