You know those words that you’ve known all your life but are really hard to define to someone? What does Marriage mean? How do you define Politics? And while we’re at it, what is a Neighborhood? It’s funny how much humans have these words, and use them constantly, without having them perfectly clear in their head.
Recently my friend Handsome was talking with his friend FiFi about how one area he’d seen felt like a neighborhood while another didn’t. And FiFi asked him why. What was his definition of “neighborhood?”
He was stymied. “Well, we all know what a neighborhood is, don’t we? It’s where… well… you know, you’re close and friendly and do stuff together and…”
But I knew he was wrong instantly. We’ve had neighbors who were unfriendly, some he wouldn’t want to do things with, and some who were completely awful. So it’s not that.
About a day later, he sat down with me and said “Shirelle, I figured out what a neighborhood is. It’s a place where children can go to each other’s homes and play.”
But then he thought more. “But can’t there be a neighborhood without kids?”
I can see where he’s struggling. The street we live on now didn’t feel much like a neighborhood when we moved in. Then a few years later, although most people kept to themselves, it did. Now some of it was because Handsome had been nice, and lots of them were terrific people. But I really think it was mostly my doing! I’m way friendlier than he is, and… well… let’s admit it… cuter too!
But during the stupid virus, most of the people nearby who were friendly with us moved away, and now it doesn’t feel much like a neighborhood at all.
This became especially clear a few weeks ago, when Americans celebrate Halloween. For years, people had driven to our streets on that night, knowing our houses gave out good candy (I’d always get locked in a room so that I wouldn’t scare the children with my barking – even though they’re the ones in the scary outfits!). But this year, although Handsome and some other people nearby decorated their houses invitingly, our doorbells only rang three times. Not only aren’t there many children nearby, but others looked at our street and didn’t see enough places with pumpkins out, so they drove to better blocks. I hardly got to bark at all.
Before this, we lived on a street across from a nursery. Most of the area was apartments, with people moving in and out quickly, but the nursery was wonderful. They always gave Handsome free plants, they would stop traffic so he could pull out of our driveway, and they even would run and catch me whenever I’d get out (I was a hyperactive and very curious puppy!) and bring me back to Handsome. They made it a neighborhood.
But today, Handsome told me about his first neighborhood. When he was very young, his family lived on a street full of neighborliness. Everyone knew each other, the families played together, and – check this out: In the winter, the children would fill paper bags halfway with sand and put candles in them, and on Christmas Eve whole blocks would glow from these gorgeous warm lamps along the sidewalk – all made and put out there by the kids.
But in recent years he’s learned more about it –
about neighbors there who were crazy, who had creepy political views, some who’ve even killed themselves. So maybe it wasn’t quite as idyllic as he remembers.
So now it’s me asking, what is a neighborhood?
Handsome looked up the word “neighbor” in a dictionary. It said it’s a noun that means:
- 1. a person living near or next door to the speaker: “our garden was the envy of the neighbors”
- 2. a person or place in relation to others near or next to it: “I chatted with my neighbor on the flight to New York”
Now those are all correct. But you have a different sense of it, don’t you? I sure do.
The more I think about it, neighborhood is the midpoint between family and community. Your family is super-close (sometimes too close and everyone gets really annoyed!). Then you have the people you know at work or such. They might be nice, and you might be mutually supportive. But neighbors are in between those two – you go to a neighbor for a cup of sugar or to take a shower when your plumbing’s out. Not the person in the cubicle across the hall.
But there’s a third dictionary definition.
Any person in need of one’s help or kindness: “love thy neighbor as thyself”
I like that one. Especially as, as we dogs know, EVERY person is in need of help and kindness. In fact, that’s the way we pups tend to treat people (at least those we’re not scared of).
We hear friendly humans described as “He never met a stranger.” But does that mean everyone he met he regarded as family? No that’s too close. Community? No that’s too distant.
While Handsome does want a street with trick-or-treaters, and where people bring one’s dog home, wouldn’t it also be great to just see everyone as your neighbor? Everywhere? Maybe it wouldn’t be as full of familiar smells as the block I walk every week, but then everywhere could be your neighborhood.
There used to be a popular children’s television show that I hear about, where the host always began by singing, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” And I’m thinking he’s right. It is a beautiful day in the neighborhood, today.
If you decide it is!
But wait… What exactly does “beautiful” mean?!