When my family were asked to appear on the cover of a recent local publication, my kids were stumped.
“Why would anyone want to feature us on a cover?” they each asked.
“Probably because we are a writer and illustrator couple,” I offered.
But they were not convinced. And with our many foibles and averageness, I can certainly understand their confusion. Children’s book writers and illustrators aren’t typically those who receive the spotlight so we happily endured our share of teasing and
accepted the compliments of our neighbors when the issue was released. But what touched me most was being reminded of the beauty and warmth of community. How the noble purpose of this publication is to bring neighbors in closer contact with each other through images and stories. In an age of social media and negative political discourse, face to face dialogue with the people who live in your community, seems to be going by the wayside.
Shortly after the issue was released, I walked into the grocery store and heard my name called. I expected to see a friend, but instead, an unfamiliar man approached with a broad smile.
“I saw you on the magazine,” he said as he introduced himself.
We exchanged pleasantries, chatted a bit and discovered we had much in common. We talked about getting together one day and exchanged business cards. By the time I got home to unpack my groceries, the phone rang.
“Are you and James free for brunch tomorrow?” the grocery store man asked. He and his wife lived nearby and so, despite my daughter’s concerns that we would become homicide victims, we spent hours the next day at the home of newly found neighbors over mimosas and homemade blueberry muffins, talking, laughing and sharing.
Both James and I grew up in communities where people knew and cared for each other. The type of community where a child’s behavior outside of his home was closely monitored by all adults. Where word of misdeeds and successes traveled like wildfire. I loved visiting my neighborhood shops where the owner of Saul’s market asked after my parents. Where the salesman at Hanlon’s Shoes remembered my narrow feet and performed magic tricks while I tried on pairs, and how at Mrs. Pendelton’s salon, her hot comb shaped my hair into the page boy style I loved.
Contrary to popular belief, communities aren’t only in small, rural towns. They are in places where you feel at home and welcomed wherever you go. Where people aren’t afraid to say “Good Morning,” and root for each other’s successes, both large and small. It is the grocery clerk, a fellow New Englander, who provides me with weekly Patriots and Red Sox news each week when I do my shopping, and the library volunteer who critiques my reading selections at check out and the “local’s discount” provided at my favorite store in town, that make me feel like a celebrity.
Years ago, when my oldest began her college search, she insisted on applying only to very large schools. After of years of living “under a microscope” in a small town, she longed for the anonymity of a large university, where she would go unnoticed. Yet, not one year into her studies at that very large, university, whose size was nearly triple the population of her hometown, she felt lost. She went from a town where neighbors reported when she ran a stop sign, which was often, to a campus, where no one noticed when she was sick for days on end. It was only after graduating, that one by one, she found a community in her housemates, in the large home they share together in a large city. That home has become the headquarters for them and many other friends to celebrate milestones, garden, cook and dream. She commented recently that by just minding your own business, you sadly mind no one else’s.
In strong communities, the victory of one is the victory of all and neighbors earn celebrity status, not from being in the spotlight but from battling a cancer diagnosis, graduating kindergarten, emerging intact from a devastating divorce or loss of a loved one, launching a new business venture, running for school board. By opening our homes to each other, we open dialogue, we broaden our neighborhoods. We experience belonging.
Home is where the heart is, but it takes heart to make a community a home.