It was a luxury car, red, and had New York plates. It pulled up to me, and a couple – maybe in their mid-60s – were looking for the movie theater. They had lived in town years ago, and had come up from New York City to see what’s become of the place. They pointed to my neighbor’s house and said it was the place they used to call home. I never knew Suffield had a theater, but said some of their old neighbors were still here. I rattled off a few names. No, the woman said, they really didn’t know their neighbors. They thanked me and drove off.
That same week, I saw my next-door neighbor for the first time in five years. If that seems long, in truth there are people in my neighborhood I haven’t seen in at least ten years.
I had assumed that the lack of contact among neighbors was a product of the decaying social fabric of our times, but after meeting the New Yorkers formerly of Suffield, I began to fear that this type of thing may have been going on longer than we’d like to admit.
I’m as much at fault as anyone else. We wake, drive, work, drive, eat, sleep and repeat. Shoehorned in the routine are various activities and chores that may enable us to run into someone we know, but I think the physical characteristics of Suffield, with its spacious borders, big yards and proximity to out-of-town retail areas, minimize those random points of contact. Apparently, we used to have a movie theater, that even that small rally point is gone.
Anthropologists state human beings are social creatures and theorize the reason there are so many incidents of depression, anxiety and other emotional ailments is that people are becoming more anti-social. Sure, we’re a part of a few quasi-communities – work, religion, niche interests, etc., but they are hardly replacements for the mutual association with those with whom we share a geographic center – also known as “neighbors.” As we weave our cocoon tighter and those chance encounters with members of the community diminish, we literally lose a piece of our humanity.
So, when we see the news and decry the divisiveness and lack of civility, should we really be surprised? Do we have a right to be outraged when we can’t even say with any degree of certainty that our own neighbor is alive and well?
Instead of lamenting or complaining about the state of the world, go local.
Every year, our neighbors give us a bushel of fruit grown on their trees. Maybe they have the right idea.
Maybe we can save our humanity one apple at a time.