Family Friday: Why Small Talk is Big Time

Neighboring builds neighborhoods

In an interview years ago, the actor Ellen Burstyn told me, “When you mother a child, a relationship is formed. You become the noun by doing the verb.” The same can be said for building back supportive, strong communities. You become friends by befriending. You strengthen neighborhoods by neighboring.

Anna Sale, host of the podcast Death, Sex & Money and author of the forthcoming Let’s Talk About Hard Things

Small talk builds connections

During the 2020 lockdown phase of the coronavirus pandemic, the thing I most missed was the random opportunities for chit chat with strangers, like the fellow airplane passenger years ago whose mane of bobbed silver hair I stopped to admire as we were boarding. “Thanks,” she said, lifting the wig like doffing a hat. “I’m a cancer survivor.”

As I told my mortified daughter when we got buckled into our seats, that completely unnecessary exchange had built a deeply meaningful, though fleeting, connection.

Pandemic increases neighboring

My engagement with the outside community is still constrained by the virus. Our brief emergence (our 23-hour vacation) in July has reverted to home-based life. Florida is the American epicenter of the pandemic this summer.

So the pandemic has emphasized the importance of our neighbors, who I wrote about in Lend a Hand, Find Common Ground. I stop and chat with our neighbors outdoors every day, usually while walking our rescue Lab, Kumba.

Our dog makes engagement easy

The small boy down the street,H, feels akin to our dog because they’re the same age, and almost the same height. Another neighbor boy “plays Kumba” when he pretends to be a dog, his father tells me. How lovely to have been made part of these families’ stories.

H and his pal, Kumba.
H and his pal, Kumba.

Reese, an adorable and unlikely mix of golden retriever and dachshund, was Kumba’s first neighborhood friend, proving that our dog-aggressive rescue could have a social life.

Nala the German Shepard is Kumba’s biggest friend. Cookie is one of his smallest pals. Their humans are kind neighbors, complimenting Kumba on his transformation from skinny, scared pound dog to hearty community canine.

Kumba and Cookie

B, a gentleman from Jamaica with a very formal long name, is afraid of dogs and so gives us a wide berth when he takes his daily walks. I hadn’t seen him in months and worried that he’d taken ill, or worse. But, no: his son, B, Jr., is now a father to B III, and proud grandpa spent a month with this new little person with the very big name. I get a huge smile when I ask after the baby.

Pool buddies support each other

Now and then I get more than a couple of minutes to catch up with neighbors. This morning, one of my pool buddies, E, and I chatted while doing our deep water workout, a half hour of slow jogging without touching the pool floor. While the calories burned and our shapes became sculpted (at least in the water!), we caught up on each other’s health. It was nice not to be rushed in exchanging support.

Perhaps it was more than endorphins that I felt as I drifted back home.

Building community is to the collective as spiritual practice is to the individual.

Grace Lee Boggs

Leave a Reply