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Start a Wave

January 14, 2012

"Iconic Sports Cheer "The Wave" Turns 30" CBS News

When we moved into our neighborhood fifteen years ago, I did not have any expectations as to what our neighbors would be like.  Our house was one with lots of “potential”, enough property to breathe, in our price range and most importantly in a good school district.  Neighbors would be neighbors.

A loner by nature, I was grateful that our neighbors gave us room to breathe and settle in before descending.  I still shudder when I think of the numerous times my mother grabbed whoever was around (as the youngest it was usually me) and marched us down the street with a plate of cookies in hand to welcome a new neighbor.  I was consumed with the misery of it all as she prattled on gushing warmth and welcome to the unsuspecting individual whose home we had invaded.  They did not know that she was not really like this and although I was sure they were wishing we’d go away, they always smiled and nodded and expressed their appreciation. I was sure they were faking too, but the next thing I knew the said neighbor would be sitting drinking coffee at our kitchen table, depositing all their problems on my mother’s waiting ears. She would console, soothe, and the next day send them more cookies.  I was usually the messenger.

I digress.  The point is this. In years past neighbors welcomed newcomers. It’s just what was done. Not so much now.  Our first encounter with our new neighbors occurred one early afternoon several weeks after we moved in.  The woman who lives behind us burst through her back door wearing a giant, red plaid bathrobe that all but consumed her, night-gown providing the fringe at the bottom.  Three very large dogs, barking and barreling toward the fence that separated our backyards, nearly knocked her over.  Unfazed by either her attire or her near demise she frantically waved and shouted at me trying to get my attention. I had been peacefully filling the bird feeders.  From a distance of a football field, I heard her muffled words between barks that sounded something like, “Hi neighbor! I’m…. Missy. Sorry I haven’t…bark…bark….bark… see you. yip….yip…work nights.” She made no move toward me so I simply waved a giant wave and smiled a toothy smile while making nodding motions with my head to let her know I appreciated her gesture. At least I thought I did! She slipped back in her house and that was the end of that for quite some time.

Shortly after receiving that warm welcome, another woman appeared in our driveway with a stroller containing a toddler and two boys about my son’s age by her side. Self-composed and warm she offered up a loaf of banana bread that she and her children had made that morning. We chatted for a few moments and launched a friendship that grew stronger over the next several years and then she moved half way across the country. We remain very close long distance friends, but no longer neighbors.

That’s the good news. The fact is that I barely even know the gender or the number of people living in the rest of the seventy-five or so houses that surround me.  No one speaks, or nods, or waves as they drive by. That is until this morning.

A few years ago, we acquired a dog and together, he and I enjoy a long walk every morning.  Initially when we ventured out into the neighborhood I felt uncomfortable and afraid. I was untrusting of those who drove by.  I began to think about moving to a different neighborhood, one that would surely be friendlier.

Before I put up the For Sale sign in our front yard (and you know how real estate is these days!), I decided to overcome all of my reserve and began to wave at every car that passed by. I became like the greeters at Wal-Mart and Best Buy, though sadly I understand this is done partly because people are less likely to steal if they think someone is watching them  (also part of the idea behind neighborhood watch).  I reasoned that if people were good people, a wave would be welcomed and if they were not good, they would be more inclined to behave themselves.  It has now become a habit, a mission….a hope.  I even throw in a smile now and again and try to catch the driver’s eye when I can.

Initially, no one waved back. Then, a few began to acknowledge my gesture with a return wave or nod. Today, standing on the side of the road in front of my house, preoccupied with a stubborn dog, I looked up to see a car driving toward us and the driver was waving at me! Wow! Had I had something to do with this turn of events? Maybe….just maybe…

I don’t know how the other people in the neighborhood feel, but I feel a whole lot better about living here. Rather than living with fear and discomfort, I took action. As the self-appointed neighborhood friendliness ambassador (really that’s entirely an overstatement ~ my mother’s genes?), I now even occasionally stop to chat with someone who is outside working in their yard or walking their dog. Have we started having block parties? Not yet. But who knows?

Like the wave in a sports arena,  good will (or ill) is contagious. In a world that has become increasingly cloistered behind computer screens, office walls and overachievement, we have lost touch with some important values and customs that, at least in the past, made living a more comfortable. We don’t have to love our neighbors, but we can be “neighborly”. We can help them out when they need it and chances are they’ll be there for us in our time of need. Good neighbors are like that, and sometimes we have to take the first step and maybe even the second and third.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 14, 2012 2:01 pm

    Dorothy,

    I love this story of transformation from wanting to avoid neighborly interactions and being embarrassed by your mother’s social assertiveness to promoting the neighborly “wave.” You never know when an acquaintance/neighbor can become a close friend and even if that doesn’t happen “good will is contagious.” Lovely thoughts. Thanks for sharing!

    Kathy

  2. January 14, 2012 5:35 pm

    Fun and thought-provoking post, Dorothy! Thank you! We moved to a new town last May and by the end of move-in day, our male neighbor from across the street was in our livingroom introducing himself. When his wife & young daughter came home, they joined him at our place. Even though they are more than 10 years our junior, we have made some good friends which is great! Neighbors come in all sizes, bents & shapes and some we will click with and others we won’t but it never hurts to give everyone a smile and a wave! ^_^

  3. January 15, 2012 9:37 am

    Waving, is my husbands thing. We moved to this new place and he is waving all over the place when we walk our dog. I was exasperated. But then I took it up. More out of being stubborn. Why should he be the only “good” one. Now, people are waving right and left. When we walk past and they are outside they stop and look for the wave. It does help to make things seem more community like.

  4. January 16, 2012 7:10 pm

    A great example, Dorothy, of how one person can make a difference!

    You’re reminding me of my experience when we first came to Samish Island. Most everyone here waves at everyone else and we quickly joined in. When we would go back to our home in the city (we had two homes for the first few years), I would “forget” where I was, start to wave at people, and then bring my hand down. Wish I’d thought to experiment more with waving in the city too.

  5. Alison permalink
    January 16, 2012 7:26 pm

    Dorothy – I always enjoy your posts, but this one really touched me. What a superb idea! You’re right – friendliness is contagious and so is ill-will. I’m going to start a wave, too. Thanks for the idea and your lovely blog. God bless you!

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