Truth be told (and this is embarrassing), I am much better at talking about “neighborhood” then I am at simply being a neighbor. I marvel at my buddy Tim Soerens who seems to integrate life with his surrounding community so effortlessly, knowing the people, passions and problems of his immediate time and space. Me? I have a hard time getting to know the middle-aged single recluse next door. I have to ask Aimee to remind me the name of Donna’s husband across the street. I struggle to make it to more than an occasional neighborhood-association meeting. My hypocrisy is so insipid that, reading the Overlook Neighborhood monthly newsletter is the pinnacle of my dedication. Shameful.
Thank God for my wife… (I feel like I should pause for a moment and just let those five words rest in the air around me…)
Where was I? Oh yes. Thank God for my wife. She set up a “Know Your Neighborhood” meeting for last Wednesday. It is a service of the City of Portland.
The concept is simple. Anyone can volunteer their home. The host provides coffee/refreshments and make a simple invitation to all their immediate neighbors (we invited everyone between the stop-signs along our block.) Portland sends in two staff members with a forty-five minute presentation on the topics of disaster response (we were informed that a minimum 9-point earthquake was a mathematical certainty in the next decades AND that as a result our entire street would slip off the bluff and into the Willamette river… so it is nice to know that we will get the chance to live inside a Bruckheimer film. Where do they find these presenters?) And the other topic is crime prevention.
The ideas are fast-moving and they are committed to taking less than an hour of everybody’s time. Plus, though a bit melodramatic, the topics are things that real people worry about but don’t know what to do. They give only practical application and the attendees gets a surprisingly well designed guide to neighborhood integration/preparation.
The real brilliance of it for us though, is we get an almost effortless opportunity to host our street. We get to open our home. Our neighbors are full of gratitude that we would initiate such an important meeting. And as if that is not enough, the group that came included two families that have lived on the street for almost forty years and they had great tales about our home’s previous inhabitants.
Who would have guessed that in the late sixties, quasi-British rockers lived in our house? They painted every surface red, white and blue. And in a moment of what I am sure can only be described as “rocker-brilliance” they had dug a hole in the middle of the kitchen floor for quick basement access. I digress.
All that to say, we are working on this whole neighbor thing. I am shocked by how unnatural it sometimes feels. But I am equally encouraged by how easy it can be.