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Knitting Into a Neighborhood
Opening the door to needs and gifts
I’m preparing for a move in mid-August (20+ boxes of books packed so far; yes, we promise to tip the movers generously). I’ll be a little slower here as we pack and unpack, but the impending shift also means I’m planning how to begin weaving our family into a new neighborhood.
We have some connections to the community where we’re moving (that’s part of why we’re going!), but we want to be attentive to how we can be accessible to our new neighbors. We want to be part of, as O. Carter Snead terms it, “the network of uncalculated giving and graceful receiving that must exist for any human being to survive and flourish.”
Covid deepened our connection to our neighbors. Everyone experienced a shared crisis; our needs were known and similar; and, initially, we couldn’t rely on help from travelling family—we needed the people nearest us.
During the first wave of covid, I wrote a piece titled “Locating Our Invisible Wounds” for Comment about the blossoming of local ties of need and how to sustain them when the crisis ebbed:
In the grip of the virus, our collective suffering is unchosen, forced on us. In the days and months to come, we have a responsibility to retain the present sense of compassion, which means “to suffer with.” As stores eventually reopen, and parks fill again, we have to remember and seek out the people whose need was particularly acute in the pandemic, but for whom “normal” is still a slow-moving disaster.
Part of the work is a matter of individual initiative—we have to practice not averting our eyes from suffering, from vulnerability. In small moments, in our daily lives, that may mean not turning away from a homeless person. It might mean saying more than “It’s not polite to stare” to a child interested in someone with a visible disability, and instead finding a way to teach them that averting our eyes from someone vulnerable can be as bad as gawking. We need to tutor our interest, so it can grow into love, rather than curdle into an idle curiosity or atrophy into apathy.
In the piece, I talk about our town’s mutual aid network and the listserv I set up for our block. In our present rental, we’ve benefited from a small neighborhood group chat. The people in our two or three blocks are all in a WhatsApp group (and one of the neighbors made sure to apprise us when we moved in).
It’s a small, casual messaging group. We’ve asked for help (repeatedly) in storing things from our freezer in other people’s houses when our fridge kept failing shortly after our new baby was born. Someone asked for a teaspoon of dill for a new recipe (I could never stick to only a teaspoon!). Sometimes people even just send a heads up that the sunset is particularly lovely.
Today, people have been discussing plans to take turns offering the mail carrier frozen gatorade or water now that the heat index is over 100 degrees.
It’s the smallness and the casualness that fosters asking, I think. The person asking for dill isn’t reviving a silent thread—she’s one of many participants in a conversation. When I posted to ask for crutches for my husband after a sprained ankle, multiple neighbors asked if there was anything else we needed or checked in when they saw us outside.
Little requests and responses build up the reflex to make a bigger ask. A shared space for conversation makes it easier to expect you can bring a heavier burden to your neighbors, and they might find a way to spread it across several households.
Our new neighborhood has a few listservs already running, and we have a date marked to bake cookies and invite people over. We know a little about one neighbor (keeps bees, contributes honey to a meadery), but most of our block is dark to us so far.
We have a back patio, not a front porch, so we’ll need to create our own opportunities to be visible and interruptible by our neighbors.