Not so Great Gatsby: Being Neighborly

Dear Nick,

When I was a kid, I used to cut through my neighbor’s lawn on my way home. I lived in the bucolic suburbs of Anytown, USA, where neighbors knew everyone’s name (and all of their private business) and left their doors unlocked. There was no social media for folks to complain about each other, so I am not exactly sure if most of the neighborhood minded. Except for one man: Ellis Thomas. Mr. Thomas mowed his lawn with a manual hand mower. It was as pristine as August National Golf Course and seemed to be his pride and joy. We lived across the street, so although we avoided trekking through his property, sometimes errantly thrown baseballs and footballs ended up crossing his property line. He would yell from his living room window, “I told you kids to stay off my lawn!” and then walk out and confiscate our toys. They were never seen again. Later I heard that Mr. Thomas came down with Alzheimer’s and was found walking around the neighborhood naked. I felt bad for him, but I couldn’t help but think about how he could have been more neighborly and decided not to be. It was a conscious decision at some point to be the antagonist of most of my childhood memories. I realize how lucky I am to have a childhood where my only worry was avoiding one neighbor who liked his lawn more than people, because times have changed.

Unless you have been under a rock, you are on social media, and you are sharing your worldview with the universe to be viewed in perpetuity. All your “friends” are there reading and watching and digesting and sharing all of your thoughts in real time. I am not going to say whether that is good or bad; it’s just the way of the world. What I will say is that we should think about the experiences of our friends and neighbors that led them to the worldview we read on the net. Every person is a work in progress, and as corny as it sounds, walking a mile in their shoes may help you understand their opinions.

We are so divided as a country, and I think part of it is because we feel like we know where our friends and neighbors stand without knowing how they got there. So invite a neighbor over for a cookout or a cocktail and have a conversation. Learn their names and where they lived before moving next door. Know why they think the way they do. Eventually you will realize that it’s okay for them to think differently than you and that doesn’t make them evil or dumb, just different.

I don’t think about Mr. Thomas often, but when I do I wonder why he was so angry. By the time I met him he was already brooding in the window, simmering, waiting for a foreign object to cross his property line so he could unleash his wrath. But the way I saw it was from my point of view as a child; I never thought to wonder how he ended up like that. I wish I had.

As the weather gets better, I am making a point to invite my neighbors to the house. I hope you make it a point to as well. Here’s to a great summer, old sport.

Sincerely,

Gatsby

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