My neighbourhood, Panorama Hills, is a typical Calgary suburb.
It boasts a confusing warren of similarly named streets, an endless parade of
double garages with houses attached, and neighbours you see only occasionally as
you pull in and out of the driveway.
It can be difficult to feel a sense of community in a place like this. That is, unless something happens to shake you out of the suburban haze.
For me it was last summer, when our house burned down.
A crowd gathered on the street out front, watching the fire. I sat in a friend’s car with our two toddlers, praying that our next-door neighbours would be ok — we had knocked and rung the doorbell, but there was no answer.
Most people stood in silence, some taking photos and video. If it weren’t my own house, I would’ve done the same. And really, there was nothing anyone could do but wait for the fire department to come. The fire was too big to contain. It was too late.
Someone knocked on the car window and I rolled it down. “Hi there,” said a young man who looked about my age. “I live around the corner. I heard that it was your house burning and that you have babies. We have diapers and clothes, anything you need.”
It was a moment of kindness that I won’t forget.
A month later, while we were living in a rental home and starting to put our lives back together, another neighbour tracked us down. We had never spoken before, but she was so affected by our loss that she’d held a small fundraiser at her work and collected hundreds of dollars in cash and gift cards for our family.
There were no strings attached, just a gift of goodwill. She didn’t even want my thanks.
And the family who lived next door — whose house caught fire when our gas line blew — has shown us the sort of grace you can hardly bear. How do you forgive someone for accidentally destroying your home? I don’t know, but they have. And we are grateful.
It pains me now to admit that I once felt somewhat ashamed of living in the suburbs. I had assumed that all those builder-beige houses contained people who lacked imagination and didn’t really care about what kind of neighbourhood we live in.
But what I’ve discovered is that a community can be built in an instant, in the most unexpected circumstances. And it grows through offers of help, gifts of grace, shared struggles — and a common hope for a place that feels like home.
Hear Teresa's interview on the Calgary Eyeopener
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