Ever wonder what it means to be a good neighbor? Or better yet – have you ever thought about what nice gesture or act of kindness a neighbor of yours might appreciate? Perhaps a neighbor where you live? Could even be a ‘work neighbor.’ In any event, someone with whom you share a proximity – and someone who could almost certainly benefit from some form of human goodness. These are the simple things. Being aware. Being thoughtful. And taking action. So, vitally important, especially in these times when people are feeling increasingly isolated and lonely – and very much looking for community.
Won’t you be my neighbor? It’s a phrase all of us have heard, made famous by the one and only Mr. Rogers. Yet when he said this, Mr. Rogers wasn’t necessarily referring to someone we live next to, he was also referring to treating those whom we meet throughout our lives. Each one of us will be the giver or receiver of someone’s help. To be supported and supporting others enables us to connect with other people. When we’re a good neighbor, we help build trust, hope, and understanding. Realistically, a neighbor could be just about anyone. It could be someone we sit down next to on a plane, a person we’re in line with at the grocery store, even someone who may not come from the same place as we do, but who we share a mutual experience with. So, in this context, what does it mean to truly be a good neighbor?
Back on September 11th as the world came to grips with the events that unfolded that day, what also emerged were countless stories of how humanity can bond and come together in difficult times. One of those stories took place in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, Canada, population just under 10,000. An American woman named Jackie Pinto was flying home from Italy when the news broke and her flight became one of more than 250 flights that had to divert to Canada, including 38 commercial flights that landed in Gander that day, an airport that usually sees only a handful of commercial flights a year. After spending 24 hours on their plane, they were cleared to go through customs, yet neither Gander nor the surrounding areas had enough hotel rooms for the almost 7,000 passengers who were stranded until American airspace reopened.
And so local TV stations put out a call to “lend a hand, do what you can.” Within hours, schools and nonessential businesses were closed, and Newfoundlanders ranging from senior citizens to schoolchildren stepped in to volunteer and support the stranded travelers or ‘Plane People’ as they became locally known. Schools, legions, churches and more became temporary residences. Some people even opened their own homes. Pharmacies filled prescriptions for free, phones were installed so the Plane People could call loved ones, and even the Gander ice rink was turned into a food bank which was dubbed ‘the largest walk-in freezer in Canada.’ Not only that, but locals organized town tours, bowling matches, and even concerts.
To be so kind to complete strangers may seem out of the norm, but as one local woman put it, “You don’t turn your back on your neighbors.” Life is incredibly unpredictable and even when we’re not faced with the life-altering impact of 9/11, it can still be incredibly hard. Yet what the people of Gander demonstrated that day is a valuable lesson about our capacity to be kind and help others. Each of us has our own challenges and face our own adversity each and every day, and so to be a good neighbor, even to those we don’t know, can make a truly significant impact on those around you. And, perhaps not surprisingly, can also be of tremendous benefit to yourself – feeling good, with a sense of fulfillment, and knowing that you have just done something that has made the world a little bit better!
Robert Frost – Being a Good Neighbor – in New England
This week I found myself on the West Coast. Karen and I are out here attempting to do good things: helping entrepreneurs and growing some of the brands we’re involved in, while also seeing friends and family. Being this far away from home always makes me think about New Hampshire and New England. So, when I began to think about this week’s topic, I couldn’t help but think about the famous Robert Frost poem known by many as, ‘Good Fences Make Good Neighbors.’ Interestingly, the actual title of the poem is ‘Mending Wall,’ but is often referred to by its best-known line, the iconic thought that ‘good fences do make good neighbors.’
I love the work of Robert Frost, and I especially like this poem as it’s particularly artful in the way that it captures an important nuance – trying to describe the careful balance between the essence of community and need for boundaries. It’s also beautifully written, and if you haven’t had an opportunity to enjoy it, here’s the link: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44266/mending-wall.
Written in 1914, this poem has been a source of reflection and discussion for over a century. While not explicitly tied to New Hampshire or New England, Frost’s deep connection to the region and its culture permeates much of his work, including this poem.
The poem begins with the line, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” immediately inviting readers into a contemplation of boundaries and their role in human relationships. The poem is set in a rural landscape, a characteristic feature of Frost’s New England-inspired poetry. In this context, Frost portrays two neighbors who come together each year to repair the stone wall that divides their properties. The act of rebuilding the wall becomes a ritual, a shared experience that binds the two men and highlights the importance of maintaining boundaries.
