Angela, from Letters from Usedom, talked about knowing her neighbors, feeling connected. The Obamas talked about becoming residents of Washington D.C. Most people fit into their neighborhood easily enough.
When we think about it, we move into a new neighborhood, and we take our cue from the neighbors. If they come over and invite us to their homes, we might feel immediately accepted by that gesture. In turn, we recipricate and soon we know everybody. It sounds easy enough.
In most communities, however, people are so busy that they don't know their neighbors. And if they get in their cars before dawn and return after sunset, nobody knows anybody. That was the case for many of us when we worked and juggled all our roles, afraid that if we put one more obligation on the list, everything would come crashing down.
We knew our neighbors only casually, waving at each other as we picked up our papers in the wee hours of the morning, coffee in hand, too rushed to stop and ask who and what and why. When the Northrigde earthquake kicked us out of our homes on the morning of January 24 in 1994,in bare feet and pajamas, we saw others in the same condition. We asked about people who had not exited their homes. Could they be trapped? Should we knock and see? Children felt much more at ease knocking and inquiring at strangers' doors and climbing fences to extricate dogs that had been trapped.
We met people who had just moved in; the old couple that had sold them the house had moved to Oregon. They had lived in the same house for thirty years. It was the first time many of us knew who lived where. This was Southern California, the San Fernando Valley. Our gardeners and maids knew the neighbors better than we did.
We needed a calamity to bring us together.
In my new state of retirement, I have to remind myself of those lessons.