By Lois Ann Ell
It’s January, the time of year when we make resolutions. Statistically, decisions like losing 10 pounds or journaling every day fail by March. But what if your resolution is not a restricting, unrealistic one, but an intention to open up to something new? What if it is without expectation, but pointed in the right direction? And what if it would benefit everyone?
My neighborhood is an example of that.
Around two years ago, during this auspicious month, our neighborhood had been experiencing a high amount of robberies, drug activity, assaults and other disturbing events. An uncle a few doors down, whose family has been in the neighborhood for generations, decided to hold a meeting. Anyone who lived in the vicinity was invited. Notice of the meeting was word of mouth. On a Monday afternoon at 5 p.m., we gathered on his lanai.
About 20 of us showed up. At first it felt like a speed-dating seminar, all of us quickly introducing ourselves, explaining where we lived, and making small talk before moving on to the next person.
Then a police officer, who had been invited, arrived. He read aloud the crime log from our neighborhood of the past months, which made us realize we were not paranoid; our 10-block radius had been a hot spot. We shared our own stories. We listened and sympathized. It started to feel less first-date and more support group.
The officer suggested we start a Neighborhood Watch Program.
We did. As a group we committed to help make our area safer. We had meetings, at first monthly, and eventually quarterly. We started a phone tree to keep each other informed when, for example, a man rode my neighbor’s bike away with her laptop, guitar, and a backpack full of household belongings, or when my mother’s purse was stolen out of her car that was parked in our driveway.
Our meetings, in the beginning, were stilted at times, like the first few years of marriage, figuring out what we individually deemed acceptable, what we were tolerant of and what we were not. We defended our positions. Installing speed bumps was a priority for parents with young kids, unnecessary for others. Partying outside houses at 10 p.m. was a limit for some, whereas others would be happy to join in the festivities.
One thing we all agreed on: food. Someone in our group suggested making our meetings potlucks. Portuguese bean soup, cupcakes and fried rice. It got us smiling, eating and talking.
A group intention to deal positively with a negative situation birthed something special: a sense of community, knowing our neighbors, looking out for one another, borrowing an egg, lending a ladder.
We still have crime in our neighborhood. There are still incidents. We are geographically pre-disposed for lots of activity, good and bad. But we are all in this together. Neighbors are like family; you don’t choose them, but life’s easier if you get along, and if you are willing, you can learn to live harmoniously. You may even become friends.
• Lois Ann Ell is a writer who lives on Kauaʻi. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.