October 15, 2013

Sidewalk chatter.

We live in a house, now.

This isn’t the norm, at least for me. I’ve spent my life in apartments; tall buildings in New York and Toronto and London and Washington DC. Even when I was in school or living in some kind of residence, it has been in an apartment in a low-rise or walk-up or subdivided house used by a multitude of others. 

It isn’t very different for her — she has a childhood of experience in houses—but it is new, it is novel for me.

There are things that come with having a house that you don’t know when you’ve lived in apartments all your life. You don’t realize that grass needs to be cut and weeds need to be pulled. You don’t realize that entry-ways and laneways need to be swept of leaves (and shoveled of snow, when that time comes). You don’t realize that dust builds up in the corners of the steps in the stairwell that lead from the first floor to the second. You don’t realize that light refracts differently into the third-floor bedroom depending on how recently you washed the windows you can’t reach.

I am learning, slowly.

I am learning, also, how to be a neighbor.

There is a difference between sharing a hallway with someone and sharing a sidewalk. I always assumed that the density, the proximity of a large building would force people to interact. I made a conscious effort to know my neighbors in the buildings where I lived, but I did not make close friends; they were people who lived on my floor, my building, and our interaction was limited to just that.

I assumed that living in a house in a leafy, quiet neighborhood would be more isolated. Everyone has their own space, their own lives; a house can act as a physical bubble, each one separated by green yards and busy lives.

The opposite, in fact, is true: I know my neighbors better than I ever thought I would. I know the families who live on the street, the couples who frequent the same coffee shops in the neighborhood. I recognize people and ask about their dogs and children. I have some of those same people over to my house for drinks, for conversation.

This did not happen often when I lived in a densely-packed building; it happens regularly now that I live in a less-dense, tree-lined street.

The sidewalk has become the hallway, the various front yards have become our elevator lobbies. By being forced to be physically apart, we make more of a concerted effort to be closer together. There are markets, street festivals, spontaneous conversations on park benches. The communal space in the neighborhood encourages us to make friends, to turn our private space into one that welcomes in once-strangers-now-friends.

In the close proximity of the high-rise building, we build metaphorical walls to create separation and distance from one another. In the spread of the houses around me, we build connections to feel a little less alone.

We live in a house, now, and I feel closer to people than I ever have before.