Friday, April 19, 2013

The View From Here

I live in a tiny vacation community, one of the handful of year round residents in my neighborhood. My neighbors, when they are here, are mostly Canadian. The rest of us are varying degrees of American ranging from born and raised in the same community, to recent and not so recent immigrants. In the three years I've lived here, I've made a couple of really good friends, am working on filling out a couple more, and am on good happy daily hello terms with all my neighbors. What makes this unusual is that every single one of us differs politically, religiously, and economically. And yet we live in happy harmony with each other.

I've thought a lot about this in the last few days. I thought about it as I exchanged hellos and small talk about kitties and the suddenly delightful spring-like day with my neighbor. The day after the election he wore a shirt with an anti-gay marriage theme and bemoaned the taking over of America by socialism. I made no secret that I voted for every one of his worst nightmares...Obama, same-sex marriage, marijuana legalization...his entire list of horrors. We basically nullified each other's votes.

For a couple days he avoided me and my equally treasonous spouse. We didn't see each other by the mailbox. We didn't say hello. We didn't exchange small talk. And then there he was as if nothing had happened. He was friendly. I was friendly. I played with his kitties. He bragged about their antics. We went on with our respective days.

I think what soothed this over is that we both have had a chance to interact on a small, friendly and frequent basis. Brief though those moments are,they are still enough to let both of us see we are not monsters. In fact, if you laid a lot of our lives side by side, they'd be similar. We've both worked most our lives. We both are approaching retirement with just enough to survive on if we are frugal and don't want for much, he a bit better than I because he had a great union job for most his life.  For both of us, it's how we've lived most our lives so there isn't much of a step down. It's normal. We're working class. We have no rich relatives to save us in old age. We are our own saviors.

And yet we are so different in how we think. He is conservative. I'm as liberal as they come. I have two wonderful friends I desperately want DOMA to go away for so they can stay in the country. He's terrified gays will force him to marry his cat. We've never talked religion, but I suspect he has strong religious beliefs but does not feel the need to inflict them on me, just as I have no need to talk about my atheism to him. It's ours. It is who we are and not something we need to force on others to have it be meaningful to ourselves.

We get along because we know enough about each other to feel comfortable with each other. We're never going to party together or even have a cup of coffee on the porch. We have our own lives, our own friends, our own families. We are neighbors in a small village and we both know if it comes down to it, we have each other's back, politics and religion be damned.

The neighbors that are closest to me politically are still a few levels shy of liberal and are what I consider salt of the earth type Americans, the ones you call "good people." They are not complex, but they are not stupid. They value the beauty of the land because they grew up in it and so are environmentalists by default. They hunt and fish because it's a source of food they grew up with and they still need the extra supplies to survive when money is tight. They waste nothing, grow most of their own food, and spend a lot of time just enjoying life.

They believe in a live and let live philosophy and they walk their talk. I can't imagine them judging anyone. I felt immediately accepted by them. They are familiar to me. I grew up with them. I married a man who came from the same kind of background. I like them as people. When we first moved here, they sent over cookies and a holiday card with a Bible quote that was more inclusive and loving than mean and judgmental.

I suspect they are true Christians, the kind of people who volunteer at the food bank and give generously to their church when they have extra. If I needed help with anything, I'd feel comfortable asking them and I'm certain they'd feel comfortable asking me. We are good neighbors. We joke about things in the neighborhood. We laugh a lot. I'm fairly certain they voted similar to me except for the gays, but I'm certain that soon as they actually meet and interact with someone openly gay, they'll come around. There's no reason for them not to.

My other neighbors are retired Canadians who worked as firefighters, law enforcement and white collar professions. We live here for the same reason. We love the trees, the saltwater, the squirrels, the heron, the eagles, the absolutely luscious vegetation, the blissful peace and quiet. On holidays we like to drink and be merry. We have friends and family around the fire pits and grills. We makes things go boom on the 4th of July and New Year's.

We live a simple and delicious existence. None of us are rich. Some of us are poor. But all of us have found what we require to survive and be happy. We get along. We enjoy seeing each other in our gardens, on our porches, decks, and mowing the lawns that refuse to stop growing. We are here for the same reason and that is far more important than our religions or political beliefs.

And of course, being such a diverse and delightful environment, there's also people here who are just like me. We've had delightful conversations. We've already created perfect worlds over bottles of wine, glasses of beer, and cups of tea. We've met in the local taverns, gone out to eat together, and sat down on the beach to absorb the sunsets. We've become friends and are working on deepening those new and delightful bonds.

All in all, we are a tiny neighborhood in a small community in a vacation suburb of a larger town. We are as unique as where we live and just as we appreciate the diversity of nature and wildlife, we are learning to appreciate each other. We may not always agree, and we may in some cases never agree, but what we do share is we took the time to say hello to our neighbors, got to know each other, and discovered our differences were far less important than the common ground and dreams we shared.

In our tiny piece of paradise, we've caught a glimpse of how the world can truly be if we lived in it as neighbors, if we watched out for each other, if we didn't try to force our beliefs on each other, if we respected each other's individual spaces as if they were our own, if we lived as if we all had the same right to exist in the same tiny little place on the planet. Yes, we are not perfect, but we are trying and maybe that is what makes the difference between harmony and horror. Maybe that is why we can get along with each other when others can't. Maybe we have something here that others can have as well if they take the first step, extend the first hand, share the first hello. It sure beats the alternatives.


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