This spring, in the middle of the COVID pandemic, I decided, finally, to stain my fence. This was early- or mid- April, when we were all still a little freaked out about the whole thing, when there was so much information flying around that no one was quite sure how safe it was to even go outside.
Yet as I stained my fence, people rode by on bikes and complimented me on the color of stain, or told me I was doing a good job for no other reason than to be neighborly. A neighbor I had never really talked with came over, introduced himself, and pointed out that I had a hole in the side of my house that needed stopping up. We got to chatting and he helped me with some dead trees; I gave him some of the extra stakes I had from taking them down. We chatted on and off after that and, when we moved just a couple of weeks ago, he offered to keep an eye on the house for us. This is exactly what makes Stapleton such a wonderful community.
Last month the Master Community Association of Stapleton took a vote and decided to move forward with changing the name of the neighborhood, despite the fact that the neighborhood had voted in August 2019 to keep the name. I believe this decision was made with the best of intentions, but I also believe it was wrong and, more to the point, unneighborly. The president of the MCA said that "social change doesn’t usually happen through democracy,” and was praised in the media for this decision. But we aren’t the government of the United States, and the neighbors of Stapleton are not like George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door. The MCA board of directors knew this ten months ago; that’s why they thought that a vote was appropriate.
Now the homeowners of Stapleton are an impediment to progress. That’s not a fair way to think about your neighbor, and thinking about your neighbor like that is poisonous.
When I first moved in, I loved taking my dog for walks through the neighborhood, and she loved the grass. She was a ninety-pound giant schnauzer, and would roll on the lawns and enjoy herself thoroughly. One day, one of my neighbors who was out on the porch approached me. He said, “I hate to say this, but can you not have your dog pee here? I’m really sorry to ask, but it’s killing my grass.”
I wasn’t happy about it. I’m sure I mumbled something ambiguous and went away. Still, after he said that, I tried another route. Turns out my dog loved this one even better, and there were no lawns there, just wild Colorado plains. I still felt odd about the whole thing until I saw the immense amount of effort my neighbor put into his yard: He was out there digging, pruning, mowing every chance he got.
I’m quite sure he couldn’t have stopped me in any legal way, that I had the right to bring my dog there. I could have proudly paraded my dog on his yard and let her do her business there. And I would’ve been “doing the right thing,” in the technical sense. But it wouldn’t have been neighborly.
I’m glad that I stopped and listened to my neighbor, that I thought about how to act, about how we can live together and get along, even when we don’t agree.
How we can make our amazing neighborhood an even better one?
It isn’t by claiming you’re right and steamrolling the person on the other side. Our politics is full of that, and Stapleton is not. I think our politics should be a lot more like our neighborhood than the other way around.
There is another, more selfish reason I am glad I didn’t make a stink about my neighbor asking me not to let my dog pee on his yard. When I stained the fence, the friend who helped me that day and so often since, watching the house when we're away, was the same neighbor who asked me to avoid his lawn. If I hadn’t made an effort, he wouldn't have, either, and the whole neighborhood would be worse off for it.
I think we should be open to what the people of Stapleton think, with a second and final binding vote. Let’s come together as neighbors and listen to each other.
Frank Conry is an IT professional and Stapleton homeowner since 2018.
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