With shelter-in-place orders across the country, families are spending way more time at home.
And being marooned at home has produced one positive side effect. In my experience, the pandemic has served to bring neighbors closer together.
I’ve lived in my neighborhood for almost 16 years. Quiet is the best description of my area—sometimes eerily quiet. Whenever my family visits from out of town, they’re surprised by how quiet it is. And I don’t live out in the boonies or in a planned community with restrictive HOA rules. I live about 20 minutes west of Atlanta in an older suburban neighborhood with large yards.
Since I work from home, I’m familiar with the daily rhythms of my neighborhood. Pre-pandemic, I could count on one hand how many people I saw walking around the neighborhood on a given day. There are a few of us regular walkers, some kids my children play with, and the handful of people who work on their yards. Heck, I recognize hired gardeners more than I would some of my neighbors.
A month or so ago, area businesses began arrangements for employees to work from home. My state was slow to declare a shelter-in-place order, but the county ordered nonessential businesses to close in mid-March. I figured since most people in my neighborhood rarely come outdoors, there’d be little change as people started working from home. I figured the work-from-home crowd would remain on teleconferences and stay cooped up all day.
But as March wore on, I noticed more and more neighbors out and about—while maintaining social distance. On my morning walks with my dogs, I came across people I’d never seen before. I mean, I was sure they lived here, but obviously they rarely came out of their homes.
I passed a young woman who said, “Hi, Ms. Wolfe!” I did a double take—did I know her? I smiled and waved. It took me 30 minutes to place her face. It was the “little girl” who lived across the street. Only now she was a grown woman. When did that happen? Had it really been that many years since I last saw someone who literally lives a few yards away?
I remember watching “The Sandlot” with my eldest son a few years ago. One scene stood out to him: the Fourth of July neighborhood cookout where the tables are set out and the kids wander around and grab food before they head to their night baseball game.
“Is that real?” my son asked. “Are there neighborhoods where everyone cooks out and hangs together?”
Once upon a time, yes, I told him. People spent more time at home and actually interacted with their neighbors. And before you correct me—in some places of the country, that sense of community still exists. But in my immediate area, people commuted to far-away jobs and spent precious nonwork hours shuttling kids to a number of activities. On weekends, neighbors would relax within the comforts of their own homes. With busy lives, there was little time to really get to know your neighbors.
Now, neighbors have emerged from their homes and chatted with me—again, from a safe distance. My once-quiet neighborhood was alive, a community buzzing with activity. Neighbors are checking in with one another and making sure the older members of our community have what they need.
In 2009, my neighborhood experienced a 100-year flood. That was the first (and last, up until this month) time I witnessed a community come together in the face of tragedy. Neighbors helped neighbors clean up, gather supplies, and slowly rebuild our neighborhood.
Sadly, we resumed our individual routines and holed up in our homes. But this time around I have a different feeling. I know that we may have lost touch over the years, but I see the resurgence of my neighborhood banding together to make sure we are all safe.
My community is not unique; neighborhoods across the country are experiencing the same connection. My friends and family are experiencing small acts of kindness and sharing them on social media.
My friend Barb posted, “My daughter and her kids chalked messages on the street in front of their house that the neighbors loved!”
My other friend Stephanie shared how she and her son painted rocks with uplifting messages and are sharing them around her neighborhood.
My fellow dog-rescue buddy Jade leaves snacks out daily for anyone in need.
I’ve seen the emergence of Facebook groups dedicated to demonstrating how people are spreading love in their communities during social distancing. The Heart Hunters group shares photos of hearts that people across the country are putting in their windows to spread a little joy to passersby.
Other neighborhoods are putting up Christmas lights, and school teachers are paying drive-by visits to their students.
So is the coronavirus pandemic causing a resurgence of the tight-knit community? I would say a qualified yes.
In a time of need, scams and complaints over hoarding, price gouging, and self-interest will always be present. But I choose to focus on how it’s brought out the best in people in my neighborhood. We may not ever get to the point of holding community cookouts once the pandemic fizzles out, but I know that when I need my neighbors, they will be there.