Issue Forty - Summer 2022

Welcome, Neighbor

By Stephanie Barbé Hammer

Friends, as we wrap another wonderful issue of SR, I want to share an experience I had just a few days ago.

My husband and I were driving up the main road that leads to our house on Whidbey Island when we noticed something had been stickered to the DEAD END sign, where we make our left turn.

Pasted onto the sign was a picture of the state of California, with a red line drawn through it and, next to the image, read the words in all caps “GO HOME.”

I want to talk to you about this sticker.

But first, just to be clear, I wasn’t born in California (although I lived there for 30 years). I am, in fact a New Yorker (or should I say New Yawker), and I’m from the core of the big apple. Manhattan. I grew up a block from Central Park. I grew up taking buses and the subway. My parents did not own a car. I didn’t know anyone except for two very rich girls in my class who owned a car, and someone else drove it. Aka a chauffeur.

But the main thing I want to tell you is that I grew up in apartments. In those buildings you could hear people talking and playing the piano sometimes, and at other times, you could hear laughter and you could hear crying. You saw people in the hall when you took out your garbage and you saw people in the elevator and in the lobby. if you made too much noise, someone told you, and if someone’s under-the-bed drawers scraped too loudly in the apartment above, you told them. You have to get along with your neighbors in an apartment building.

There’s a lesson in that it seems to me.

Talking to people who have lived in the Pacific Northwest longer than I have, I gather that many people moved to the PNW and to places like Whidbey Island to get away from others. But the problem is: others have followed and have “ruined everything.” But in my experience, there’s no getting away from these others, even if you want to.

Because the fact is: you need them.

You need these other people, even in the country. Even on a farm. A long time ago, I worked for two weeks on a farm in Skåne, Sweden. The whole family was out there in the fields except for the mom whose bad arthritis kept her indoors. The neighbors came by with a much needed 11 AM snort of aquavit. You talked with those neighbors; you compared notes about the weather and the water, how the animals were doing. Even in the country, you need your neighbors.

The thing is, the world that we live in has gotten very small, so we need to think more expansively about who our neighbors are. Kwame Anthony Appiah says that this is the urgent challenge for all of us: to think about our neighbors in a big way, because we are indeed all dependent on each other. We need to learn more about each other, he says, because we need to get used to each other’s differences.

But can’t we just forget about them?

No, he says, because our interests are all intertwined. And that means that all of our interests matter.

Ugh – I can hear you saying. That feels like a lot of work. But not taking other people into consideration presents another danger: “Once you start offering reasons for ignoring the interests of others, however, reasoning itself will usually draw you into a kind of universality. A reason is an offer of a ground for thinking or feeling or doing something. And it isn’t a ground for me, unless it’s a ground for you. If someone really thinks that some group of people genuinely doesn’t matter at all, he will suppose they are outside the circle of those to whom justifications are due. (Kwame Anthony Appiah, Cosmopolitanism)

How do we start thinking in a cosmopolitan direction? Well, we can start by getting over these regional prejudices. PNW: Californians are not the enemy. They’re our neighbors. They’re part of our beloved Left Coast. Idaho isn’t the enemy either. And neither is Mexico. So, stop it. Stop hating on your neighbors, be they from South Whidbey, North Whidbey West Seattle, Whatcom County, east of the Cascades, west of the Cascades, on the beach or in the valley. Or from LA. Or from New York, like me. Or from further away than that. . .

But it’s true. Sometimes our neighbors drive us crazy. I get it. My very elderly next door neighbor has decided — long ago — that I do not walk fast enough to suit him (which is ironic, given that I’m from Manhattan and tend to walk like a bat out of hell). Still, he has taken it upon himself to tell me to walk faster EVERY TIME he passes me in his SUV on our very rural road. This happens several times a week. Sometimes, it happens every day.

At first, I got mad at my neighbor for criticizing my walking! How dare he! Who does he think he is?!? Next, I told him in a very stern voice that he really hurt my feelings every time he did this. Well, he either didn’t hear me or he forgot. In any event, he is still slowing down his SUV and telling me to walk faster every time he sees me.

After six years of failing to change my neighbor, I have decided that — for whatever reason — this alacrity-correction is what he has settled upon as a positive interaction with me. So, these days, when he pulls up next to me, and tells me to walk faster, I smile and wave. That’s it. I presume that he’s trying to be helpful, or funny, or he just doesn’t know what else to say, so he says, “walk faster.” It’s not that hard to just smile and wave. My neighbor is actually a very kind and considerate person, who apparently NEEDS to correct my walking speed. In the spirit of neighborliness, I can let him do that.

I’m wishing you a summer where we welcome all our neighbors to the neighborhood.

Copyright Hammer 2022