I had the pleasure of meeting a gentleman today who has no email, no cell phone, no TELEPHONE at all, no car, no cable television. He lives in St. Augustine, Florida in the home his family has been in for more than 50 years.
I had been trying to meet him for some time as I’d like to have him involved with a project I am working on. The theatre company I work for was putting up a production of Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris ( a spin-off of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun) which deals with issues of gentrification. I had only been in St. Augustine for about 3 months, but I had heard about an area of town called Lincolnville and I knew that it was going through this very thing! I was determined to set up a panel discussion to take place prior to a performance in order to increase awareness and relevancy of this show – and to highlight that St. Augustine is dealing with many of the same issues. In my research, the same gentleman kept showing up in news articles over and over. A man who was born and raised in St. Augustine, in Lincolnville, who still lived in his family home and was very vocal about the community and all the issues surrounding it. I knew he had to be on the panel.
For a couple weeks I scoured for his phone number/email address…and at long last the only option I was left with was to show up at his door. Based on everything I’d read, he sits outside on his porch, usually with a great deal of his neighbors every evening. Talking. Sharing Stories. Laughing. Taking in the beauty that is his neighborhood and St. Augustine. From reading it seemed warm and inviting – as if, it would really be okay for me to pop in!
So…I showed up! And I WAS welcomed! I’m happy to say that he has agreed to be a part of my project.
The reason I am writing this blog is because he got me to thinking….about how I grew up. About community. About engaging and interacting with neighbors and those who lived on the same “block”…in the same area. I remember when I was younger that, where I grew up in Savannah/Pooler, GA – people used to sit out on their porch. All us kids would be out running around, playing – dashing from porch to porch. Our parents would sometimes stroll down to the neighbors a few houses down. Everybody knew everyone elses businesss! Hahaha…which was sometimes good – there was always someone to help if you were in trouble or needed a hand….sometimes bad – it could feel invasive and gossipy at times…but for better or worse, we were close.
I don’t see a lot of that in the US anymore. Not anywhere I’ve lived in the past 10-15 years….but in this little neighborhood in St. Augustine, here was a community where they just….ENJOYED each others company. Listened to each others daily trifles…
I think, that is one of the things that draws me strongly to Ireland. There IS that sense of community and socializing….granted – it takes place at pubs/bars…but it DOES take place, and while drinking does happen I truly believe that at the core of it…its about building community. It seemed in the small town I lived in last year there was that same sense of “everyone knows everyone” – for better or worse! Haha, but you knew you had a community you could depend on…a community that cared because you had shared stories and laughed and taken the time to truly engage, to truly be present in the moment you were living in. I think I yearn for that…
As wonderful as social media is for “connecting” us all…(and I use it A LOT – my best friend lives in NYC…I NEED to keep in touch with her!)…in a way it also keeps us disconnected. By checking my phone or clicking away on my computer…yes, I’m keeping in touch with friends and I’m able to read about what they are doing….is distracts me/pulls me out of the moment I’m living in to a certain extent.
Now, I don’t want to do away with social media 🙂 …and I don’t think I’m ready to go without cable, internet, phones, etc. – but…I sure do wish that there was a way to incorporate some of that porch conversation…as a community, as a society…for everyone…I’d like to see it return…neighbors talking to each other…empathizing with each other…sharing and giving just by simply BEING present.