I've never been a social person. I know this may come as a surprise to most people, but ask anyone who knows me well—Stedman, Gayle—and they will confirm it's true.
I've lived in Chicago for 19 years, and I can count on one hand, and still have some fingers remaining, the number of times I've visited friends or met for dinner or gone out just for fun. I've always kept downtime for myself and a wee circle of people I consider my extended family.
I've lived in apartments since I left my dad's house. Apartments where I often didn't take the time to know the person across the hall let alone everyone on my floor. We were all too busy. Recently, I moved to a new neighborhood. Not an apartment but a house. A whole world has opened to me. I've become social. For the first time in my adult life, I feel a part of a community. As I was pushing my cart down the cereal aisle at Vons, a woman I didn't know stopped me and said, "Welcome to the neighborhood. We all love it here and hope you will, too." She said it with such sincerity that I wanted to weep. Nobody had ever said those words to me before.
In that moment, I made a conscious decision not to move into my house and close the gate as I have for so many years living in the city, shutting myself off to even the possibility of a new circle of friends. Since then, I've had tea with the Abercrombies, who live three doors down. Been to a backyard barbecue at Bob and Marlene's...a pool party at Barry and Jelinda's...watermelon martinis at Julie's...a rose garden gathering at Sally's. A formal sit-down at Annette and Harold's with more silverware than I could manage. A rib-cooking contest at Margo's, which I deserved to win but didn't. Watched the sunset and had black-eyed peas at the Nicholsons...and attended an all-out feast under the stars with 50 neighbors at the Reitmans. I knew all but two of them by first name. I've become verrrrrry social.
My life has a new, unexpected layer. It's added new meaning, a feeling of community I didn't even know I was missing. What I know for sure is that everything happens for a reason—and the stranger who approached me in the grocery store with such feeling triggered something: the possibility that I could make this neighborhood a real home and not just a place to live. I've always known that life is better when you share it. I now realize it gets even sweeter when you expand the circle.