“Hello” is the most powerful word in the English language. It has a million different meanings and it has a hundred million different outcomes. But regardless of meaning or intent, it takes courage to step forward, introduce yourself to someone new and utter the word “hello” when you know that you will alter the destiny of everyone involved in the verbal exchange.
Stephanie and I moved into our new home at the end of June. On the day we moved in, our new neighbor Jessie came over to introduce herself. By the end of the day, she had brought us a welcome gift of fresh tomatoes from her garden and guest passes to visit a local establishment.
This past summer was one of the hottest on record. We spent most of our days inside our house, at an indoor attraction or at the movies. It was too hot for the kids to play outside in the neighborhood. And when the mercury finally dipped low enough so that we could venture outside, it was usually late in the afternoon and we would make our daily trek up to the swimming pool to cool off.
We met a few people over the summer. It was cordial. It was the pool crew. But as the summer waned and the heat wave subsided, Jessie invited us to try out her church. We accepted. We still didn’t know a lot of people in the area and had been church shopping, so we decided to give it a try. A new church family meant a new community of people to meet and interact with over the coming months.
But as summer turned into autumn, we still hadn’t met a lot of people in our immediate neighborhood. So one afternoon, Jessie and Stephanie concocted an idea; a “Let’s Put the Neighbor Back in Neighborhood Block Party!” They created a flier and printed it out. Then they both went door-to-door throughout our neighborhood introducing themselves to the residents of our development.
On their walk through the district, they met a lot of new people. All of them had stories and lives to share. So many of them were grateful that Jessie and Stephanie had stopped by to say “hello” but they were equally excited about the invitation to the block party.
On Saturday afternoon, October 2nd, fifty of our neighbors showed up to the block party. Our children played together until day turned into night. People who lived a few feet from one another said “hello” to each other for the first time. We shared our stories, laughed with one another and most importantly, we all learned a little bit about the people who live next door. We took the first steps to creating friendships.
When Stephanie and I woke up the next day and poured our morning cups of coffee, I realized that we no longer lived in a development; we lived in a developing community! While I hung out with my children in front of our house on that warm Sunday afternoon, neighborhood children were coming to the house to play. Our new friends were stopping by the house to share a story or a laugh and to make plans for future events. Our neighborhood was blooming.
Our community has stories like every other neighborhood in the United States. We have stories of joy and success, and we have people who need our help as they face adversity. Over the past two weeks, the neighborhood has changed. We stop by to say hello, we help out those facing difficult times, we all have opened our doors so the kids and their friends have a place to play and the community is filled with a buzz of activity. And when I think about how all of this ever happened, I realize that it all started back on a very hot day in June when a woman named Jessie had the courage to stop by our house and say “hello.” The rippling effect of that one moment in time won’t be known for years but because of her strength, our neighborhood has truly become a place we can all call home.