The poet Gary Snyder once said, “Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.”
Stuart and I found a place called Stratford Woods four years ago, dug in (literally) with the first new house in a 22-lot development, and looked for an opportunity to help build community. The picture above shows the pathway we built in our backyard. Everyone in the community is invited to use it to explore the trails Stuart blazed into the five acres of woods that is part of a nature preserve that surrounds our house.
Place pulls us downward to the earth our home, but people pull us upward toward each other and toward God. A new neighborhood presents a tabula rasa for community. Stuart and I (and eventually everyone else who joined the community) used three tools. Anyone else can use these also: (1) conscious intent to be a good neighbor, (2) an electronic spreadsheet, and (3) brownies! With these three ingredients you can recreate a 21st-century equivalent of Little House on the Prairie complete with book club, Euchre Night, Girls Night Out, Block Parties, Potlucks, ad infinitum.
Today in America very few people know their neighbors well. Some don’t even know their names. This is a problem we could fix easily if only one person in each neighborhood started the chain reaction of love. Here’s a recipe:
Take one ounce of intention and mix it with one plate of brownies. Walk to the neighbors’ house when they are home, introduce yourself, give the brownies, leave a spreadsheet with basic info–names, address, place of work, and email. Fill in the names of the neighbors on a new spreadsheet so that you can continue building the database of all the people in your neighborhood, one visit and one plate of brownies at a time.
Soon, when the trick or treaters knock on your door, you will know that they are not just the neighbor kids–they are Nick, Aarti, and Akash. And their parents came from California and India.
Knowing the names is essential to telling the stories. And telling the stories is essential to building community. What else can we do to take responsibility to build community? What have you done in your special place?