When we moved into our house in 2009, some of our first interactions with the neighbors took place during the National Night Out picnic. Since then, that first Tuesday in August has proven to be an opportunity to catch up with people whom we live near but don’t really see that often.
Last August, there was no National Night Out – people didn’t even get one day of reprieve from all the isolation. This year, I thought it would be important for us all to get back together other again. But the landlord who usually allows the picnic on his lawn said, “We’re not going to do it this year.” It’s the one day a year that people actually come out and talk to each other, I pointed out.
“Someone else can host,” he countered. So that’s what I attempted to do. Part of me didn’t want to, but I felt that I ought to. People are important. Community is important.
But building community is hard work.
I invited the new families in the neighborhood. They sounded pleased to have been invited. I stopped and talked to various people in the neighborhood on my evening walks. I called those whose phone numbers I had or could track down, even some who had recently moved away. People were polite. A few said they’d come, and offered to bring something to for the picnic.
I cooked all afternoon. We borrowed a few tables, and my sons and I set up tables and chairs in the backyard. We blew up balloons, and wrote a “welcome” note in chalk on the driveway. The one who lent the tables informed me that some people in the neighborhood are mad at each other and may not show up. (Was that the real reason she wasn’t coming?)
One neighbor stopped by. We ate and talked and I tried my best to ignore the nagging feeling that I’d failed. But if one person didn’t have to spend the evening alone, wasn’t that enough?
But what should I do with all the leftovers? I sent our guest home with some of the curry. I also delivered some to the neighbor who lent us tables. I packed up some sloppy Joes and buns for the neighbor next door who was sitting outside smoking. I called up another and delivered some food to her too. She met me her door and we chatted. Another neighbor walking by joined the conversation, and the three of us talked for several minutes.
“If people don’t come to you, you take the food to them,” I concluded. My husband and kids thought the evening was a failure, but I noted that I did end up spending a good portion of the evening outdoors talking to neighbors, mostly one-on-one. Though different than I’d expected, I did have my night out.