I'd not fully experienced what a "neighborhood"could be until I moved to New York City.
And I never expected it to mean as much to me as it has this past week.
NYC is a city of walkers, of people out and about in their neighborhoods. We walk to the grocery store and post office, to doctor's appointments and dinner dates. And as we walk, we see the familiar faces of our neighbors.
There's Jaunty Frenchman with a spring in his step and an enormous, well-groomed poodle; Sunglasses Lady with the tiny bulldog on a rope; Bald Guy from the wine store; The Korean couple from the cleaners who adore Elrod, and rarely make us pay for the baby's laundry; There's little Lab-mix Molly, who we've seen grow from a puppy, walking with Molly's Dad (who told us to cherish every minute with our boy); Visor Lady from # 15, whose bark is worse than her bite; There's Irish building manager at the Kenilworth, who holds court on the sidewalk outside the service entrance, and for whom I will one day bake cookies because he would really appreciate them. There's the UPS Guy, who knows to always buzz our apartment if he needs to get in, since Elrod and I are home a lot.
These people are part of our daily lives here, and we regularly greet one another with broad smiles and cheery hellos, or observations about the weather. And we have no idea what each other's names are.
And that's OK.
Because this week, whether we knew each other by name or not, we all had each other's backs.
One young family on our block suffered an unimaginable tragedy last week. A family we often referred to as The Cute Family with the Greyhound. Or sometimes, The Cute Family with the Little Girl on the Scooter. We didn't know their names. We didn't need to. Their faces were familiar and regular, and we shared the sidewalks with them as we walked our dogs, ran our errands, and ventured into Central Park.
Our block came together this week in powerful and subtle ways after what happened. We exchanged tear-filled stares as we roamed the street, dazed. Stunned. We were wordless with disbelief and helplessness. We hugged. We left flowers. We petted each other's dogs for an extra long time as we went on our regular walks.
And we had our heart-broken neighbors' backs.
One family who puts up an elaborate and scary Halloween display every year, quietly took it down, because "it didn't seem right." Another neighbor walked outside, scissors in hand, and removed the yellow crime scene tape that was still tied around a tree outside. Doormen at the family's building painstakingly moved the growing memorial of flowers and stuffed animals to inside the building's lobby, protecting them from the coming storm.
Parents didn't have to say anything to each other. We all held onto our children a little tighter, and we suddenly seemed to not mind at all if our children were a little disruptive in restaurants. Children have become the unofficial heroes up here.
This week, our neighborhood came together in a way I've not felt anywhere else. We are united in our gratitude for what we have, and in our sympathy for some of our own.
It feels good to know these people, these strangers, are there for us in some way.
Whatever their names are.