Remember the lyrics to Carole King’s song “So Far Away”? I sure do. The message goes all the way back to 1971. It was then very poignant, and as time has gone on it has taken on a deeper and richer meaning for me.
In my youth, neighborhoods were, well, neighborhoods. We knew each other and, in many neighborhoods where we “came from the same town or village or spoke the same language,” there was an inescapable closeness. We all grew up, we discovered new careers and pursued higher education, and we started to fly around the country—and then to many countries. We often settled so far away.
There is a lot to be said for these “modern times,” but unfortunately many of us have lost our connectedness. Few of us know or remember why our neighborhoods were named. Our neighborhoods may also be called trendy or cool, chic or family-friendly, but often we don’t know what that means.
I know of apartments and lofts in cities, or even blocks in suburbia, where neighbors don’t know, talk to or even relate to one another. Try asking someone why they don’t talk to their neighbor and you might get a response such as this:
“What, are you kidding me? No one talks to each other in this neighborhood. That guy could be an ax murderer!”
The Ties That Tie
It is funny to me that many people I know boast of social media friends and followers. They compare numbers of friends, whole legions of Facebook friends and thousands of Twitter followers in a contest over who is more connected. I talk to these same folks, and they admit that they shy away from ever saying hello to people in the elevator, grocery store or on mass transit.
It’s also strange that people who can’t understand why anyone would want to live in desolate areas such as Wyoming or Montana may fail to recognize the fact that they live at 123 Maple Street and they’ve never done much more than wave to their neighbor at 126 Maple.
I recently was moved to tears by a picture that a friend brought to my attention that had gone viral and had been viewed over 16,000 times.
The scene where the picture was taken is a busy subway station in Atlanta, where a woman noticed that a young man was struggling to tie his tie—and what man hasn’t? She asked her husband to teach him, and the tender moment was captured in a sweet photo that went viral.
What I cherish about the brief scene is that it represents all that is good, humane and decent. There was kindness at the scene and a letting down of fear and distance. Because in spite of everything going on in today’s world, I still believe that the majority of people are wonderful at heart.
It is impossible to know who was helping whom on that subway platform. The young man needed help, but perchance the old man needed to give help. The important point is that they were relating as human beings. We don’t know if they saw each other again, nor do we even know if the young man found a new job. What is important is that the moment was non-digital, but real; they took a chance on one another as ‘neighbors’ in the subway, and there was the love of kindness flowing between them.
Our neighborhoods have changed, and our neighbors may have changed, but our need for one another has not. You don’t need a reason to help people. A lot of people, me included, talk about ‘successful people,’ but I am convinced we need more good people than we do successful people. Every neighborhood has houses that are full of so many stories, both jubilant and heartrending, and yet all we ever see is their mailbox, driveway and yard. While a good neighbor may increase the value of your property, being ‘good neighbors’ is priceless.