We have lived in our little house on the lake for just over 5 years now. It’s been a safe, quiet place all of that time. Most people didn’t lock their doors and certainly not their vehicles. We decorate for holidays with no worry that things will get damaged or vandalized. It’s not unusual for a place that hasn’t seen a problem. It was one of the appeals of living here. We felt safe even though we have three major cities less than an hour away in three different directions. We are off the beaten path and by that, I mean we aren’t close to any major highways. We have done the city life and the country life and felt more comfortable here than we have just about anywhere we’ve lived and that’s saying a lot. The sheriff’s department and the State Police are very close to each other on the outskirts of town. What more could you ask for?
Just recently though, there have been a series of break-ins in town about eight minutes away. Still, we felt it was happening in town, but not out here. I joined a Facebook page that was pretty good about informing people what’s going on that doesn’t necessarily make the newspaper. It was there that I found out about how close it was all getting to my neighborhood. On that page, in a feed, two women were talking about seeing a suspicious white van parked outside their houses during the afternoon. It took a few comments before they realized that they were actually neighbors. Not only neighbors, but right across the street from one another. I added a comment that the two really should meet, we were also neighbors although not as close, and that we really needed to help each other out by keeping an eye on things. They agreed, but it made me realize that with the influx of new families we’ve had over the recent sales of several homes, there are neighbors who have not met yet.
This realization made me feel sad. In the neighborhood where I grew up, we knew everyone. Kids played together or helped out their elderly neighbors. People were out in their yards either working or enjoying themselves, so other neighbors would wave or stop for a chat. Women did often go back and forth in their robes for morning coffee and to gossip. No one thought anything of it. While everyone here, where we live now, is still pretty friendly as boats pass by or you happen to catch someone walking by or getting into their car, we don’t know each other. Our lake association did a great job of putting together a directory, but by the time it was printed, it was already out of date. People just move more now and don’t mix as much anymore. We are strangers living doors away from each other.
It’s important to know who you live around and how much help they would be if you ever needed it. It’s much easier to ask for, or give help, if you know someone’s name. When we moved here, the neighbor came and introduced himself and his lady friend. It took ten minutes to break the ice. We have become friends and occasionally have barbecues, go to concerts, or have card nights with each other. We became friends with our realtor and his wife, who live a few streets over, and do things with them. Because my husband and I are friendly, attend the twice a year association meetings and dinners, and say hi to those walking by, we have gotten to know some of our neighbors. It’s still nowhere near as many as we should know.
I realize that some people don’t want to be bothered. Maybe they feel if they are too friendly, it’s an open invitation for people to take advantage of them and wear their doorstep off. It’s a rare friendship where it’s ok to show up at any hour, or invite yourself in, and it takes a while to get to that point. So, folks are cautious. Maybe overly so if we don’t recognize someone who lives two doors down or you can’t bring yourself to at least wave, say hi, and keep moving along. I want to feel if I needed to knock on a neighbor’s door when something has happened, that they aren’t afraid to open the door because they don’t know who I am.
There is safety in numbers and safety in watching out for one another. Since so many people only step outside to mow their lawn or get in their cars, we don’t have the occasion to be casually friendly and rarely get to know each other beyond a possible facial recognition. Remember block parties? Street fairs? Card parties? These were ways individuals could get to know one another. These occasions led to conversations about family, work, careers, neighborhood watches and improvements to meet everyone’s needs. You don’t see that anymore. And what if people needed to be aware that they had someone living in their neighborhood that had less than a sterling reputation? Someone they needed to watch their kids around? Kids locked in basements and being mistreated? An elderly person being abused by whomever they lived with in their house? You’ve heard neighbors of families that made the news over negative things say they had no idea what was going on or didn’t really know those people.
Our noses are so buried in social media or we are so busy minding our own business, we aren’t there for each other anymore. People will spill their life stories on Twitter or Facebook, post pictures of intimate things on Instagram, but keep to themselves in their houses. Even my daughter’s rental lease encourages everyone to get to know the other tenants in their apartment building. Why? So strangers don’t wander around freely, doing who knows what. You know who belongs and who doesn’t. Our neighborhoods need to be that way again. We might have less violence, suicide, and abuse if those wanting to commit those things knew there were others around for them or watching them.
No, we don’t want our neighbors knowing all of our business. But, there are some things you should know about each other. Someone isn’t picking up their mail or taking their daily walk. Why? Do they need help or someone to check on them? Kids playing together and yours coming home to tell you that little Davy says his dad beats him when he drinks too much. The lonely old widower who never has visitors or family and can’t find a reason to keep going. The teen who feels invisible and wants to cause harm to get attention. Maybe, just maybe, if we paid a little more attention to one another, we could avoid so many of these things. In turn, we could be helping each other live safely and happily and where, once again, no one has to lock their doors or worry about being harmed or forgotten. Our kids would be free to be kids and everyone would know someone cares. Like Mr. Rogers said, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”