Like many people I know, I spent the first half of my life living in a small community. Not yet having lived in a big city back then, I was very unaware of the differences between small town versus big city living.
For example it was quite normal to leave all our doors unlocked. House doors and car doors. And our car keys sitting in the car’s ignition too. How else was my dad supposed to remember where they were?? We could knock on our neighbour’s door and ask for that missing ingredient for the night’s meal.
I worked to save up for a Sony Walkman as a nine year old. Pushing our lawn mower down the street to mow many of the neighbourhood lawns. It kind of blows my mind to think about that now, looking at the youth of today. Although, I would argue that it is probably not the youth to blame most of the time.
Those sorts of things stopped around age eighteen for me. Right around the time I moved into the city.
I must say, I lived in East Vancouver at that point in time, and as far as community in the city goes, it was actually pretty good. Especially if you’re an old Italian man and you play bocce ball.
All joking aside, we did actually know a few of our neighbours. We probably could have even borrowed that cup of sugar if we needed it.
But then as though I was trying to find a way to extinguish all sense of community from my life, I moved away from East Vancouver and into my first apartment. Loud music (mine) was answered with a broomstick being banged on the roof below my feet. Angry letters were left under peoples’ doors as a means for lodging complaints.
I then moved from the three-story walk-up to my first hi-rise where people almost always avoided eye contact at all costs. I couldn’t even get to know the neighbour above me if I tried. The elevator wouldn’t allow it!
Yes, the more neighbours you have it seems, and the closer to you they live, the less you can or want to interact with them. Funny how that works, isn’t it. It is clear to me now that for humans to be healthy and happy, they necessarily need their own space. More space than most are willing to admit. My guess is that is because so many have invested their life savings on the apartment in which they live. Apartment owners are in a position where they understandibly can’t admit that they dislike being surrounded by neighbours in all three dimensions.
But it is obviously true if you have ever lived in an apartment hi-rise.
Community Like it was 1985
But then a year ago for me, after the second half of my city-dwelling life up to that point, a funny thing happened: I moved back to where I came from. Figuratively, that is. Not geographically.
We are getting to know a few of our neighbours now. Like it was 1985 again. And we like them a lot. They look after our cats when we go away, and we walk their dogs when they’re too busy.
Don’t get me wrong, some of our neighbours are total and complete assholes. That is a universal that never changes. But at least here, they let you get to know them well enough to find that fact out. Sometimes very directly.
We go to the beach in front of our place and have illegal beach fires. But it’s okay because people usually aren’t out to get us here, unlike how it always felt to me back in the city. Do you ever think about why so many laws and rules seem to go against what most people actually want to do in this world? I do. It bugs me a lot.
Like us, our neighbours out here are human. Not that they weren’t back in the city, but here they seem to realize that they also might want to have an illegal beach fire one day. Clearly, with the extra breathing room out here comes a relaxation over that obsession with the rules.
God I hate rules sometimes.
When I walk to the mailbox and a car passes by, we wave at each other even though we have never met. I don’t know why. I guess because we have something in common that is different from most other people in the world?
I haven’t locked our door since we got back from Asia two months ago. Literally.
I walk to the neighbours’ house sometimes with nothing but the clothes I am wearing, two cans of beer, and a headlamp so a bear doesn’t attack me on my way home in the pitch black. When was the last time you left your house without your phone, keys, wallet, purse, and what-have-you? It is surprisingly satisfying. You should try it if you haven’t since the advent of the cellphone.
Society has changed drastically over the past couple of decades. Hopefully we can all see that and agree on it. It is pretty undeniable. And through much of that period of change I was incredibly worried that all the hoopla had managed to find a way to crush all sense of community and neighbourliness.
What a relief to find out that is actually not the case.
I recently read a book called The Happiness Project, and although it wasn’t my favorite book of all time, it did have many great points and was well worth the read. One of those points was about community. And how feeling apart of one is a key component to one’s happiness in life.
Interesting. I don’t doubt that at all.