From Chicken Soup for the Soul of America

Neighbors Knowing Neighbors

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

Lendil Phillips

We were waiting. All of us. Since September 11, 2001, we were waiting for another attack. We had been warned by our President, and now we were wondering when it would come and where it would come. Though we were told to go about our lives as we ordinarily would, it seemed impossible to forget that somewhere in the country, a terrorist or a group of terrorists, was about to strike again. And they hated us enough that they would eagerly die so that we might die.

And so we met, a group of us, at a neighbor’s house. We went to talk. To express our feelings about what had happened and what might happen. At first we just discussed the events and shared our shock and anger. We asked questions of one another. Why did this happen? Why didn’t we know? Why are we hated like this? The fear circled the room as we discussed our helplessness. Most of us had met before, but this was a different kind of meeting. We were asking each other for help. We were neighbors getting to know one another.

And then someone asked, “What can we do?” She didn’t mean the country or the state. She meant our community. She meant herself. What could she do to take back the control and fight the helplessness? What could we all do in that room, she asked, that would take away the control from the terrorists and bring it back into our own hands?

It was then the group decided to take action. We would form a neighborhood watch program, only this one would not just include crime in the community, but we would also be concerned with terrorism and the vigilance it demanded in order to be defeated. We might meet in a church or synagogue, where we could keep a survival kit with blankets, water, first-aid supplies, battery-operated radios, anything that might become necessary during an emergency. We could meet with the police, firefighters and emergency crews and let them know we were there to help them. We would work together and join the community in caring about one another. We would fight the fear and the helplessness by getting to know our neighbors. Old neighbors had moved away. New neighbors moved in every day. We would get to know them also. We would introduce ourselves, bring a plant, welcome them to the community.

There were elderly people in our town. Through this program, we could watch out for them. Our block captains could have their phone numbers and contact them if we needed to be evacuated. They would know they were not alone. There were mothers who worked outside the community. We could have their work phone numbers and if there was an emergency, we would get in touch with them so that they would not worry about their children. We could have “safe houses,” marked so that the children would know which house to stop at if a problem arose on their way home from school. We could meet once a week or once a month to discuss the news and upgrade our own program. We could get to know each other and each other’s needs. No one would be a stranger in our town.

The terrorists settled their nests in communities where neighbors didn’t know neighbors, or if they did, they didn’t care. They knew our habits but we didn’t know theirs. We worked, we played, we enjoyed life. We were unaware we were being watched. They watched us but we didn’t watch them. They thought they knew us. They thought we were unchangeable. That night we discovered our most important weapon against them: neighbors knowing neighbors. Neighbors caring about one another. Neighbors helping one another.

And if terrorists are looking for a place in which to settle, they’ll have to find another town.

This one isn’t available.

Harriet May Savitz

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