Until my late twenties, when the babies began arriving, I had lived and worked in big cities. As an introvert who preferred solitude to being out and about socializing, the anonymity of big cities felt comfortable. People left you alone, and yet you were surrounded by buzzing activity and endless possibilities to people watch and take notes about all the city eccentricities one sees.
We moved to the wasteland of American suburbia so that the children could have a yard to play in, and sidewalks to ride their bikes on. I had done neither, but I enthusiastically bought into these notions. So, we moved to Westchester, Virginia, Maryland, and finally New Jersey. The kids had their yard, and rode their bikes to school, town, and their friends’ homes.
I hated suburbia, and couldn’t wait for the kids to grow up so that we could sell our house and move to Manhattan where I could be one of two million or so going here, there, anywhere. Instead, we fell in love with a beautiful farm in the middle of nowhere, a place with more cows than people. That farm spoke to me as no other house ever had, and so here I am.
Our broker initiated us into the local ritual of raising a hand in greeting to other drivers on the road (one or two, on a busy day), and anyone who drove by the farm when I happened to be outside. As I settled in, I began to notice other little gestures with which the local residents acknowledged each other, always in a way that did not necessarily mean that a conversation was expected…just that you had acknowledged a fellow resident of these parts.
Every venture here, from a farm to a village store, depends upon all of us pulling together to ensure its success. Shopping local has taken on a whole new meaning and import. Some of us are well off, but a great many are not, and many efforts are made to ensure that neighbors have Thanksgiving meals, winter coats, funds to pay winter’s heating bills, toys for children to look forward to in the holidays.
Where I now live could not be more unlike the suburb I came from, where no one wanted, and over indulgence was the norm. This poem captures something of where I now live…where small gestures of humanity and kindness are noticed, and valued.
Neighbors by James Crews
Where I’m from, people still wave
to each other, and if someone doesn’t,
you might say of her, She wouldn’t
wave at you to save her life—
but you try anyway, give her a smile.
This is just one of the many ways
we take care of one another, say: I see you,
I feel you, I know you are real. I wave
to Rick who picks up litter while walking
his black labs, Olive and Basil—
hauling donut boxes, cigarette packs
and countless beer cans out of the brush
beside the road. And I say hello
to Christy, who leaves almond croissants
in our mailbox and mason jars of fresh-
pressed apple cider on our side porch.
I stop to check in on my mother-in-law—
more like a second mother—who buys us
toothpaste when it’s on sale, and calls
if an unfamiliar car is parked at our house.
We are going to have to return to this
way of life, this giving without expectation,
this loving without conditions. We need
to stand eye to eye again, and keep asking—
no matter how busy—How are you,
how’s your wife, how’s your knee?, making
this talk we insist on calling small,
though kindness is what keeps us alive.