When I think of community, I think of the border town where I spent my formative childhood years. We were a country at war, and my dad was a commander in the military, so we lived in an army house, on an army street, with a bomb shelter on our back varandah.
It was one of those streets where everyone knew everyone. We had dinner at each other’s houses. Street parties. The children played in the streets, we had a swing in the front garden. Someone else had a swimming pool. Someone else a tree house.
When the war ended we moved again to a lovely town on a lovely street. I remember a lot of grass. And I remember how lonely it felt. It took months to meet our neighbours. Even though they had kids in the same school, it took months for us to actually meet.
I also remember thinking as a 9 year old “This street needs a war. It needs an outside enemy to bring everyone together”. A war with an outside enemy never came, thankfully, but the idea has always stuck with me. How people rally together when there’s an outside threat – just look at natural disasters.
My sister and I decided we were going to remedy the situation, so we started a secret club (very secret – just us as members). We called ourselves The Nightingales with the idea that whenever someone moved into our neighbourhood we would bake them a welcome basket of biscuits and leave it anonymously at their door under cover of darkness with a card signed The Nightingales. I think two families moved into our neighbourhood during those three years. We weren’t very active.
But the idea was there. To reach out. To welcome people. To turn strangers into friends. To create a community. This is something I realise now at 36 years of age that I’ve been striving for all my life.
And each of us can change our neighbourhood by starting with one action, one person. Start it with the family moving in on the first of next month. Start it with the elderly person you pass on the street every day. Start it with the single mother you can see struggling to get her groceries into the house while wrangling three small children. Bake biscuits, if you wish, involve the children. Reach out.
We live in a lonely world. Some people might reject your efforts. Others will embrace them. Not everyone will end up your best friend, but here and there some might. In the end, no matter what, you will be richer for the effort made. You will benefit most.