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Bob Balmer: Celebrating National Neighbor Day

OPB | July 3, 2013 8:55 a.m. | Updated: July 3, 2013 10 a.m.

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Bob Balmer

Social media helps connect us to people far away. But OPB Commentator Bob Balmer wonders what that’s doing to our relationships with the people next door. 


Turn to Facebook. Click on your friend in Boston, the one who’s related to your brother’s niece’s friend. You’ve never met. Notice you have ten friends on the East Coast and twelve in California, all whom you’ve never met. Also, there is one in India. Notice that none of your “friends” live within a three mile radius.

Oh well.

Then stand on your porch. Count how many neighbors’ names you know. How many of them do you know who like watching “Sixty Minutes?”

You don’t know as much about them as you know about that guy in Boston, the one who posted a picture of his breakfast: an egg-white sandwich with turkey-bacon. It’s your favorite breakfast.

Oops. I’m launching into a rant about the Good Old Days, a privilege that came with the first issue of the AARP magazine I received six years ago. My age gives me license to wax nostalgic about what happened in my formative years.

When I was a child I knew my neighbors. There was the man who yelled at you if you stepped on his lawn.  Another neighbor who taught me how to swing a golf club incorrectly. An unmarried elderly lady who insisted I come into her house to hear President Nixon address the nation. 

And then there were seven other households that I can still name today. Makes me wonder how many of the children in my neighborhood today know their neighbors.

In a workshop twenty years ago I heard this anecdote about neighborhoods: the speaker noted that in the 1970’s children felt safe in a specific neighborhood, say one circumscribed by 33rd, 42nd, Prescott and Freemont. The speaker said that in the early nineties kids felt safe not in a neighborhood, but rather they based their safety by the people who inhabited specific houses. Safe houses, as it were.

So I’ve come up with an idea that a neighbor (who lives in a house near me, not an online friend) helped to conceive: a federal holiday the week after the Fourth of July: Neighbor Day.

On Neighbor Day, people who live in the same block gather for ice cream and cake, a scene so wholesome the essence of Norman Rockwell escapes the grave to grab a palette and brush.

At the party, the woman whose dog defecated on your lawn apologizes and explains she forgot her doggy clean-up bag that day. You forgive her, and discover you both like mint juleps and opera.

Also, at the party you meet a couple that likes egg whites and turkey-bacon. Who knows? Maybe they’ll invite you over for breakfast. They live a bit closer than that person in Boston.

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