In 2009, after a 17-hour flight from Johannesburg, South Africa via Dakar, Senegal, our arrival at Dulles International Airport, just outside Washington, DC, was a welcome relief.  The flight, though long, was relatively comfortable, and the selection of recent movies available made up for my inability to sleep on airplanes.  We arrived just before noon, and since this is a relatively slow time for arriving flights, retrieving our luggage and getting through immigration and customs was over quickly.  A thirty-minute cab ride later and we were pulling up in the driveway of our home just outside Potomac, Maryland.  Everything seemed to be going well for our first time back home in nearly a year.

There’s always a cloud, though, with every silver lining.  After depositing our bags, we discovered that the batteries in both of our cars, having sat idle in the garage for so long, were dead.  It was at this point that we discovered the beauty of having good neighbors in a well-established community.  Eddy Liu and Jim Grant, neighbors for more than twenty years, dropped what they were doing on a quiet Friday afternoon – Eddy is a retired Chinese-American and Jim, a work-at-home HR specialist with a major corporation, is white and originally from Alabama – and came over to help charge the batteries of our cars so we would again be mobile.  Eddy interrupted a game he was watching on TV, and Jim put his work on hold, to make sure the cars were running.

That might seem like a trivial thing to many people, but if you stop and think about it for a minute, it is really significant.  How many people do you know who are willing to make such personal sacrifices for someone else who is not a relative by blood, or to whom you owe no debt?  I’m willing to bet that you would be hard pressed to come up with a name.  But, that’s what close-knit communities are all about.  Taking the time to help a neighbor, or even a stranger, is how communities are born.  This is the glue that holds a community together.  Giving help when help is needed; knowing that in return, when you’re in need you can depend on your neighbor coming to your aid; this the essence of community.

There is a lesson here; one that in my prolonged absence I had almost forgotten.  We are not alone in the world.  When we share of ourselves with those around us, we’re all the better for it.  This is a lesson that is important, not just for my small neighborhood in Maryland, but for the world at large.  Local neighborhood, or a nation as a whole; reaching out to those around us is how we survive and prosper.

That’s what we do in my neighborhood, one of the more diverse communities in a region famous for its diversity. In an area with just 250 families, we have Caucasian (some native-born, some immigrants from Europe), African-American, Hispanics (from a number of Spanish-speaking countries), Chinese-Americans and Chinese immigrants, Indian-Americans and Indian immigrants, Korean-Americans, Iranians, and one family from Iraq. Some of my neighbors speak only a few words of English (the exception is their children, who chatter in accent-free English as they wait for the school bus), but they all know how to say, ‘hello,’ ‘good morning,’ and ‘how are you.’ My neighbors are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and probably even a few atheists, but the only way you can tell is who decorates how for holidays (or doesn’t decorate). Of course, you also have families like mine; I’m African-American from Texas and Buddhist, and my wife is a Korean-American, born in Seoul, who is Presbyterian. Politically, being in relatively affluent Montgomery County, Maryland, most are Democrats, but one of my golfing buddies is a Republican and another is an Independent, which makes for interesting conversations on the golf course.

That’s what this country’s all about; people from all over the globe, speaking various languages, and observing different religions; coming together as neighbors, respecting one another, and living together in peace and harmony.

It was great to be home again.

Published by Charles Ray