I recently heard one of my pastors at church mention how being a good neighbor is the mission we should be focusing on right now. The topic grabbed my attention right away and had me thinking; not just about what he said, but about what he meant.

He said, “Be a good neighbor.” He meant, “Let’s get back to being good neighbors, because we’ve all really kept to ourselves for an entire year.”

And it’s true. Through no fault of our own, we have had to hunker down in our own homes and haven’t seen a whole lot of each other since the pandemic hit last year. No one knows whether hugs or hand shakes are welcome anymore, and once-normal social events like group gatherings and children's birthday parties are all subject to second-guessing, confusion, or, worse, scrutiny. How many is too many? Is there enough extra space? Is the event indoors or outdoors? The questions are incessant. And endless.

The usual neighborly acts of preparing meals for the sick and grieving or lending a helping hand (or lending anything at all) have started to fall by the wayside from all the uncertainty this virus brings with it. It becomes easier to simply give up and not bother with any of it. As sad as it is to admit, that’s obviously the safer solution right now. At what point, though, do we get back to our lives as we once knew them? Or do we ever? Can we truly be the same good neighbors we once were, before masks and social distancing and gallons of hand sanitizer came between us and literally every other human being outside the four walls of our home?

Don’t get me wrong: I know things are still perilous, even though more people are getting vaccinated and COVID cases in our area are decreasing every day (at least they are at the very second I am typing this). As anyone who has been affected by or lost a loved one to this virus will tell you, it only takes one case, one bad reaction, one loss of a friend or family member to understand just how dangerous our world is right now. Missing parties and other events is upsetting, but a small price to pay in the scheme of things. What happens, though, if we go so long without normal social interaction, which is essential to our health and wellbeing, that we don’t know how to return to that “neighborly” state; something I feel is crucial to the prosperity of our communities.

In the early days of the pandemic, Zoom and Facetime were instrumental in helping fill the void of human connection. But it’s just not the same, is it? I’m sure we all have video call fatigue, however helpful and convenient it has been (and continues to be). Zoom can’t help a neighbor in need, though, nor can it provide the in-person interaction we so crave; the facetime we actually need. Still, we’re not back to any real semblance of normal and there’s just not much we can do to change that right now.

We can, however, start to think about a hopefully not-too-distant future where being a good neighbor comes back in style, so to speak. Of course, the act of being neighborly has never gone anywhere, it’s just been hindered so much and in so many different ways for an unprecedented amount of time. And that could really change the landscape of what being a good neighbor means, if we let it. Knowing our community, though, I’m quite certain we’ll bounce back just fine. We only need to recognize that it might take some time and a bit more neighborly effort than usual.

Speaking of neighbors, I would be remiss not to mention some new ones we have had on Lake Guntersville these past few weeks: The beautiful pelicans who have taken up residence in the water near the Paul Stockton Causeway off 431. What a blessing these birds have been to us!

My kids and I are fortunate enough to get to see them as we drive to and from school every day and, like with so many others, they never cease to put a smile on our faces; even the teenager’s. They have sustained high winds, extra cold temps, torrential rain and what was probably the thickest fog I’ve ever experienced earlier this week, yet they still remain. I know they will probably move on at some point, but for now, we are enjoying our new neighbors who bring nothing but joy, hope and maybe even a sense of security; the most basic of neighborly duties.

Now more than ever, we could stand to learn a lot from them.

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