There was a time when you could run next door and unashamedly ask to borrow an egg or a cup of sugar or a ladder, and the response would be, "of course!" I remember being the one having to do the running and asking, and although I was a shy kid, the part I had a hard time with was the actual talking, not the act of asking. The understanding was different then. Everyone was of the mind set that "of course you can borrow something, because next week I'll most likely be the one who's doing the asking."
I experienced this once again in college as an exchange student in France. I found this neighborliness alive and well amongst my peers. When one person was short on francs (yes, this was before the euro when 5 francs = $1. I miss those days...), someone else would buy the bread or the sandwich on their behalf. No one kept tabs. We all knew we'd be the one in need sooner or later.
I'm still in contact with this community, nearly 2 decades later. We took care of each other. That's what being neighborly is all about.
I feel it is a dying tradition. In the industry I currently work in, which is all about communities, I find through my research and my own experience that most people couldn't care less who their neighbor is as long as they're quiet. It seems as people get more dispersed from their immediate family, whether due to schooling or jobs or adventure, they're not necessarily building their own community up around them. There are a lot of people out there without a safety net. To make matters worse, we all have too much pride to ask for help when we need it. We'll take that half-hour trip to the store, kids in tow, all to avoid asking someone for a single egg. And it doesn't have to be that way.
I'm fortunate that a little over 2 years ago, we moved into a new neighborhood where people seemed to be determined to be neighborly. There are a lot of young families, a lot of people who moved to California from the Mid-west, a lot of people who are making it on their own. They have pot lucks, they celebrate birthdays together, they pitch in when someone learns of a family in need, some even go on vacation together. It's a good feeling. I've even called on one neighbor to break into my house and turn off my stove when I left some soup simmering and I was over 30 minutes away. She was happy to do it.
People need people. I guess that's why I have a soft spot for tea companies who use their businesses to be neighborly and take care or more than just the business. Live Your Love is one of those companies. A portion of their profits goes directly to healthcare and education for those who were devastated by the tsunami in Sri Lanka. It is Sri Lankan tea (Ceylon) and it supports the Sri Lankan people. For the founding couple of Live Your Love, this was the neighborly thing to do.
As I sip my Ceylon this morning, I'm thinking about the opportunities that come up to be neighborly. Bringing dinner to a family with a newborn, delivering cookies to a new neighbor to welcome them, having the neighbor kids over for a play date to give the parents a break. Charities and organizations are critical to meeting so many needs, big and small, but we shouldn't overlook the needs and opportunities right next door.
Today I intend on looking for ways to be more neighborly. Maybe checking in on a neighbor I haven't seen for awhile, or inviting a mom to lunch (or tea). Those little connections can sometimes make all the difference. I know. I've been there. By the way, can I borrow a drop of vanilla extract?