Saturday, September 1, 2012

Know Thy Neighbor

Living in New York City was like living in a pinball machine. Fun, exciting and always trying to score big. In my twenties I bounced from place to place, moving 12 times in 9 years and lived all over Manhattan and Queens. In each place I never really got to know my neighbors. And this was the norm in NYC. I only had one friend who knew her neighbors and she was an especially outgoing and quirky person. She was not the norm. She lived on the street with the Hells Angels and figured out that if she befriended them, they would look out for her and they did. The whole situation was not the norm.

In NYC I didn't get to know my neighbors, usually, because they could be borderline insane asylum or OCD or creepy stalker type and not having any connection at all was just safer. I went in and out of my apartment and was relived if I didn't have to squeeze past and avoid eye contact with someone who smelled like another countries dirty socks. I did not make eye contact in New York City. If I did it was almost intrusive or too much of an invitation to connect in a way that could be threatening. If it was a homeless person asking for money, for sure I would be out a couple of dollars (which meant lunch to a starving student) and subway ride where I had inhale their pee stench for twenty minutes. Or, in the case of my friend, one wrong look and a homeless person my throw an air conditioner at your head and almost kill you. If it was an older man, I might get groped, younger man and he might follow me for three blocks making noises about my butt. Make eye contact with a women with kids and I might get assaulted with her eyes in defense of her parenting methods and then have to listen to her yell louder at her poor kids for twenty blocks. Pre-teen boy and he might pretend to vomit on me and give me a minor heart attack before I even start my day (actually happened). People kept to themselves unless it was a networking situation or private party and some assurance of connection to sanity was present.
Never mind getting to know my neighbor. Hell no. They lived right above or below or beside me, for God's sake and if I got to know them and they were crazy, then I was stuck with this awful fear or resentment for as long as I lived there, which could be almost a year! Ugh...too awful.
But I lived in NYC for what was possible, for the growth in art, fashion, creative nightlife and celebration of cultures during the day time street fairs. New York City is the greatest city in the world, including the crazies.I knew alot of amazing people there, I just didn't get to know my neighbors.

In California, we didn't get to know our neighbors for a long time either. Sticking to ourselves, going in and out of the carport and into the perfectly maintained beige condo, was just too easy to never come in contact with anyone. Eventually, like people who have dogs, we walked around our neighborhood with our kids and were faced with greeting people and connecting. Eventually, I transformed my relationship with community, and stopped seeing the word "community" like I did "taxes" something I had to put up with, and began seeing opportunity to connect. The easy going California sun and family lifestyle helped too...I joined the Moms Club and met actual neighbors with kids around the corner from me. I began to stock my freezer with Popsicles and ice cream so I could offer it to passing neighbors and suddenly we had real friends. And they weren't crazy.
We even threw a block kids and I went door to door with color flyers I made and 80 people gathered in the center green on sultry summer night. We shared food from different cultures and our kids got to feel connected to our neighborhood. One neighbor said that he had lived there for 15 years and had never met the neighbors. My heart was full from the acknowledgement of creating connection with our neighbors.

In our neighborhood now, bigger homes with front yards and back yard pools, we definitely know our neighbors. We had a house warming party, go visit our neighbors and swim with them and stop and talk with everyone we meet. Last night we saw some neighbors down the street and ran over to greet and talk with them and I was so delighted to see them. One of them is cultured, kind and brilliant laywer, and we share a crafty sewing interest and recently had "Ruffles and Chocolate" morning, when we made chocolate and ruffle tee shirts. I see years of creativity ahead of us. The other is a newly married couple and one needed a job that my husband might be able to help with. Another is just a sweet and lovely person, and a Eurasian stay at home mom like me, and we have a lot in common around health and food as well. Another is an older couple which loves to make cookies, fly remote control airplanes and take care of our plants. Other have yard sales and are handy men. Very helpful.

I get now, that our neighbors make up our lives, our community, which we are a part of. It takes vulnerability to reach out and know them and a trust in humanity. And I find that when we trust in humanity, we are rewarded. We may get some crazies, but for the most part, we get warmth, connection, celebration and fun.

It's almost the end of summer, get out and Know Thy Neighbor! Throw a block party or will get to know a greater world and a greater you.

Zen Honeycutt

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