Gate guarded - against each other

Too many modern neighborhoods are, well ... not all that neighborly


Article Courtesy of the OCRegister,com

Published May 25, 2005


There are many of us in Orange County who live behind gates in homeowners' associations. These organizations were created to ensure efficiency of operation and maximum protection. Unfortunately, a side effect is that we live in identical houses with front lawns that are only allowed to root a certain number and type of tree. Working together as good neighbors becomes striving for that all-important goal: an increase in property values.

In an age of fear and loathing, as someone once coined it, people are afraid of the man next door - he might paint his house purple, park an old pick-up in the driveway, or even more unacceptable, drop by unannounced. After recent news reports of the lawsuit filed against two girls for spontaneously delivering cookies to their unsuspecting neighbors, one of whom was frightened by the unusual occurrence, it's easy to see that we isolate ourselves in houses of mistrust and dislike from people we barely take the time to know.

Hopefully not everyone shares my experience with the guarded-gate community where I lived in San Clemente. Within these invisible walls, over a period of 12 years I visited the home of just one neighbor. For an exorbitant monthly fee the guard would not allow my own mother entrance because my phone was busy. As we fortify ourselves against the undesirable element on the outside, so too we are protected from individuality within. Homeowners' associations, instead of creating peaceful harmony and a non-threatening manner in which to meet those who share the street where we live, accomplish the opposite.

On the four boards on which I enjoyed the dubious honor of serving, I witnessed consternation, condemnation and confrontation, sprinkled with refreshments and an overall unwillingness to accommodate varying opinions. It is virtually impossible to require that individuals who are as different from each other as the colors they might want to paint their houses to lose themselves in a sea of sameness and anonymity, which is in many cases today's neighborhood.

Consequently, no one gets along. Trust evaporates when one man attacks another for his weeds and threatens a lawsuit. Never mind that the man is holding down two jobs to pay for landscaping; the CC&Rs state the yard must be complete within 90 days. To make an exception would be setting a precedent. But there is hope despite our identical roofing, colorless walls and vistas void of foliage; there is that occasional person who forsakes the fear of lawsuits for friendship. I now have the privilege of living next to Karen and Ken, a doctor and nurse who, considering that they operate in a world of suspicion and malpractice insurance, might seem unlikely candidates to extend an unhesitating hand.

But, unannounced, Ken drops by my father's workshop; I hear the gate close and the shop door squeak as he gains easy entrance whether or not anyone is there to allow it - this I love. It reminds me of when we children would hop the fence to collect kumquats from Mrs. Piper's tree. Recently, when my father sliced the end of his finger on the band saw, Ken answered his phone, Karen set aside dinner, and Ken drove the reluctant patient to his office for stitches - no insurance forms or medical waivers necessary. The next day I heard that he had extended the same risky kindness to an ailing man across the street.

Karen bandages children who incur scrapes while playing on the street - no questions asked. They are good, godly people who act without fear, and the rarity of this is both beautiful and sad: Why should such unselfishness be the exception?

When we consider the reward, isn't it worth letting down our guard-gate just enough to let in the man next door? As Mr. Rogers so aptly put it, "Won't you be my neighbor?"