Thursday, August 8, 2013

won't you be my neighbor?

one of the gifts of matt's job is that he gets four weeks of vacation, so we often use them all in the month of august! this year we went away for a week in june and now we are using the rest of the time. it's a really wonderful benefit that i don't take for granted, especially since someday it might not be like that. we are always scurrying to find cheap or free places to stay, or enjoying some non-work time at home as a family (aka staycationing)

we try to be home on the first tuesday night of august for national night out, which is a big potluck with all of the neighbors on our block. this year oakland had over 650 block parties registered for national night out, which means a whole lot of what mr. rogers envisioned - neighbors getting out of their houses and getting to know each other.

my neighbor tweaked these national night out posters for our block party. how fun are they?

a lot of times people ask me why i live where i do, in a city known for violence and crime.

a lot of it, or the primary reason, is that matt and i both feel propelled by the life and teachings of jesus to seek the common good, and to care for forgotten places and people. but a shorter, non-jesus-y, answer is that there is so much more to where i live than what gets flashed on the news.

that isn't to ignore or pretend that there are not scary things that happen where i live; they are things that i don't think should happen anywhere or to anyone. and they happen often, and sometimes way closer to my house than i would prefer. for instance, and not safety related but just aesthetically related, i don't love that the front window in the house across the street from us is boarded over with a huge piece of plywood. but i also know the story behind why it is, and i have enough of a relationship with our neighbor who lives there that my relationship with him has become more important than the fact that i think his boarded up window is janky and ugly.

perhaps at some point we will decide that we are not safe and we'll have to decide what that means for our family. for now, and hopefully for a long time, we will live on our street, love our neighbors as ourselves and actively work towards making our neighborhood a safe, beautiful and thriving home for everyone

i think one of the most beautiful things about where i live is that my family has the opportunity to hang out with all kind of different people- all ages, ethnicities, classes and backgrounds. neighbors who have lived there a long time (over 58 years!) and not so long (just moved in). this tuesday that meant people who were willing to spill out of their houses for a night to mix and mingle on the sidewalk. to me, there is something magical about talking with someone who looks nothing like you and connecting with them through a conversation. invisible but powerful walls come down, and community is created.

on tuesday i talked for a long time with a 22 year old guy named brent who lives up the block from me with his grandma. he works at a retirement community, and told me all about how it's basically like a high school for old people: the socialites, the gossips, the student council types, the nerds, the rebels (who gather in their rooms and have martinis before dinner)...he was cracking me up as he told me stories of the hijinks with his elderly residents. brent and i don't probably have much in common, but just by interacting with each other for 15 minutes we now know each other's names and a sliver of each other's story.

true confession: sometimes i am sad that i don't live on a homogeneous block where there are a bunch of young families with little kids, in which we've had similar life experiences and can naturally connect on liking the same kind of stuff. or i'm sad that my street has graffiti, potholes, a boarded up window, and illegal dumping. after all, i like people who are like me, and i love pretty places and things. (and there's nothing wrong with that!) i do question if the energy expended for living in an urban, diverse neighborhood is really doing anything more than making me tired. but then i think about how for me to love my neighbor as myself means i need to know my neighbor and care about the things he or she cares for, how beautiful a night like our block party is, and how the best way to change a city like oakland is for more neighbors to move toward each other and work together for goodness instead of becoming increasingly isolated or fleeing.
here's to more parties in the street, 
to making friends with the people next door and up and down the street, 
and to sharing treats with neighbors...
no matter what kind of a neighborhood you or I live in! 

(and selfishly here is to hoping that by the next national night out the window across the street is replaced with a big huge pane of brand new glass!)


  1. From Pam, you do such an awesome job of writing what you are thinking--I love to hear about whays and whys of what u and Matt are doing. Cool to see the girls in the neighborhood too, who knows what God has planned for them!

  2. Beautiful post, beautiful place. I discovered your blog through my friend, Melanie. You know, this VERY thing has been bouncing around my head lately. Just a few days ago, my husband and I were talking about Detroit and how that city is truly at it's lowest. I bet there are a whole lot of people in need of some major encouragement. . .

    Nice to meet you.

  3. Love National Night Out! Your guys' posters were just SLIGHTLY better than our chicken-scratch-on-ripped-up-cardboard! haha.


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