Is it just me or does it feel like there is a lot going on in the world? Specifically, a lot of bad going round. I guess there always is and there always will be. We just have so much access to it now that social media brings far away news right into our hot little hand(held devices).
We hear about it all and we hear about it immediately. Which makes it seem like after we recover from one disaster, another one smacks us in the face. Violence, guns, war, decaying environment, poverty, famine, Donald Trump. Never ending. Sometimes bad news feels far away, other times it hits too close to home.
Always the optimist, I’m not ready to write off the human race just yet. Being a member of that human race, I think “what can I do about it?” I mean, really. I’m just one member. What do I have to offer?
Living the solutions through action doesn’t always intersect in real, day-to-day life. But I think it has to. I am a stay at home mom in my real life. I take care of my children, provide enriching activities for them, I am constantly saying ‘no’ to treats and screen time (but also a lot of ‘yes’ too so I can write blog posts and such), doing one million tasks to keep our house together and driving all around town to the grocery store, preschool, parks and other places.
Everyone has their own set of mundane tasks. And that is where life is lived, where motivation is found and inspiration sparks. One of my most cherished compliments came from my sister who said that I find inspiration in everything.
I love that idea: inspiration in everything. Even in the mundane. Inspiration that motivates us to love another better: our families, loved ones, our neighbors and communities. This surely must be one of the answers to the question I am always asking myself “what can I–one human–do to better this place for others?” I believe one of the answers lies local in neighborly love.
Being a stay at home mom means I’m at home a lot. I think about our surrounding neighbors which reminds me of something from a training course about 8 years ago. Before heading abroad to work in Bolivia, I attended a 5 week training course. One of the most inspiring sessions came from the founder of our sending organization. Kevin Dyer was an incredibly warm man in his seventies. He was one of those people whose presence is captivating. I found myself drawn to what he had to say. The thing I remember most was when he talked about the goals him and his wife set when they first got married.
Their goal to positively affect their 20 closest neighbors stuck with me. He said they would make a point to get to know their neighbors, find our their likes and dislikes and ways to help them out. For some this meant going to NASCAR to better understand one neighbor’s love for it, for others it meant babysitting their kids from time to time. I was struck by the kindness Kevin and his wife fostered in their community. They didn’t just sit around hoping to see good surrounding them. They became the good and it was infectious. It certainly inspired me.
This past December we had been living in our neighborhood for about 9 months but still had many neighbors to meet. Besides our wonderful backyard neighbors, most everyone tends to stick to themselves. There are many Portland neighborhoods with well established relationships and greeting committees and such, we just don’t happen to live in one. So my daughter and I made some chocolate covered pretzels, put them in 15 little bags with a note including our names and address for future reference and set out on Lucia Day to deliver them.
Lucia Day celebrates bringing light into one of the darkest days of the year by remembering Saint Lucia, a young Christian martyr from the first century who, among other things, was known for wanting to give her money away to the poor. Lucia–also being my 3 year old daughter’s name, got me thinking that this year might be the one to start a new family tradition of bringing light to others on that dark day in the form of chocolate. Who doesn’t like chocolate? And cute kids delivering it to your door?
We set out into the night with our treats and smiles and it was wonderful. We met many neighbors and were so warmly greeted. We found connections and received invitations to come back. Some were confused (so, what, you’re just giving this to me for nothing?) Some were appreciative to meet new faces on the street and one neighbor, newly widowed, invited us into her living room for a chat where she shared her struggle to be without her husband. She told us some history of our neighborhood, expressed how she loved having neighbors show up at each others’ doors and gave Lucia a candy cane as she helped put her gloves back on before heading back out.
I came home that night, my heart glowing from new community formed and thankfulness for our little pocket of diversity amidst a city known for it’s homogeneously white population. And I realized that some things in life still are simple. Knock on people’s doors and you make new friends.
And THEN how surprised we were to return from a two week trip to Chicago over the holidays greeted by multiple gifts from neighbors waiting for us at our door. There were some books for our kids and yummy baked goods but the best gift was this:
One neighbor left us crystals and rose quartz intended to bring natural healing and positive energy. So ‘Portland’–love it. Then with one of the gifts there was a note referencing that night in December:
“Elsa- it was really nice to meet you and I have to admit I was really taken back by your bright and positive visit. I love chocolate and pretzels. Thank you. They were gone in just minutes. You made my day!” The ending invitation to BBQ together this summer made me excited to get to know our neighbors. More than that, I am glad that we are creating a positive community together.
Then there’s this website Rooster that will just about restore your faith in humanity. They are a “local sharing community where neighbors share free resources”. Rooster writes that the “benefits of such a community are immense: from reducing our waste and our spending, to getting to know our neighbors, and spreading acts of kindness around us.” They state that “everything on Rooster is done for free without expectation of pay or reciprocity. We’re neighbors being neighbors again.” So beautiful.
People exchange goods, skills or acts of kindness. There is one post from an experienced gardener offering their skills to any newbies out there and another post from someone with exotic animal experience offering to care for pet birds to anyone going out of town for the holidays. People in need request help by way of items or needed food and others respond to meet needs. I was almost in tears reading a request from a woman asking to join a family for Christmas dinner now that her kids have grown and moved away and she finds herself with no family close by. Then I think I did actually shed a tear seeing that the request was “resolved”, knowing that some kind person took in and she did not spend the holidays alone.
We find these supportive communities all around us. I see people taking care of each other in awesome ways in each group we find ourselves in here in Portland. For my family, our church is another place where we find authentic community and neighborly love happening. We show up, we care for each other and we work together to take care of others, specifically those who are vulnerable in some way. Sometimes we’re the vulnerable ones. Church happens in large groups and small groups, in buildings and in each others’ homes. It even happens in restaurants and bars because church happens where life happens, on Sunday mornings but also on Saturday nights.
We include all to join in because it’s the right thing to do and because Jesus led the way in showing us all how to do this whole love thing. He even said that loving your neighbor as yourself was one of the most important things to practice. Then when asked “who is my neighbor”, he turned that question around with the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10) to ask instead “well, are you neighborly?” And so now I am pondering this question myself.
I write out these words to keep myself accountable. I haven’t always been the best neighbor in the past. Not the worst but I haven’t always taken much initiative. In fact, I used to get down right angry when people in Bolivia would knock on our door, which was ALL THE TIME. It was a cultural thing. I also wasn’t doing very well mentally or emotionally at that point. Looking back, maybe I should have let them in.
While my natural inclination is to stay in my warm little house and keep to myself, I will go out into the community. I will be one small positive part of the solution. But I think I’ll have to brainstorm new ways to connect because showing up on people’s doorstep over and over might come across a little creepy after awhile. So I’ll get creative. Can you imagine if we all committed to positively affected the 20 people living closest to us? I think it would be amazingly transformative.