My neighbourhood has not been the same since the pandemic. Not too long ago, a quick wave from a car window on our way to and from work was all we had time for. Nowadays cars remain in the driveways, and we sport comfy joggers and uncut hair or home haircuts instead. A more relaxed and slower pace of life, along with the common concern and responsibility for the global pandemic has generated fertile soil for more meaningful conversations.
Last week while on a dog-walk, an unrecognizable car pulls up beside me and the driver rolls down her window, “My dear I haven’t seen you in a while. I was hoping to see you.” A lovely grandmother (and neighbour) who lost her dog about a year ago wanted to stop and catch up with me. She bypasses the small talk and tells me everything that has been going on in her life (tears included). I wondered why this neighbour felt so comfortable sharing such meaningful conversation with me. Could it be just the type of person she is? Or was it the fact that I listened happily to her? Maybe both?
The phrase “holding space” comes to mind when reflecting on the changing dynamics of my neighbourhood. Holding space is a way of intentionally settling into a moment and being fully present in your body and mind, and observing both your inner and outer world. Holding space also refers to making room for conversation that goes beyond talk about the weather. This phrase used by yoga instructors, online meditations, podcasts and in therapy has made it’s way into my personal practice as well as my neighbourhood.
Feeling the weight of the first of many lockdowns, I remember asking a neighbour how she was doing, with the intention of holding space for an answer other than “okay” or “good.” To my surprise, she shared the typical concerns we were all facing: job security, balancing online school and work, health of family, loneliness and worry. I also found myself more comfortable opening up to her. It felt like a shift towards a Mr. Rogers-like neighbourhood: a community where we care for each other.
Over the past year my neighbours have become more than just cars passing on the street with no time for a detour. When family and friends are unable to visit, we find ways to celebrate holidays. Small ‘just because’ gifts are left on front porches. A guitar cable is exchanged for some gin, and home-baked cookies for mowing a lawn. My neighbours are just a text away from sharing a missed grocery item, a tool (or advice) to fix a broken thing-a-ma-jig, a recommendation for a new movie or tv show, and a listening ear when it’s been a tough day.
I believe that holding space for relationships that go beyond talk about the weather has always been there, but experiencing a pandemic together has made us more available and more vulnerable. When the pandemic ends I pray our neighbourly kindness will continue, because life is much better when we know we belong to each other.