I grew up in a “city” in Iowa. We lived in the suburbs with spacious yards, lots of kids (think Baby Boomer Generation), and a Mom in every house. If one of your neighbor’s moms caught you doing something you shouldn’t be doing you were as likely to get a good swat on your butt as not. Every mom in that neighborhood had authority over every kid. We knew each other.
The neighbors gathered on our patio nearly every summer evening. They talked until dark and got along pretty well it seemed to me back then. Our family would go on vacation to Minnesota for a week and we wouldn’t lock our doors when we were gone –ever! The neighbors collected the mail and left it inside on the kitchen table. They fed the bird and watered the plants. We knew each other and that’s what ya did.
Since then I’ve lived in big cities and suburbs of big cities. I like the city…very much!
When I first moved to San Diego people said to me that it wouldn’t be the same there as it was back home. “You must lock your doors.” I did. I locked my motorcycle, my car when I had a car. I said, “Hi” to my neighbors but most of the time it just didn’t get much play.
When I moved to Berkeley it was even a little more cold and distant. Northern California folks are VERY different from So Cal people. They are always in a hurry, it’s a little more crowded, public transportation was a way of life, and people would just stare off into their own world riding the subway while sitting right next to each other. There was very little conversation on an incredibly crowded bus or subway. We didn’t know one another. That’s the way it was in the city.
We moved to Denver about twenty years ago. It was a lot smaller back then. Aurora was the second largest city in Colorado. Not now. Everything is growing so quickly and it’s nearly impossible to tell where one city ends and the next one begins.
We’ve lived in the same town- home for 16 years. We know our neighbors. Some of them very well. We watch out for each other, give their kids a ride to school once in a while, sit outside and watch the sunset. Neighborly stuff. We like it. Its community. About 13 years ago we found the “Golden Wok” (15282 E. Hampden Ave. Aurora, CO 80014). What we found was much more than a restaurant. Ken is the owner and chef. He is Buddhist and has a prayer/meditation area in the back. We exchange gifts at Christmas and he gave me a bottle of wine after our Father’s Day meal. We are still getting to know each other. It’s a process. A very rewarding one at that.
The Christian religion began in urban areas often times among the poor. This burgeoning faith was zealous in weaving people together. St. Paul wrote to a bunch of Celtic Christians in Turkey where he said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) I believe Paul was affirming what he experienced there when he arrived. He experienced a community that truly knew one another.
There are great gifts in knowing one another. We fill in the areas which are lacking; we care for each another when old age or illness takes over. There is listening – that place where wisdom grows. There is laughter, the sharing of frustrations and failures. New cars will draw a crowd and Babies are a cause for celebration. I like my neighbors, Ken the restaurant owner, the people in our church, and the cantankerous son-of-a-gun on the other side of the street who thinks his candidate for president will “right the ship.”
The city is different. In some ways that is unavoidable. Where would we be without so many sirens, crowded streets, smog, and all the complaining about how crowded everything is getting. It is different. But when it comes to knowing neighbors, building community, experiencing what it means to share life…that’s up to us. Believing we and everything are interconnected is part of the Celtic Way in this world. Living this belief out in our city is the rest of it.
Father Scott Jenkins is a Founding Director of the Celtic Way. Read more about him Here.