A wave and a smile are simple gestures that reap big rewards. Time gets precious when life is filled up with working and playing and household chores; talking to the neighbors might be the last thing on a busy mind. As overwhelming as this may seem, it’s comforting to know that someone cares enough to call the police when they see your TV walking out the door while you’re away. Or, for those of us in cold country, to shut off the water when a frozen pipe bursts. Apartment livers don’t have to worry about such disasters, but being cordial paves the way for cooperation — with midnight noise, barking dogs, and occasional fish feeding.

I’ve lived in all kinds of circumstances: subdivisions, apartments, the country, and once across from a stinky dairy. But living in the woods is what taught me the value of a connected neighborhood. We came home one night and had forgotten the house key. I positioned the car headlights at the only open window as my husband jimmied it open enough to wiggle through. It was shocking to us that what looked like a crime scene could happen with no one knowing. The police car we expected in the driveway never showed and suddenly, living isolated didn’t feel so good.
I’m lucky to be living the opposite life now and realize more and more how valuable a connected neighborhood is. There’s a difference between a nosy neighbor and a watchful eye. Everybody knows everybody here, and all are ready to help each other out when they can. Meals are provided for someone who’s sick… or heartsick, hide-a-beds are moved from here to there without hernias, and excitement is shared when a whale blows past (remember, I live on an island near Seattle, WA). We’ve had calls to turn off a stove, jump a battery, and borrow a tool or missing ingredient. I’ve called 911 for a medical emergency in the middle of the night. Older folks who live alone depend on a neighbor to notice when the curtains don’t open for 3 days or knocks go unanswered. We once invited an anxious neighbor over for canned tuna and comfort when the power was out longer than expected.
It’s comforting to know a neighbor has a key to the house in case an unforeseeable emergency pops up. Providing a trusted someone with a key to my place means I can relax as I drive away, wondering if I’d forgotten anything important. And who knows when I’ll need someone to collect my mail or water the plants while I’m on vacation.
A close knit neighborhood seems rare, but socializing or exchanging niceties across the fence isn’t really a must. A nod, a wave, a smile all open the door to caring a bit more for one another. You never know when you’ll need help and it’s a relief to have a safety net close by. Convenience and safety are important for peace of mind, but it’s also just plain fun and relaxing to live in a congenial atmosphere. Facing smiles as you walk by knocks stress levels down. And getting a smile pretty much requires giving one back.