by Tom Goodman
July 2, 2008
What lengths would you go to connect with your neighbors? How about sleeping on their living room floor for a night or two?
That's what Peter Lovenheim decided to do, and he wrote about his project in the New York Times. A tragedy in a nearby house awakened him to the fact that
he really didn't know his neighbors that well. "Did I live in a community," he asked himself, "or just in a house on a street surrounded by people whose lives were entirely separate?"
He thought about the childhood sleepovers he used to have at friends' houses and the insight into those families he gained, and that gave him an idea. He decided to ask his neighbors if he could bring his sleeping bag over to their houses and
spend the night on their living room floor.
Of the 18 or so neighbors he asked, more than half said yes. "There was the recently married young couple, both working in business; the real estate agent and her two small children; the pathologist married to a pediatrician who specializes in
autism." And then there was a neighbor seriously ill with breast cancer. "My goal shifted: Could we build a supportive community around her -- in effect, patch together a real neighborhood?" People in the surrounding houses ended up
taking turns driving her to doctors' appointments and watching her children.
"Why is it," Lovenheim asks, "that in an age of cheap long-distance rates, discount airlines and the Internet, when we can create community anywhere, we often don't know the people who live next door?"
I probably won't go so far as to sleep on someone's living room floor, but I'm slowly getting to know my neighbors. There's Joe, a single man and former pro football player. There's Russ and Kathy and their son: They've taken us out on
their boat and tried to teach me how to stand up on a wakeboard. There's Steve and Jean: We saw them frequently during the lacrosse games that our youngest sons played. I stood in the yard with a couple across the street to watch
fireworks one night, and I've shared gardening tips with an empty-nester, but those relationships still need development. Today, I waved at a man who just bought a house near us: I'll have to carve out some time to welcome him to the street.
How are you doing at connecting with those around you? Jesus commanded us to love God and love our neighbors, adding, "There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:30)
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