Hermit Day / The Neighborhood Looks Up

Yesterday, aka “Hermit Day” because the high temperature was still below zero, we were lazing about, reading books and working on a puzzle, when there was a knock at the door. A blonde realtor stood on the steps, rubbing her hands together in the cold.

We could hardly contain our excitement when we recognized her–Come in! Holy crap, it’s freezing out there!–because we know this woman may be the key to turning our neighborhood back around.

It’s December, and our block is still reeling from the chaos swept in last summer by Occupy Homes Minnesota, a grassroots organization that claims to fight for homeowner rights but really–from what we can tell, being right next door?–just squats in vacant homes and tries to sell kittens in the front yard.

Occupy volunteers had been staying in our neighbor’s foreclosed home for six months when they disappeared a few weeks ago, apparently moving on to another cause, a halogen lamp left burning in the front room the only evidence of their presence. They never did get our neighbor back into his home, but they did tear down his fence, break his basement windows, dump trash in the backyard, and throw loud parties amplified by rented PA systems. Streams of people swung through the door every day, never introducing themselves, so we never knew who was staying there and who was just passing through. Underneath the thick blanket of snow coating our neighbor’s lawn is a matted layer of autumn leaves, never raked, and under that, more cigarette butts and trash.

So the biggest problem with Occupy Homes is that they’ve dried up the empathy in our neighborhood. They’re fighting for a worthy cause, but they’ve gone about it in such a radically disrespectful way that it’s hard to believe their primary motivation is the preservation of our community. They’re hazy on financial specifics and dishonest with the media, and rather than actually helping the homeowners by giving them money or rallying neighborhood support, they prefer to block downtown traffic and hold grandiose, camera-ready sit-ins at City Hall.

So all of us neighbors–good-hearted people at our core, supporters of and participants in the working class–now have chips on our shoulders. I saw a foreclosure sign on another house while driving and immediately my heart shut down instead of opening; I thought, Great, here come the squatters instead of recognizing the pain and groundlessness the former owners must be going through. Not good for my lovingkindness practice. Not good for anyone, really.

(Also, nobody bought the kittens. We watched a few days later as Animal Control pulled up and retrieved a box pushed through the door by an anonymous arm. This too made me enormously sad.)

So yeah, we were pretty excited to see the blonde on our front steps. She gave us her card and promised to come back. We watched her get into her car and drive off slowly, her neck craning back to look at the abandoned house. Imagining its promise: a couple, maybe, or a family, hanging clocks and Swiffering the floor.

We miss her already.

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