Sometimes learning a person’s story takes time. In most cases, it is just one conversation at a time, strung together into a series of conversations over weeks or even months. As they come together, they collectively tell a more complete story of the person. The image it reminds me of is that of a child stringing beads on a necklace, each one adding to the whole and finally the parts coming together. Much of my work with Neighbor by Neighbor is like this because I do much of my work with patrons over the phone, one conversation at a time.
Neighbor by Neighbor addresses such a variety of needs, and it is difficult to predict what obstacles the individual on the other end might be facing. There are times I get clues and glimpses, such as the cacophony of arguing voices in the background or stated realities of anxiety, racism or fear. These allow me a glimpse into the person’s reality. During these past nine months, I have become increasingly cognizant to the reality that an abundance of courage is required for the patron to even make the call to Neighbor by Neighbor. The idea of courage and risk in conversation is discussed in a thought-provoking book I am currently reading by Andy Crouch. It is on the topic of finding wisdom in using technology, but he includes a short section on what is involved when we enter into conversation, and the risk it requires. Crouch, referencing author, Sherry Turkle’s book Reclaiming Conversation, shares the insight that most conversations “take about 7 minutes to really begin. Up until that point, we are able to rely on our usual repertoire of topics—the weather, routine reports about our day, minimal and predictable chitchat. But around seven minutes, there is almost always a point where someone takes a risk- or could take a risk. The risk may be silence; it may be an unexpected question or observation; it may be an expression of a deeper or different emotion than we usually allow. All conversations really are risks, exercises in improvisation where we have to listen and respond without knowing, fully what is coming next, even out of our own mouths.”
All conversations are risks. I find this to be a fascinating observation, and it is a phenomenon that plays out in the work of Neighbor by Neighbor almost daily. In an era where cyber communication leaves us largely unaccountable and requires slight risk, our program seeks to be sensitive to what it may require for an individual to reach out for support, by phone, through conversation. My hope is that Neighbor by Neighbor would be a safe place in our community where people are invited to enter back into the flow of society, to discover better who they are and how they fit. And this is happening this week, as an individual facing homelessness has made the courageous step of meeting with Veterans of America. It is also happening this week with another individual meeting with a case manager from Emergency Shelter Services.
We all have the opportunity to create a safe space for a person in a place of need by simply being curious and creating a safe space. I wonder if we might be the ones to take the courageous step with a neighbor, rather than waiting for someone else to do it. Individuals are relying on curiosity and courage to call Neighbor by Neighbor, and my hope is that, we too, are moving in the direction of meeting our neighbors, and offering a safe space, sometimes much different than the chaos they may be living in.