Hey, neighbor, how’s it going?

Photo by Christian Stahl on Unsplash

by Janice Hoffmann | Special to the Courier

Do you remember when the newspaper was delivered to your doorstep each morning? Maybe you felt lucky if you still smelled the newsprint and picked it up before it was yellowed by the sun. Maybe you had time to read it before you started your day, or at least tucked it under your arm to read before work or on a break.

When did that change to today, with multiple news sources, social media, and emails remind me of matters that vie for my attention when my phone’s “do not disturb” filter stops or when I open my eyes each morning, whichever comes first?

When I have the weight of the world on my shoulders before my feet touch the ground, I have trouble prioritizing the weights in my world and the world I inhabit with my neighbors.

I’ve lived in Claremont for 45 years, and I’m feeling nostalgic. When I moved here, Downtown LA was a 30-minute drive; Barbara Cheatley had just opened a new store; the only place to get a coffee and a pastry was Some Crust Bakery; and Claremont Men’s College (now Claremont McKenna College) had six women graduates.

These days, I allow 90 minutes to get to my seat in Disney Hall; Barbara Cheatley retired a few years ago with the fate of her prime location still unknown; Some Crust celebrated its 100th birthday a while back but now has to compete with many other coffee shops; and half of Claremont McKenna College graduates are female.

Back then feeling a sense of community was easy. It’s become harder in recent years. In the past, differences of opinion didn’t seem divisive. I voted differently than my dad. I disagreed with my walking buddy on some social issues. How we felt about this or that didn’t seem to rankle, so we shared more freely.

As we have emerged from the pandemic, small talk no longer seems easy. Yes, we are out of practice perhaps, but there is something else that stifles idle chit-chat. If we say this, then they might think that, and then there may be just that extra beat of silence, a momentary awkward pause, perhaps a tone of voice or a slight wrinkle in the brow, and before we know it, we feel further apart; and no one needs more of that these days.

After a few awkward exchanges, we stop trying, lest we offend and open a wound. So we are quieter than we used to be.

When we don’t know what to say we often say nothing, and then the community suffers, so I’m offering a little prose poem to help remind us to all be brave and reach out to one another with kindness, without judgment:

Why, when we ask how you are, or you ask how we are,
what if they tell us their hearts hurt,
or they lost someone,
or that they themselves are lost?

What if we leap and join them on their boat of sorrow and sail away?
What if they board our flotilla of woes
and the burdens are so heavy that the entire armada sinks?

Were the burdens of the wealthy on the Titanic
any greater than the refugees who perished when the
fishing boat foundered off the Peloponnese?

We’re just meeting today at the mailbox,
as we wheel our garbage to the curb on Tuesday evenings,
lining up the blue lid, the green lid, and the black lid,
and you wonder how their kid that moved away turned out.

You don’t want to hear if they felt good or bad
after last week’s Supreme Court decision
because your list of today’s injustices is not their list of today’s injustices,
and even the local school board election may not be a safe conversation.

But you still care if they are in remission,
or if they ever need their garbage pushed to the curb come Tuesday.
So I pause, breathe, and ask,
“Hey, neighbor, how’s it going?”

1 Comment


    Beautiful thoughts beautifully written!

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