As some of you may be aware, I run a Facebook page. It’s kinda interesting, though I can’t say that it’s where my energy is. I’m old, and wasn’t really born to embrace social media. But it’s forced me to learn a little about how it works, and allowed me to notice both what’s bad and tedious about it, and also what’s good.
Several of you are followers of my page, I am sure. But I have one very loyal follower. I think she has liked, or generously commented, on nearly every post I’ve made.
I played with her children, before becoming a parent. And she shared the excitement when I had my own. Her then 8 year old boy (such a sweet age) played for hours with my toddler, and scrawled his initials next to hers in a love heart in the wet concrete when the council fixed the path outside.
She used to be my neighbour across the road, in a neighbourhood not wealthy enough that people could afford to shut themselves behind literal or metaphorical walls to maintain their privacy.
I didn’t have an oven for years (don’t ask: that’s a whole other story about a deeply dysfunctional upbringing). So I borrowed my next door neighbour’s oven. Which meant I saw her fairly regularly. An elderly lady living alone, she needed a regular eye.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about some romantically harmonious network of people who were comfortable in each other’s pockets. I didn’t like her all that much – she was a little mean spirited and judgemental. But we shared a regular cup of tea, avoiding tricky topics, while I used her oven.
It was a community where the struggles were on the outside, mostly. The house down the road would periodically erupt into raging argument. A couch was once thrown over the balcony. The extended family of my neighbours at the back of my place would gather on their deck, aspirational and irritated (the latter generally pointed at the children, who’d end up being abused for objecting to being abused).
We lived close enough that we would know when things were escalating. I once went into my neighbours on the other side, and put my hand on the baseball bat: “I’m not going to let you use that”. He put it down, perhaps relieved that he hadn’t hurt the ones he loved.
When I arranged a machine to dig up the earth around my house’s foundations (again a story for another day, rooted in my own shaky foundations), another neighbour across the road organised his extended family to help shore it up. The house stood firm. Not one single crack. Years later, we returned the favour, in a different way, when they were in trouble.
At Eid, there were cakes to be shared. And at Halloween, the kids up the street figured out it might just be better to ask for money rather than sweets.
It was a community that understood that everyone struggles. Even a middle class white woman like me.
We moved away, after 25 years. We wanted to live in a place where there was somewhere to walk that didn’t lead to the main road. It was the kind of suburb that didn’t have a good park or playground. I don’t miss the place. But I miss the people.
So Facebook has been a way to take note of the weddings, the deaths and funerals, the birthdays, graduations and other celebrations. It’s a little like Christmas cards, which I’ve got out of the habit of: enough that you can kindle the friendship again if you happen to be in closer touch.
To stay in good shape, our “relationship bank accounts” – we have some kind account with everyone we know – need regular contributions of “connection credit”. But it doesn’t necessarily take a lot, or a big effort.
Thanks, dear ex-neighbour, for liking and responding to my posts, and for sometimes commenting. It’s a little contribution of credit, a small but significant contribution of connection, from you to me, each time you do, and I’m reminded of our many years spent in closer contact.
And to everyone, rest and recuperate over the Holiday season. I fear we will need all the connection credits we can muster in the coming year.
No need to go it alone!
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