Say Hello Like You’re Saying Goodbye

1280px Cabbagetown 2

I love Cabbagetown, yes, but how have I shown it? Having dogs to walk helps. There’s nothing like a walk to get a neighborhood in your bones, but at the same time there are podcasts to listen to, someone to call, and dinner won’t cook itself. Too many times I’ve ducked my head when someone passed. If I was in a rush, I might cross the street to avoid starting a conversation.

But now we’re moving, and these walks will come to an end. There’s a heightened awareness, an intensity of observation that has been sometimes absent in the past. A few years ago, neighbors came together to plant a row of street trees. When we first planted them, I’d walk the block every day, re-shaping mulch mounds, searching for the first buds. After a few months of babying, it became easy to overlook them. Occasionally a car would hit one and we’d find discarded bits of retaining wall to construct a slapdash defense. But now that we’re leaving, I’m seeing these trees again. Will that wound, the one at the exact height of a UPS truck bumper, heal before we leave? Should we rally the neighbors and give them a drench since it’s been dry? Or maybe I just spare an extra minute to enjoy their autumn transformation as they become little pops of gold and red lining the block.

The revived conversation with the trees echoes the ones we’re having with neighbors. I can’t recall ever mentioning Strong Towns to them, and yet when we pause long enough to talk, resisting the “get to the next thing” feeling that’s infected so many modern lives, I believe we’re building a strong town. When we mention our move, the tone changes. Everyone gets thoughtful; people talk about what really matters to them. What if, over the years, I’d paused more often to allow these conversations? When I’ve succeeded, good things always happened.

For instance, our neighbors Katherine and Aubrey live across the street. At first they seemed intimidating, young and stylish, with a reputation for throwing exuberant parties. But my wife and I made an effort, exchanging pieces of our lives when we met on the street. We learned that Katherine and Aubrey helped found an organization that farms on local land, and harvests fruit from city trees to distribute to families. That summer we opened our backyard to them, and they picked from our trees. Katherine also pointed out the Serviceberries growing right on our neighborhood streets—I had thought they were poisonous—and we spread the word when they ripened. Strong Towns has taught me that local resilience comes in many forms, including a bucket of berries shared with neighbors.

The conversation with Chelsea that started with a radish was the best conversation I’ve had with her. Why did it take a move to get me to really stop and listen? The opportunities for deeper connection with place and neighbors are here every day. They cost very little; they can yield profound results. Recently the hellos seem so much more important because they’re really goodbyes. Maybe it’s a lesson I can take to our new town.

Don’t wait. Pause and connect now. Careful, unhurried attention can be hard to distinguish from love. And love is an essential adhesive that strengthens places.

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