Monday, September 11, 2006

Block Party: Healing ourselves through community

Late summer 2001, I was talking with a neighbor up-the-street and we decided to organize a block party. My husband and I had lived in our house for almost 3 years and we felt as though we still did not know anyone. Silicon Valley is so crazy, it seemed to us, and I felt as though I could go forever without meeting others who lived on my street. Also, more practically, with a 16 month old son, we really needed some babysitters. What better way than to have a block party and see who on the street was hiding potential sitters?

We arranged for the party for Sunday, September 23, 2001. This was after Labor Day and school would be in session, so we thought we would get pretty good turnout. Joan and I talked about getting a permit to close the street, but it kept slipping my mind, until I realized I had waited too long, it was too late. Without a permit, I was worried it would be hard to close off the street and our party might get shut down by the sheriff. Little did I know that events on September 11, 2001 would change this concern....

As I sat in my house that dark Tuesday morning, alternating watching the television and scanning the computer, I cannot remember much about my thoughts or fears. I recall wanting to bring my son home early from daycare to hold him, I recall escaping to Safeway to participate in mundane grocery shopping, I recall wanting to reach out to family and friends I had not heard from in a while. But I do remember vividly that knowing my neighbors became very important. I wanted to know who I lived next too and across from, who belonged to who, who was in my community. I wanted to be able to greet people by name, know their children, have them know mine. I wanted to know that if a disaster like this happened in our neighborhood, someone would know who I was and know to look for me under the rubble.

On the day of our block party, Sunday, September 23, I was full of nervous energy. I was still in shock from the events on 9/11, but I was excited to meet our neighbors. Others apparently felt the same way, as our turnout was almost 100% of our block. Everyone brought something to share and tables and chairs, and we set ourselves up in the middle of the street. Kids rode around on their bicycles, my son was secure in his backpack perch, and we got to meet our neighbors. Turns out the guy next door is a retired accountant who is now a handyman extraordinaire; down the street lives a piano teacher, a school administrator and an independent consultant; up the street was a couple who has lived here for 35 years; and across the street was another young family with a baby. Meeting all these folks helped me built my network, and even with the tragedy of New York, D.C. and Pennsylvania fresh in our minds, we celebrated our community and built new connections.

On the 5th anniversary of the 9/11 events, this past weekend, our neighborhood once again gathered together for our now-annual block party. Over 60 neighbors stopped by, some of them long-time residents, others new to the street, and many of them thanking us for continuing to organize this annual get-together. Each time I reconnect with a neighbor or meet someone new, I am reminded of why the party was important to me in the first place and thankful that others share my interest in bringing our local community together.

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