- - Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The grandfather hadn’t seen his granddaughter for several years. The visit had been longer than expected and they had formed a special bond. As they parted, he gently encouraged her with a wise, tender voice, “Don’t be a stranger.”  

It was a small scene in a movie and the phrase is pretty common, but for some reason, those few simple words seemed to echo in my mind. Don’t be a stranger: recent pictures of riots, demonstrations and fear-filled faces on both sides ran through my mind. Don’t be a stranger: I thought of empty chairs at community meetings and low voter turnouts on election day. Don’t be a stranger: people with headphones or talking on cell phones passing each other on a busy sidewalk without as much as a nod. Don’t be a stranger: I was reminded of countless adults who wonder about their ancestors or if they have any family stories. Don’t be a stranger. It means a lot more than saying, “Stay in touch” or “Call me sometime.” It implies that being a “stranger” can be the result of voluntary choices and patterns we allow in our lives, making us like “strangers” to those we should know best.  

Regardless of how constructive or helpful activities are, I’ve seen families who live right down the street from each other get so caught up in various “good” activities that they start to seem like “strangers” to each other. How long has it been since we took a step back from our busy lives and made a genuine effort to be more engaged with those who live and work around us?

My family and I live in a small, farming community, not just because my husband’s family has lived here for generations, but because we made a conscious decision to raise our family here. Yet even in our rural community, life becomes busy very fast!

Finding a job, building a career, raising children — it all adds multiple levels of complicated busyness. Our first baby arrived in late August 2001 and brought with him even more additions to our already growing list of “Things to Do.”  Then, one day, we were forced to take a long pause. Holding our newborn baby, our perspective changed on Sept. 11, 2001, when we realized one thing: All of the plans and dreams we had for our business and family meant nothing, if we didn’t have freedom first. The question remained: What could we do to secure the blessings of freedom for our children?

The answer was simple: “Don’t be a stranger.” Get involved. Make a deliberate choice to attend community meetings, research current issues and learn about candidates for public office. This serves as a formula as unique as each person who follows it and can further be applied to our nation and our world.  Former Governor and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge put it this way, “An engaged citizenry is our best line of defense. If we secure the hometowns, we will secure the homeland.”

How many times do we open the garage door in the morning in a hurry to get to school, work and practice, and end the day by pulling in the garage and closing the door, ready to collapse? Neighbors don’t know neighbors anymore.  Communities are usually run by the very few who take the extra time to show up to meetings and express concern. When looking at the unrest we see in our nation today, I have to wonder, “Would this be happening if we knew our neighbors better. … if we weren’t such ‘strangers’ to one another?” When the sheriff ran for office, did you attend the debates or the candidate nights? When the school board members ran for office, did you talk to them before casting your ballot? Did you vote?  

As a middle-age, Gen X Mom, I know the exhaustion that comes with just trying to keep up with everyday life while raising a family. It’s tough! There are days when I just don’t have another ounce of energy to even think about the sewer board’s latest proposal or to research the candidates for county council.  The key is to allow for those crazy days when you just can’t do anymore, and yet still “show up” on the days when you do have a little more energy to spare.

We are so blessed as Americans. The root of freedom has produced a plethora of opportunities for our generation which our founders could never have imagined. We are the beneficiaries of generations who have tended the tender tree of freedom with much diligence and sacrifice. Yes, we may pluck whatever choices we wish from the blossoming branches, but we cannot forget to water the roots of freedom by doing the simple things: loving our families, reaching out to our neighbors and educating ourselves on the issues. If we do this, we will govern our own destiny.

So, I’m Just Sayin’, make the effort to be a part of your American community and … ”Don’t be a stranger.”