On a recent summer day in Rome, Italy, four Italian police officers were called to the apartment of an elderly couple when neighbors grew alarmed over the sounds of obvious crying that could be heard from inside. What the officers found in that apartment — and what they did about it — might just change the way you think about your community and the world at large.
Eighty-four-year-old Jole and her husband, 94-year-old Michele, were watching television when Jole apparently became so distraught over the stories of war and abuse in the news and so overcome with loneliness that she began to cry. Despairing at his loved one's grief, Michele too was overcome with emotion and let the tears flow. It was these sobs that brought on the call to the police.
When the officers arrived, Jole and Michele explained their sadness and how they had simply become unmoored by the state of the world and the loneliness in their own hearts. So what did the officers do? They made them some pasta. And then they sat down with Jole and Michele to enjoy a meal.
Isn't it amazing that in an age when we are connected to each other digitally 24 hours a day we seem to have grown increasingly disconnected from the people we see on a daily basis? We forget our coworkers, neighbors and community members ... even our friends and family members. We can text and connect on Facebook and Instagram with people from all over the world but we seem to be unable to sit down for a meal even with the people who live under the same roof.
So how can we become more connected in our communities? There are large-scale ways we can work to make our communities more neighborly and build a stronger sense of community. But there also things that we can do right now to develop stronger relationships with those we see every day (or would like to see more often).
As much as we may not like to admit it, we all need each other. And most of us desperately want to connect with one another and not just via 140-character tweets. Make an effort to get get connected in your community with these simple ideas.
Look up. Whether you are walking the dog around the block or just heading out to your car for the morning commute, take a few minutes to look up from your gadget and look around your neighborhood. Heed that age-old advice to stop and smell the roses and maybe even strike up a conversation with the neighbor who is growing them. At the very least, make some eye contact and nod to any neighbor out watering her lawn or heading to work.
Be kind. The next time you're mowing your lawn, shoveling your sidewalk or bringing in the trash can from the curb, consider doing the same for a neighbor. It's a simple gesture, but you never know when just a small act of kindness might brighten someone's day.
Get organized. If you're up for it, host a BBQ, potluck, book club, block party or an afternoon coffee gathering. Or take the altruistic route and organize a food drive or winter coat collection and spread the word throughout your community. Grow a garden and hand out extra bounty to your neighbors. If there is an elderly person in your area, stop by to see if you can offer a hand with any small chores that might need to be done around the house.
Get involved. Attend meetings for your local city council or school board and get to know what's going on in your community. If meetings aren't your thing, head to a nearby park or track to cheer on the local sports teams. Take part in a festival, parade or community gathering. Support local businesses. Volunteer. Reach out when neighbors are in need.