Hi di ho Neighbour
Ever regret not having made the effort?
How many times have you seen the neighbour over the fence? How many times have you seen him/her/them getting into their car, just the driveway over? How many times have you bumped into them on the street, in the local convenience store, at the nearby petrol station? The dog park, the supermarket, the hairdresser, the school gate, Bunnings or Mitre 10 or Smith City or the dairy or the library or the zebra crossing down the road.
How many times have you said hi?
Not a nod. Not a small smile and then a look away. I am asking how many times you have stopped whatever meaningless, monotonous, innocuous bullshit you are currently doing and acknowledged the existence of the person standing right next to you?
I can be a pretty reclusive guy. I am not in hiding and I am not antisocial, but I am inclined to stay in my own little bubble and view the world from the safety of my family perspective. Having said that, my neighbours know who I am and I them. Not hard when you live in a town with a population a little over 400.
There is a family over the way that have come for a BBQ. The dad will crack a beer and watch a game of rugby here. Up the hill, a couple will have coffee and bribe my kids with treats. Everyone knows our dogs, who roam freer than I should probably allow, snatching what they can when your back is turned. Some around here only know enough to wave when passing, some will come out of their way and say hello. There are still more, from the wider community, we see around and who have been welcomed into our home.
Like I say, it’s a small town and community and we are new to it. We didn’t really have to go out of our way to make an effort to be known and I am pleased to say we were in no way shunned on our arrival. For us it it easy. Given my wife’s occupation as a midwife, she has a foot in many doors, so to speak. Kids help too. You have to take them to school and they are social butterflies and you end up meeting folk through them, whether you like it or not.
But what if there isn’t that ready and easy connect?
In my experience, there is still that open, honest, welcoming aspect to Kiwi culture. There really are still people out there who will show up on your doorstep with a Tupperware container of fresh baking when you land in their neighbourhood. A ready made meal is still dropped off after you have had a new born. Despite popular belief, as far as we as a family have experienced, there is not a small minded, small town clique mentality, designed to shut out the new comer. Quite the contrary.
I grew up in suburban Dunedin. Old Ted used to lob fresh veggies over the back fence and Mrs Brockie tolerated our cat eating from her cats bowl. So much so, she eventually got her one of her own. We played cricket in the street with neighbourhood kids who became friends for life and our mums nattered over instant coffee, while we broke their windows with wayward lofted drives and hook shots.
Sure, a different generation and a different era. We were known by name in the streets we haunted and we could run up to the school, or the beach or the sand-hills, more or less where we liked and we could do so without fear of anything perverted or weird. Our neighbours knew us by sight and by name. There was a safety in that.
That way of life simply isn’t the case anymore, real or imagined threats abound. And whether the chance of anything genuinely creepy happening is real or not, the fear of it is threat enough. In the media there is talk of an urban/country disconnect, we hear and see more and more violence, even if stats are reflecting a lessening in that behaviour. We kill ourselves on our roads and beat each other up in the street and as far as I can see, not many people seem to care.
The safety net has gone from our culture and our society. That net comes in the form of community. For some, I guess, it is found in the realms of social media and an online world I don’t really understand. Can a virtual hug replace a smile, delivered straight to your face? Can an emoji give the same sense of satisfaction as a handshake? Can a thumbs up do the work of a hand on the back, an act of kindness and support where it may be needed the most?
Our youth and our middle aged men are killing themselves.We don’t call it suicide and we dodge the subject, cloaking what is a pervasive and sinister societal ailment in language and attitudes hiding the seriousness of the problem, beneath layers of political correctness. What are we scared of? Why are so many members of our communities feeling so isolated and cut-off? Why aren’t we poking our head over the fence any more?
Someone nearby to us attempted to take their own life last night.
I don’t know this person. I’ve waved in passing. I had every intention of knocking on the door one afternoon and saying hi. But I didn’t. Do I feel guilty about that lack of community spirit, in failing to welcome a new member to the hood? Do I feel any sense of responsibility? No.
Will I do everything I can do help, in whatever from that may take or is needed. I hope so.
I hope we all will.