There is a little place down the street from us, a cafe and a pizza shop in one, nothing very fancy or very remarkable, except that it is independently owned and operated by a woman who used to live next door to us. We only go into the shop occasionally, but the owner always welcomes us warmly, and she often gives my kids a couple of timbits or day old doughnuts for free, just because we are her neighbours and because my kids can be very cute when they know that free pastries are on the line. She did this again yesterday when I bought a coffee while we waited for the toy store to open, and I began reflecting on how often this sort of thing happens in my neighbourhood. Our housemate works at the little grocery store near our house, and we know several of the other staff by name, and they greet us, not as customers, but as neighbours. My kids play with the kids of the woman who often waits my table at a local pub. The people who run my independent video store know me well enough to alert me when new titles come in that I might like. The guy who teaches my kids music is also the organist at our church. The staff at the used bookstore stop to talk with me when I see them on the street. The guy who runs the clay store, which my kids love, also plays on my basketball team. I have known many of the vendors at the market for something like twenty years, well enough that some of them sent cards when my father-in-law passed away a few years ago.
As I was reflecting on these things, it occurred to me that this kind of community is entirely natural to my kids, however uncommon it might be in most places. My kids expect that our family will know the people who run our shops and join our activities, that they will live next door or down the street, that they might come to our place or we might go to theirs, that we will exchange greetings when we pass them on the street, that we will stop to talk with them when we meet them at the library or the park. They believe that this is how the world is, because they have never experienced the world in any other way, and this is both a wonderful and a terrifying thing to me: wonderful, because this is exactly the experience of neighbourhood and community that I value so much and spend so much of my time and energy fostering; terrifying, because I know, as my kids do not, that most of the world is not like this, that they will one day, sooner or later, be confronted by a world that is in many ways the very opposite of this conviviality. There is no good solution to this tension, I know, but I hope, at the very least, at least in some ways, that my children can grow up experiencing the world, not as it is, but as it should be, and that they will be inspired to build this world themselves as they grow into their own families and their own communities.