I live in a suburban area of the northern California city of San Jose. People in my neighborhood have careers, usually in high tech, or they’re comfortably retired. It’s called Willow Glen.
We’re in Silicon Valley, so it’s no surprise that we have a neighborhood e-list, a place where we post questions, information and answers that are shared with other Willow Glen neighborhood subscribers in blast emails. It was started by a volunteer and is maintained by volunteers.
The truth is that M and I live just over the boundary of what’s traditionally called Willow Glen, but political gerrymandering makes us part of the area and therefore, we subscribe to the list. Our list is more than 3,000 strong and is usually dominated by the “real” part of Willow Glen northeast of us, which seems to have a large proportion of young families. Comfortable, or doing ok, but not all super well-off.
In the ordinary course of a day, posts to the e-list might have to do with the need for an electrician, lost pets, a problem with citrus trees, travel agent recommendations and the other things that our parents and grandparents might have asked over a “back fence,” which, aptly, is what our e-list is called. Sometimes, political discussions ensue, but not that often. It’s a great resource for buying and selling, too.
This winter, the intense concern over the plight of the homeless during cold weather really impressed me. Discussion went back and forth for weeks, with suggestions for how to help and how not to help. Some people on the list shared their own experience with family members who became homeless, some of whom were mentally ill. Those who had experience with specific homeless in our area talked about how to approach them. It was an amazing thread, one that had compassion in every line.
Compassion seems to be abundant in Willow Glen and that gives me all sorts of warm and fuzzy feelings. A few days ago we had cocktails with our neighbors — the ones who buy and distribute warm sweatshirts to the homeless. Lately, they’ve been bringing food and they told us that the folks in the encampment were desperate for water. Concern, compassion, loving others: this is a politically liberal couple, children of the 1960s (one of whom is Middle-eastern) who live their beliefs.
This week, the e-list was dominated by concern over two dogs running loose–a basset hound and a shepherd mix that seemed to have escaped. Throughout the day and into the next day, I followed along online as neighbors reported where the dogs were last sighted and many, many attempts to catch them. Dozens of posts on the e-list. As the day wore on the shepherd was caught but the basset was still at large.
I thought about mentioning it to my husband, who loves and has owned bassets and might have been able to step in and catch it. But I didn’t.
The following morning, I saw the first email headlined “body of a dog” ding in and I knew we were too late. The basset had been hit and killed.
Then came a string of posts in which numerous neighbors expressed sadness and remorse that they could not have caught the dog. I didn’t post, but I, too, felt badly that I hadn’t mentioned it to my husband so we could go out and try to help. Next time, I will. Then, a string of emails telling people they’d done all they could do. The entire emotional episode played out on the e-list and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Of course, this could happen to any one of us–a careless sitter, a service person or an unnoticed open door could all create an unintentional pet escape route.
I’ve lived in San Jose a long time without really involving myself in what goes on here. But now that I have, I see that I am so lucky to live in a place where people demonstrate care and compassion for other beings.
I remember suggesting that a company I worked for make a donation to charity instead of Christmas cards or do a service project as a team instead of a holiday party. Every year (for more than a decade) I’d suggest it. Every year, they’d decline. And let me tell you, none of them needed yet another fancy dinner or cocktail. My annual suggestion was always treated like a little thorn in their side.
This feels much better to me–to live in a place where neighbors live their compassionate beliefs and where companies invest in those less fortunate and encourage their workers to do the same. The e-list has demonstrated clearly what my old company didn’t get: People come together over shared concerns, desires and actions to alleviate suffering and make a better neighborhood, a better city and a better world.
There is no better way to build a team–or a neighborhood — and I’m glad to be part of it.