Door to Door: The Powerful Art of Neighboring

Door to Door: The Powerful Art of Neighboring November 1, 2018

That nice, warm—maybe almost happy?—feeling that you have today is not just about candy and cute kids in costumes.

I’ve always loved Halloween. As a kid, as a parent, and the seasons in between. Costumes, candy, and an excuse to binge watch scary movies or read Dracula again … what’s not to love? Not to mention, there’s something spiritual about letting ourselves believe in things we can’t see. It’s a magical night, all around.

But I’m here to tell you, it was extra spooky-special this year, and I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that. Best as I can tell, lots of people felt like there was an especially lovely glow around the occasion this year, and not just from the light of the jack-o-lanterns. Maybe with the weight of the world lately, the blessed break of a holiday—ANY holiday—was needed. Social media was filled with pictures of kids dressed up as everything from Storm Troopers to dinosaurs (the T-Rex craze this year is a riot), and I don’t know, maybe we got our heads out of the newsfeed and the toxic political rhetoric for a few hours. Not for nothing.

But more than anything, what I think many of us felt is just the simple joy of being out and talking to our neighbors. When you get right down to it, we don’t do that well or often anymore. There’s a lot to be said for showing up and being where we live. Maybe we should try it more often. At least, you know, until this wave of fascism passes.

In fact, the talking-to-neighbors thing might be the answer to the fascism thing.

Between my church schedule and my family schedule, plus some travel, I haven’t been as involved in this election season as I’d hoped to be. I did get out and canvass some, and I’ve done some phone banking. Meanwhile, my friends who have been out there hitting the pavement, knocking on doors and getting out the vote faithfully will all tell you the same thing: they have great hope after meeting their neighbors. The occasional uncomfortable meeting is inevitable. But on the whole, they find folks behind those doors who are kind, compassionate and thoughtful; ready to engage in meaningful conversation about making our communities better.

There’s something to be said for showing up and being where we live.

When you think about it, most every part of our day is designed specifically so we DON’T have to talk to people. Especially in the suburbs. You can go to a drive-thru for everything: your coffee, your bank deposit, your prescriptions, your dry-cleaning. Even the grocery stores deliver to your door now, or will at least carry your online order out to the car. Then we come home and push a little button in the car so that our garage door magically opens, allowing us to drive in, shut the door and get out without ever seeing a soul. Our backyards are fenced in. And our children so over-programmed that we are scarcely home anyway.

We may find community in any other number of ways—church, activities, a long-standing network of friends and families—but when we don’t know our neighbors, things fall apart. Our compulsive anonymity is deeply harmful to the fabric of society. There’s something ominous about all those closed doors, about the unknown strangers doing life all around us; alongside us but separate, isolated and mysterious. Halloween is a celebration of that mystery, that dark unknown. It may be fun for a day … but deep down, we fear what we cannot see. And that fear makes us smaller somehow.

That’s why Halloween was maybe a release valve for many of us. A reminder that, for all the evil present in the world every day, we are also surrounded by people who share, who say hello, and who enjoy a good T-Rex costume as much as the rest of us.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s not all Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood out there all the time. The Kris Kobach signs remind me daily. There’s a darkness in our discourse right now far more frightening than any ghost story we could tell. But I still believe in the goodness of neighbors—mine and yours—and in the transformative power of active neighboring.

The day after Halloween is not just the hangover from the sugar high. It is this whole other thing, a day unto itself that we church people call “All Saint’s Day.” Typically it is a day to be mindful of those gone before us in death, those we remember well as having shaped us in faith and in being. But we remember, too, the great cloud of witnesses present with us in this life; those who are part of who we are, whose lives make us whole and whose presence make us well.

We don’t need the excuse of candy—or canvassing for that matter—to know the people around us. But it sure helps. Get out there. For any reason you can find, or for no reason at all.

Also, go vote. Take candy if you must. It seems to help.

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