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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

In New York City we’re used to being on top of our neighbors. Literally. Vertical Living has us stacked like Legos enabling us to hear, see and oftentimes smell their goings on. Like noises through the walls or newspapers piled up upside their doors. And I always know when my neighbor Elaine is home, because the aroma of something baking hits me as soon as I step off the elevator. And even though most of us live so close, folks tend to keep to themselves. But not everyone.

My first week in the apartment I found a bottle of wine and a note at my door. “Welcome to the building,” the note read from the family who lived above me. “And we apologize for our toddler’s constant pitter-patter.” That kind act led me to go upstairs to thank them and introduce myself. Not only was it nice to meet a neighbor, but the wife became my early morning walking partner.

After graduating from UMass Amherst I worked with the new student orientation and ran a session on housing. Along with explaining the various residence halls, I suggested to these wide-eyed 18-year-olds that they get to know everyone on their floor so they would be able to spot strangers. This is true whether you live in a building with 100 units or on a quaint country road; knowing your neighbors might just save your life.

Last week a Michigan woman was found mummified inside her garage. No one noticed she’d been missing for six years. Though one neighbor did cut her lawn to keep the neighborhood looking good, why was no one checking out to see how she was looking? Neighbors said they thought she was traveling or had moved.

But questions linger. Wouldn’t her mail have piled up? Wasn’t anyone aware that the lights were never on? Something doesn’t add up, but regardless, hearing this makes me want to knock on everyone’s door in my building and introduce myself. If not to possibly make another friend, but just so that if someone doesn’t see me for a few days, they take notice.

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