It was, admittedly, a little awkward when I brought Maria the chicken stock.
“It’s chicken stock,” I said, handing my neighbor the container. “I have so much that I just thought you might want some. But you don’t have to take it!”
But of course she did, because I had practically forced the quart into her hands. She thanked me, promised to use it, and closed her red door. Mind and heart racing, I returned to my apartment.
I live in New York, a city where politeness means staying in your lane and leaving others alone, where acknowledgment means slight nods from a distance. People go years (years!) without speaking to their neighbors.
So why was I pushing myself on the woman across the hall?
Maybe it’s because of the way I was raised. I grew up in a small neighborhood in Lafayette, Louisiana. Even now, there are only 17 families who live there. Everyone knows everyone. We threw block parties on Halloween and the Fourth of July. Every spring, I could expect at least 17 obligatory orders of Girl Scout Cookies. Every summer, my dad would pressure wash one neighbor’s driveway, and she in turn would feed our dogs when we were out of town. It’s not that my neighborhood was anything special. It’s just the way it was.
And food was always shared. My mom sent over extra gumbo for the Breaux’s baby shower. Mrs. Prophet gave me fresh satsumas. My family’s fig tree turned into cookies and breads and jams for the whole neighborhood.
I can’t shake the need to help, and be helped, by the people I live near.
Of course, I knew things wouldn't be the same in New York. But after two apartments and three years of coolly avoiding eye contact with my neighbors, I crossed paths with a short, middle-aged woman walking a short, very excited dog.
“I think we live on the same floor,” Maria said, after I bombarded her with questions about Simon (the dog). And that was that. I decided we would be friends.
So far, I’ve only brought her granola (left over from holiday gifts) and the chicken stock (I really did have too much!). But we’ve made great strides. She asks how my day is going whenever we bump into each other in the stairwell. And last week she picked up a package for me. They’re just little steps, but they may lead to the sense of community I really miss living in a city like New York.
I’m not lonely. I have an amazing roommate, volunteer in my neighborhood, and meet creative, smart people every day at work and in my life. But I can’t shake the need to help, and be helped, by the people I live near. It’s a feeling that orients me, grounds me.
What brings you and your neighbors together?