War was looming in 2003 and I was anguishing about how to promote peace. A sign in the yard saying “No” and picketing on the Lake Street Bridge made a statement, but what more could be done? Reading and pondering brought me to this conclusion: Peace has to begin with the individual, then the family, then the neighborhood and so on.
We were not new to the neighborhood, having lived in our home over 25 years. Working many hours as a social worker and not feeling very social after a long day, not having children living here or a dog (both of which seem to help people connect), and having caregiving responsibilities for elderly family members were the reasons I didn’t invest time in getting to know neighbors.
At the National Night Out in 2003 I asked, “Would you like to come to my house and knit once a month?” Several women were interested, even though most don’t knit. It didn’t matter.
In September 2003, five of us met that first night. I had prepared a speech about having an ulterior motive. The women were probably thinking, “Is she selling plastic storage ware or pampered cookware?” But I explained the reason for getting together was concern about peace and to promote peace through neighbors getting to know neighbors better. I offered my house for a monthly meeting of knitting or book discussion or whatever they preferred with two ground rules:
1. Limit it to an hour so that no one would view it as a huge time commitment in busy lives or feel like they had to leave and miss the “best part.”
2. No talking about anyone who wasn’t at the group. (To my delight, this latter “rule” was totally unnecessary as these ladies are not the kind who resort to gossip.)
It has been five years since we started meeting one evening a month. We decided that an informal, unstructured time would work best. We share information on businesses, recipes, movies, restaurants, garden tips, family and neighborhood news and so much more. Friendships with good boundaries have developed. During the five years a baby has been born, an engagement announced, a new neighbor welcomed, a health problem shared and support and neighborliness extended.
This experience increased my quality of life immeasurably. These wonderful people have talent, integrity, interests, abilities and compassion that simply amaze me. Knowing neighbors makes it so easy to look out for one another, borrow a cup of sugar, share backyard produce, ask for a ride when in a pinch, and go to an event or performance of one of the women or family members. And most important, peace is growing among us.
Liz Blood is a retired social worker who has lived in the Corcoran Neighborhood of south Minneapolis with her husband, Bill, since 1975. An invitation will once again be extended to neighbors at National Night Out, since the group is an “open” one.