I took a walk this morning, around my neighborhood. You should understand, in some ways I am a very typical urban dweller. I don’t know my neighbors. We don’t hang out together, we don’t have each others’ phone numbers, we aren’t pals. Nothing deliberate, just a product of the car and the phone and the pace of our lives. When we moved into this neighborhood a quarter-plus-century ago, we would take evening walks and see many older residents sitting on their porches. Some would wave and smile. I finally realized that some of them, at least, were indulging a practice from a faded era.
They sat on their porches in the evening specifically to greet passersby and maybe have conversations. As these people disappeared—moved, died—we stopped seeing this. In the last few years we have had an influx of immigrants—Hispanics, Eastern European, Asian—and again we see this practice.
I don’t know how to engage this way. I am, in fact, a basically shy and self-conscious person, and I can’t imagine most times anyone wanting to talk to me who doesn’t already know me. Maybe that’s a symptom of the urban social matrix, too, I don’t know.
But lately there have been even fewer. The streets are emptier.
Not abandoned. Lawns are tended, sidewalks swept, plants on steps or railings watered. The evidence of human presence is as visible as ever.
The silence is different. Even though I have rarely indulged speaking to strangers just because they were waiting to be spoken to doesn’t mean I never appreciated their reality. We would walk by and wave, give a good morning or good evening, smile. It doesn’t take much to reaffirm our connection as human beings.
I doubt I will change my basic nature when this current situation is ended. I’m just not like that. And I do value the structure of contacts from before. Choosing your friends has, I think, more significance than having people thrust upon you because there are no other avenues for interaction.
But I will appreciate them more, I think. The sounds, the scents, the frisson of neighbors in the now.
I wish them well.