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Savory Sonoma, by Stephanie Hiller - July 2015


Savory Sonoma, by Stephanie Hiller - July 2015

The Neighbors!

Neighborly... neighboring... neighborhood... neighbors! The semantics have sure stretched over time! Historically speaking, our “neighbors” were the folks (or the business) next door, whether “next door” was just out the window, down-the-road-a-piece or the next farm many acres (or, in Texas, even a Section) away.

Neighbors were a good factor in one’s life to hold close, know well and mutually depend on in good times and bad, for comfort in trials and help in emergencies. Having a “good” neighbor was truly a blessing.

It is really astounding how many folks have no idea who their neighbors are! I looked around, asked questions and just considered the phenomena, and it got stranger and stranger. Some conversations were warm and full of enthusiasm. Others were downright chilling. They ranged from people who couldn’t imagine living somewhere else without their wonderful neighbors, to others who didn’t know who the neighbors were, and absolutely did not want to be bothered by the people next door

Looking briefly at the concept of compatible neighbors, as essential elements to a balanced community, became a very interesting exploration. The responses began to sort themselves out into various categories of meaning, quality and expectations. For many, a neighbor could be a blessing or a curse; either way, definitely a management issue! To others, the term became so expansive as to lose any sense of intimacy – embracing the next state or country, whether or not experience or familiarity existed. Still others claimed the prospect of new “neighbors” as the biggest risk of all when considering a move!

When I think of dense urban communities where towering apartment complexes house hundreds of people, I wonder about the dynamics of neighboring! What does it even mean? Close enough to knock on the wall and be heard, but not a clue who lives there? Yikes. 

And then there is that interesting housing community creation called a cul-de-sac – that little round trap where there be no escape from the tight little, face-on enclave. You must have to hope you luck-out. (You better love those neighbors!)

Newscasters and politicians love to point out to us our obligations and considerations to our “neighbors” across the oceans, and to the north, south, east, west – and in space! Hold it! I get the analogy, but puhleeze don’t try to infuse it with the same passion as the rancher whose ax has slipped and his neighbor who rushes to the rescue. Caring about one’s real neighbor is intimate. It isn’t the same as humanitarian concern for neighboring geographies, their populations and their crises. (With due respect to the efforts of all those philanthropists, politicians, missionaries and allies; it’s different.)

Those thoughts led me, and others with whom I spoke, to wondering about the loss of what neighboring once meant. Has the tremendous broadening of the term (and the inferences within it’s expanded uses) contributed to the depersonalization of how we think about our actual, personal neighbors? 

Many years ago my son fell out of a tree. I lived in the woods with my young family. New “city folks” had just moved into the rustic house up the mountain above us. I didn’t know who they were, but had to scream up the canyon for help. They jumped over their deck rail and came storming down the hill – no questions asked – and held the fort while the broken, bleeding child was raced to medical help. Later that night they confessed that it was the first time in their lives anything like that had ever happened to them, that some stranger “next door” called for them! Neighbors. 

Perhaps some consider folks on the other side of the world my “global” neighbors; but I draw lines. It’s not the same as Dana and Harry next door who care, personally. It’s not the same as Canada or Mexico to which we are physically and geographically connected! Going way beyond that seems to stretch the concept to its breaking point and seems to dilute the underlying heart of the matter. (One soul felt it was just plain phony.)

Neighbors are near and accessible, most agreed, implying connection, closeness and a personal vested interest. It’s bringing a pie and leaving your contact information to the stressed out souls unloading the van. How corny is that?