Read This If You Don’t Know Your Neighbors

Flickr / North Charleston
Flickr / North Charleston

I’m often guilty of forgetting to notice what’s right in front of me. There’s the rush of the weekday routine, of course—wake up, coffee, clothes, work—but it even happens on the weekends. As outdoorsy Coloradans, my husband and I, and our two kids, usually throw gear into our trunk on our days off and head toward the mountains to play. We zoom right out of our neighborhood. Half the time, I’m barely even looking out the window.

And then recently, something embarrassing happened which forced me to acknowledge my immediate surroundings. I was hauling some junk to the end of my driveway with a “Free” sign, and I noticed a few deer grazing across the street in my neighbors’ yard. In the early evening light, they were so pretty. I wanted to go over for a closer look. But then I realized I didn’t even know my neighbors’ names. Or anything about them. My family has been living in our house for seven years.

How had I let this happen? Theoretically, I know the fabric of a community is woven of land and people, which is rich and worth exploring, and I value this deeply. I talk this talk, in my writing and my life, about the power of human connection. Yet I’d gotten so caught up in my own existence that I’d failed to make it a priority.

So right there, in the driveway, gravel crunching under my heels, holding the “Free” sign, I decided to make a change. I would get to know my neighbors. But how would I break the ice? At least in my neighborhood, people don’t just walk up to stranger’s doorsteps, unless they’re selling something.

So I decided to try using food. Specifically, banana bread. Because I have a killer recipe and people like sweets, right? And at the very least, it would show effort? I committed to making one loaf of bread every couple of weeks, enlisting my kids and husband to help, and then we’d visit the neighbors we didn’t already know, one at a time, introducing ourselves and learning about them. It would be both old-fashioned and progressive.

When I presented the idea to my family, their faces mirrored the jitters I felt inside. But we baked our first loaf, took a collective deep breath, and walked across the street to visit the people who’d had the deer in their yard.

As we approached the house, we could see people milling around outside. They looked slightly unsure about the small army of our family approaching, but I introduced us, and nervous chatter quickly morphed into warm conversation. They invited us into their backyard, showing us their wildflower garden. My kids’ eyes lit up when they saw a sandbox and tree swings, and my neighbors pushed the kids on the swings as we all talked, looking toward the foothills, which are even more breathtaking from their plot of earth. The natural beauty we share in our neighborhood is incredible.

The visit was only about twenty minutes long, but I learned so many interesting things in that time, like that my neighbors have grandchildren my kids’ ages, that they’ve lived in their house for many decades, and that they, too, were terrified when they saw the flames from the High Park Fire on the horizon, a disaster that came alarmingly close to our homes a few years ago.

Afterwards, as we trudged back home, I realized that this conversation with my neighbors—this simple moment in my day—felt as important as anything in my life, a much-needed balance to all of the rushing. Maybe every interaction with a new neighbor wouldn’t be so easy, but we’d have to see. It provided just the momentum I needed to keep baking banana bread. TC mark

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