Who Are We to Our Neighbors Now?

With social distancing so crucial to our survival, how will we help each other when help requires presence?

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Photo by Tina Lear

We need each other.

We’re going to find out how much as the days go tumbling by. But as more and more restrictions are placed on our movements (either by outside forces or by common sense), how are we going to help each other? Fear has paralyzed not only our movements but our minds as well.

Last night, I started thinking about the block I live on. We live in the suburbs, in an upper middle class neighborhood right down the street from an elementary school and a high school. It still has a wonderful small town feel. For instance, the Raindew Pharmacy, a five-minute walk away, is one of those iconic places that always has what I need. And no matter how weird it is (once I needed a certain kind of stitch holder for a knitting project), they have it.

Anyway, it’s a neighborhood I love. But we’ve lived here seventeen years and we still don’t really know our neighbors. Here’s the sum of what I know:

  • Across the street, our super close friends who have a 13-year-old daughter that we consider to be part ours. Aside from that, it goes like this:

That’s everything I know about my neighbors. Except for our friends across the street, I know nothing of their struggles, their preferences their joys, their lives. Just the most cursory judgments, the kind we tend to make all day long.

It wouldn’t really bother me that much, except for now, I think about them differently. What if one of them needed help, the kind that can’t be given digitally? I don’t even know what could come up, but I bet there are some instances where the only answer is to call someone very close by and ask for physical help. When that time comes, we’re going to have to know each other’s phone numbers. Each other’s names. We’re going to have to understand what we ourselves have to offer in case of need.

But none of us have that information. And asking for it from them feels like an invasion of privacy. And only giving them mine feels too vulnerable.

That said, last Sunday I was walking our dog around the block, and the guy who lives in what used to be the electrician’s house was getting into his car, headed for church. I’d never seen him before. He stopped and looked at me directly with such a kind face and said, “How are you doing in this crazy world?” I was moved. I said, “Well, I’m just trying to put one foot in front of the other, I guess. Keep ’em on the ground, mostly.” And then we laughed about how nine months from now there will probably be a baby boom.

It was a tiny exchange, but there was a quality of heart that I’ve been noticing more and more as we walk through our neighborhood, talking to people who’ve been here for years, invisible, each orbiting our own separate worlds. Now, we are all in this world. Visible, and together in a visceral way. Hearts are opening everywhere.

I’m feeling my way into how to move forward through this pandemic, and these are the things I think about.

As always, it’s important to make time for listening to your own heart. I wrote a piece (before Covid19) called “What to Do With Overwhelm When the World Is Burning Down” that’s still valid. Maybe even more so now.

In closing, let me just remind you to keep your feet pressed consciously into the ground. Lengthen your spine. Soften the back of your neck. And spend a moment asking yourself what you might be able to do for a neighbor.
Let your heart open to the answer.

And take each minute, one at a time, remembering to make a space for listening to the person in front of you.

Make a space for doing that with love, compassion and wisdom.

Tina Lear is a writer, composer/lyricist, yoga teacher, and mother of three really interesting humans. She founded the Long Island Dharmata Sangha and is currently navigating the liminal world between her past and her future. Doing her best to be in the present. She lives in Floral Park with her beloved wife and their big little dog, Ruby.

Written by

Writer. Yoga teacher. Musician. Buddhist. Quilter. Animal lover. Visible grownup. Hidden child. Secret dancer when all alone. Makes good bread.

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