April Challenge: A Nation of Neighbors

April/May: A Nation of Neighbors

This blog is a journey to revive connection and community in my life. In case you’ve missed some of the fun over the past few months, here’s a quick overview to get you up to speed on what I’ve been doing here at Project Reconnect.

As someone who has studied, written about, explored, and experimented with community in myriad ways over the course of my life, I started 2019 facing the startling realization that while I think about community more than many people, in practice I have less of it than most people.

Project Reconnect is a personal growth and development challenge I’ve issued to myself that I hope will assuage my lurking feelings of loneliness, build my social capital, and help me become the connector I and so many others desperately need. Each month I take on a different challenge, and write about how it goes, and what I learn along the way. My hope has been that as I take a deep dive into the practice of building community, I might discover some of the social and cultural norms that are driving our nation’s widespread crisis of connection.

In January, I decided to begin just with reaching out—for fifteen minutes each day. The biggest challenge I encountered was time pressure, as well as the simple fact that I’m out of practice in the art of connection. January felt like getting the gears moving again on a rusty old machine called my social life. It was about establishing new habits and triggers that moved connection higher up on my list of priorities.

But because a text message does not a meaningful relationship make, in February, I began to challenge myself to go deeper—to not just connect, but to find ways to move from connection to closeness. This meant reflecting on what it really feels like to be in a supportive relationship with a friend, and to lead with vulnerability in order to signal to others that this kind of closeness was what I was really craving.

In March I turned my attention to inviting people into my life and my home. This challenge was all about reminding myself that gathering is a gift, not a chore; as well as flexing my hospitality muscles and strengthening my ability to facilitate connection for others. I had a lot of fun (re)learning the art of hosting, and exploring tools to invite guests into the new space of vulnerability I’d been trying live in myself.

So far, all of my Project Reconnect challenges have been about reconnecting with people I already know—old friends I missed talking with, extended family members I should’ve been checking in with more, and new circles of existing friends I’ve brought together around my dinner table. Now that I’m getting the hang of this, I think it’s time to turn up the volume on the challenge.

And so we come to April. My Project Reconnect challenge for the month of April will be to meet my neighbors. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, we shall see.

The first hurdle (of what I expect will be many) in taking on this challenge is to define exactly what is meant by “neighbor.” Just the people who live adjacent to me? That seems too easy. The entire subdivision? No way.

Thankfully, I live on a small loop of twenty-four houses nestled within a larger subdivision, and sharing a single mailbox bank. It’s governed by its own HOA and is small enough geographically to be walked in its entirety in less than five minutes. So I figure that these are the twenty-four households that reasonably comprise my “neighbors.” If there were ever to be a block party or a community garage sale in our neighborhood (which there never is!), it would be confined to the inhabitants of these homes.

My husband and I moved into this neighborhood in the Southern Utah town of Washington just under a year ago. But so far, we’ve only interacted with a small handful of the people with whom we share such an intimate geographical connection. And so, during the month of April, I resolve to have at least one face-to-face interaction with each of my neighbors. That’s twenty-four conversations. Twenty-four interactions to build bridges of connection with the people who share the same physical space as I do.

Here we go.