From Nod and Wave to Know and Share

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By Ann Cameron Siegal
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, May 2, 2009

Not long ago, a neighbor of ours died. Only then did we discover that he and my husband shared a passion for studying the Civil War.

His widow lamented how these two men, who lived a block apart, would have loved talking for hours, sharing books and maybe even visiting battlefields together. Who knew?

Some people dream of living in communities where children pop in and out of one another's houses, where adults gather on front porches for riveting conversations, where gardeners trade bounty over back fences.

Others don't want that much closeness.

But most of us would like more than just a nodding acquaintance with neighbors.

What seems to have been easy and natural decades ago, when mothers were home and kids played outside for hours, takes a bit more effort today. That's especially true when there's no organization such as a homeowners association to get things started.

Sure, we're all busy, but other factors can hinder neighborliness.

People drive into their garages, close the door automatically, then proceed inside.

Some houses are set back from the street, with only long driveways bridging the gap. Others sit along busy streets with no sidewalks, so strolling the neighborhood is not an option.

And as we come and go, we are often focused more on hand-held electronic devices than on our surroundings.

After years of writing for The Post's Where We Live feature, I'm amazed at the number of neighborhoods -- even those where people talk about community togetherness or active homeowners associations -- where piles of newspapers build up at the end of someone's front walk, ignored by neighbors.

Beyond missing out on connecting with a potential kindred spirit, it's just uncomfortable to be around people who don't know or even acknowledge one another.


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© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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