WITHIN THE GATES OF SHERIDAN GARDENS LIES MY NEW COMMUNITY – AT LEAST THE WAY I NOW APPROACH THE DEFINITION OF THE WORD.
com • mu • ni • ty (noun) a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.
I’ve been thinking a lot about communities lately.
Maybe it’s because I have finally realized what a community can actually be. Maybe it’s because I am happy where I am in my life right now. Or maybe it’s simply because I am obsessed with NBC’s new show. (Damn that Joel McHale … he’s got me hooked.)
Whatever the reason, it’s a concept that has been running around in my mind for weeks.
Growing up in Mississippi, I lived in a place called New Hope. At the time, we had one grocery store, one school, a couple of gas stations and a pharmacy – but no post office. So instead of being a municipality of some sort, New Hope was deemed a community. Naturally, every time I heard that word, my thoughts automatically went to a no stop-light “town” in the middle of the South. But the problem was, even though I shared my locale and government with the people there, very few shared my views on the world.
It was always a bit of a conundrum: How are you supposed to belong somewhere if you never feel like you fit in?
But now, three and a half years into my life in Chicago, the term community has taken on a different meaning. It’s no longer about a shared location. No longer about who’s in charge. Now, community fits into another one of Webster’s definitions of the word:
com • mu • ni • ty (noun) a social group of any size whose members exhibit similar character; agreement; identity.
My community is no longer the town in which I live. It’s how I live. It’s who I choose to be around, who I let into my life.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t surround myself with a bunch of zombies who exhibit behavior seen in Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” We don’t all share the same opinions. I’d be lying if I said we were always in agreement. And our identities are all way more different than the people I grew up with in the South. But, that’s what makes it right. The main component of this community is a sense of freedom.
Walking around the streets of Chicago, I have always been overwhelmed with the same feeling: I can be whomever or whatever I want to be – and no one else will care. I think that is the best way that anyone can show the true nature of their character: Never judge.
I am fortunate enough to have close friends – some I would venture to call family – within the confines of my building in Uptown. What started out as “Hellos” when passing in the courtyard led to walks with dogs, coffee on Sundays, back-porch barbecues, and, eventually, open-door policies. My apartment key chain boasts my own keys, as well as those of two other units. I’m always willing to walk their dogs in a pinch, and I know mine will never be left too long. It doesn’t matter if I’m without pepper, milk, or even toilet paper, all I have to do is ask.
Simply put, we all take care of each other – even though we are all different. Straight or gay, Southerner or Yankee, vegetarian or carnivore, Caucasian or Latino, emo or yuppie … none of those things really matter. None of us may be alike in identity, but what bonds us is the character exhibited from always being there if needed.
It’s my kind of community.
MY NEIGHBOR DAVID, AT RIGHT HOLDING COMET, HAS BECOME MY GO-TO GUY FOR ALL NEEDS CREATIVE. WHETHER IT BE A NEED FOR GLITTER OR A PUMPKIN TO CARVE, I KNOW I CAN COUNT ON HIM. NOT ONLY HAVE OUR DOGS BECOME BEST BUDDIES, BUT I HAVE ALSO ENDEARED MYSELF TO HIS MATE, JOSH, AT LEFT HOLDING MY DOG HUXLEY.
AT LEAST EVERY OTHER WEEK YOU CAN FIND MY NEIGHBOR JOEL AND I AT THE GOLDEN PANCAKE HOUSE TWO DOORS DOWN FROM OUR BUILDING. NOTHING SCREAMS FRIENDSHIP LIKE HOURS SPENT DRINKING COFFEE AND DEVOURING CARBOHYDRATES AT THIS UPTOWN INSTITUTION. (WELL, EXCEPT MAYBE WALKING HIS TWO 90-POUND LABS AROUND THE BLOCK WHEN YOU ARE ONLY USED TO A 15-POUND SCHNAUZER.)
RECENTLY, I WATCHED AS A LARGE WOODEN BOX SAT UNMOVED UNDERNEATH MY BACK PORCH. ON THE THIRD DAY, AS A THREAT OF RAIN APPROACHED, I GRABBED WHAT I COULD OUT OF IT – PHOTOS MOSTLY – AND PUSHED THE REST WAY UNDERNEATH THE WOODEN SLATS. THE NEXT DAY, AFTER FIGURING OUT WHERE IT ALL BELONGED, A NEIGHBOR CAME TO HAPPILY RETRIEVE THE STUFF HE HAD SIMPLY CHALKED UP AS A LOSS. IN RETURN, I WAS LEFT WITH ALMOST THREE DOZEN ROSES. I WAS MORE THAN HAPPY TO HAVE JUST DONE MY GOOD DEED FOR THE DAY, SO THE FLOWERS WERE AN EXCITING BONUS. SEE, IT PAYS TO TAKE CARE OF ONE ANOTHER.