I finally figured out why I love Halloween. Bountiful candy, clever costumes, grinning jack o’lanterns – they’re all good fun. And I used to think I loved All Hallows’ Eve for these very reasons: that it was a holiday of pure delight for children, a light-hearted celebration that even commercial consumerism couldn’t quite overtake.
But last night, as we trick-or-treated with S under the starry sky, following the bouncing path of the flashlight and looking for pumpkins or porchlights, I realized what I truly love about Halloween: the feeling of community.
Halloween reminds me, in a wistful way, of what I wish neighborhoods were like everyday. Places where you could ring a doorbell, be greeted with a smile, invited in to share hospitality and a treat. Where children are welcomed and celebrated. Where people share what they have and give without counting the cost.
It’s a romantic dream of a neighborhood, I know. But in today’s suburbs and cities, it’s more likely that we encounter the polar opposite. Neighbors are strangers, averting their eyes when they pass on the streets. Loneliness becomes a way of life. People value virtual connections more than face-to-face contact.
I’m as guilty of this as anyone. There are neighbors on our street I’ve never met, only waved to as our cars pass. When a new young couple moved in down the road, F and I talked often about baking them cookies as a “welcome to the neighborhood” treat – something no one did for us. But then we got busy. And never got around to it.
We are blessed with some wonderful neighbors, and it was a joy to ring their doorbells last night and have them see how much S has grown. As we strolled from house to house, I felt a renewed sense of calling – and urgency – to do more to build community in my neighborhood. Maybe we bake Christmas cookies and take them around one snowy Sunday in December. Maybe we offer to host next August’s National Night Out party.
But what part does my mothering spirit – and God’s Mothering Spirit – play in my dreams of strengthening our community? I feel an urging to go deeper, change my ways.
I need to pray for my neighbors, and not just in a superficial way. I need to ask about their lives, their families, their work – when we pass on our evening walks or bump into each other at the grocery store. I need to remember that all the joys and sorrows that play out under our roof are mixing and mingling in all the homes along our street.
I need to consider how F and I can be of service to our neighbors. F is much better at this than I; just this week he helped a neighbor find free shingles to roof a new shed. I’m reminded of a new mother down the road who is home with her baby several days a week and would probably love a greeting from someone who doesn’t care about spit-up stained clothes or toy-strewn floors. I need to think about the gifts I’ve been given that I am called to share.
Sometimes God calls from places far-off. And sometimes God calls from right next door. If I could pull myself out of my cozy shell and eternally-too-busy schedule to respond, I could stop romanticizing community and start doing it.
It can become too easy to “love my neighbor” in the abstract, or halfway across the world. But my neighbors right next door – how do I love them, in the concrete, in the day-to-day?
I’m reminded that it’s a blessing to live in a place where kids still play outside and bike freely up and down the road. In such a time as this, I can’t take my small corner of the world for granted – and I need to make it warmer, friendlier, safer.
Candy is good, but a stronger neighborhood is better.