Even children can play a role in community building by taking a stroll through on the neighborhood sidewalk.
PHOTO: FLICKR.COM/AKA KATH
I am an avid walker, who follows the same route every day. I love the rhythmic pleasure of walking, the wind in my hair, the rain on my face and the change of scenery wrought by the seasonal changes.
But there is more to walking than exercise. When I go walking, I also go visiting. Walking creates an interlude in my day when I stop to talk with friends and catch up on neighborhood news. Friendships grow from such small encounters, and I feel my walking has spun a welcome web of friendship around my neighbors and myself. I treasure the people I've met and the community they provide.
Such connections have been possible because of the regularity of my walks. I have followed the same route every day for years, becoming a neighborhood fixture. As I go by, neighbors cannot help but smile and wave.
Over time, waves turned into casual conversation, and casual conversation into warm relationships, and, in some cases, close friendships. It is almost impossible to see the same people every day and not have a friendship grow.
Walking has also increased the variety of people in my life. Through its simplicity, walking eliminates barriers that keep people apart. I talk with neighbors of all ages. We are at different stages of our lives, but my walk brings us together, making it possible to offer each other a mix of practical information, emotional support and new perspectives.
Most special to me are the neighbors whose children are grown. The wisdom of people who have "been there" has helped me maintain my balance as I struggle to raise my sons. I know that if I've had a rough day with a moody teenager, I can go for a walk and run into one of my older friends who will make me laugh. I suspect my children and I are better off for it.
Some of the neighborhood exchanges are utterly mundane: We share advice on how to get rid of the dog's fleas or how to keep our daisies from dying. Sometimes we ask where to get a lawn mower fixed.
And, we share our things and do each other favors, too. I have shared flea spray, swapped flowers, tried out a back-saving snow shovel and watered plants for neighbors on vacation. We have brought each other casseroles when a baby has arrived or someone is ill.
Such are the small exchanges of life that give comfort. They remind me of the old-fashioned, over-the-backyard-fence kind of communication that few enjoy today. Without these simple connections, we feel isolated.
Without walking, I have a hunch I would be one of those women who doesn't know her next-door neighbor. Walking is an antidote — it slows me down, gets me out, gets me talking and socializing, laughing and crying. When I'm walking, I'm visiting. I feel connected, whole and sane.
Not bad for a simple walk.