Throughout the poem, the speaker questions the necessity of the wall. He muses on the futility of the traditional saying, “Good fences make good neighbors,” suggesting that perhaps these barriers are a result of habit and tradition rather than genuine need. This introspective exploration of the human tendency to create and maintain boundaries can be seen as reflective of the New England spirit, which often values self-sufficiency and independence. But balances against what I think we all have a yearning for – and that is the human connection between ourselves and our neighbors.
Robert Frost had a few homes in New England: two in New Hampshire, a few in Massachusetts, and one in Vermont. All had tracts of land, and for the most part, he worked to maintain them. All his homesteads required some sort of physical activity – from the mill to keep up and going for the town to the crops he tended. It was how he found inspiration and channeled creativity via his neighborhood, backyard, or small-town way of life. This activity also brought him into frequent contact with many of his neighbors. As with many of Frost’s works, this poem continues to invite readers to reflect on the nature of boundaries, both physical and metaphorical, and their impact on human connections – and especially, just what it means to be a good neighbor.
The Great Neighborhoods of New Hampshire
And speaking of great NH neighborhoods to live in – a Sunshine colleague had this to say about his own neighborhood. “I live in the greatest neighborhood, located within the greatest town, within the greatest state, within the greatest country in the entire world! While this may seem like a bit of an exaggeration, many people truly believe this sentiment up here in ‘live free or die’ country. Neighborhood-friendly housing developments and subdivisions can be found from Coos County to Hampton Beach, and while many of these neighborhoods vary in size and age, the excitement and old-world American appeal within these communities are as vibrant and colorful as it ever was.
For those who speak fondly of the good old days and feel that the hamlets of yesteryear are a vestige of the past, an early evening drive through the Meadow-Woods neighborhood in Merrimack may be just the thing you need. This neighborhood is often filled with children riding bicycles and scooters up and down the street, lemonade stands hosted by smiling faces, families walking ‘around the block,’ and quaint seasonal light and porch displays.
The neighborhood boasts an impressive roster of community force-multipliers, including several active law enforcement officers, local educators, directors, and coaches of youth sports programs, and even a local celebrity. Tim Hutchinson, a resident who has lived in the small community since its inception around the turn of the millennium, runs a Meadow-Woods Facebook page where helpful information is often disseminated to the group. Recent posts include surveillance video of a black bear and bobcats, warnings about possible door-to-door sales scams, and information about when the Kona ice cream truck will arrive in the neighborhood on the last day of school.
And in about a month’s time, Ellie Drive will look like the first few hundred yards of a popular 5k road race when Halloween’s trick-or-treat festivities kick off around 5 p.m. Plenty of different-colored pumpkins, scarecrows, hay bales, and orange and yellow lights will be lining walkways and propped up against mailboxes to create a welcoming feel of chilly nights and warm hearts as families and children make their way through the winding streets to secure their treats.
In the days preceding October 31st, the neighborhood tradition of ‘you’ve been booed’ will be in full effect. What is this tradition, you might ask? You fill a basket or bag with gifts and treats, attach a note stating, ‘you’ve been booed,’ and anonymously drop it off near a neighbor’s front door, making sure you remain incognito to keep the magic alive. The treat basket or bag must also contain a second note instructing the recipient to keep the tradition going by ‘booing’ another neighbor within 24 hours. The anticipation and excitement of the season steadily build with each house that is hit as neighborhood kids put on their detective hats to try to identify their gift-givers.
Meadow-Woods is just one of the many neighborhoods spread out across the Granite State where love and kindness for one’s fellow man simply cannot be contained. I have heard of particular neighborhoods in the towns of Bow and Newmarket that create this same environment, and I am sure there are hundreds more. While I personally am more of a Christmas holiday fan myself, the wonderful community traditions surrounding Halloween are an open invitation to spread happiness and joy to your neighbor(s).
Each of us individually has our own unique gifts and abilities that can be used to connect and deeply impact those living close by in a positive way. As we teeter on the edge of the holiday season, please consider the many opportunities this time of year brings to lift where you live and brighten the hearts and faces of those living closest to you. Shine that light!”