In my relatively small neighborhood, it’s a big deal when someone moves.
Yesterday I learned that a friend in my Lower Manhattan building is putting her co-op on the market. This came a week after a longtime local shop owner told me that her landlord had sold the building and that her store would soon be closing. I probably put on a reasonably good show of nodding and commenting approvingly as each told me her news. In truth, I was thinking about how deeply their absence is going to affect me.
The area in which my building sits is a neighborhood mostly because of the ties among the people who live and work here. These include the easy relationships with shopkeepers and anonymous locals, born of proximity and nurtured simply by showing up and being pleasant. They surround my building with a moat of familiarity.
Then there are the connections with people inside my building. Except for the few who are reliably antisocial, my neighbors are at the very least cordial to each other, allowing us to come and go through public spaces without dread. Stronger bonds have formed among those of us who share similar views of building or government politics, who have children or dogs who play together, who have common jobs, gyms or hobbies, or who just get coffee at the same place at the same time every morning. And then, where proximity, luck, and alchemy have converged in the right combination, some of us have formed close friendships that have a life beyond our building and our neighborhood.
I am fortunate to have such friendships with a few neighbors, including the shareholder who is soon to leave. I’m pretty good at hanging on to important relationships over time and space. I still get together regularly with the same group of friends I met on an 11th-grade French Club trip to Paris, and later this year I’m meeting my former across-the-street neighbor for a cruise up the Danube, a trip that was easier to plan than lunch at her current home an hour’s bus ride from Manhattan. Given all that, I was surprised at how unsettled I was when my neighbor told me she was moving – especially since I knew she had been thinking about it for several years.
Then I thought about something the orientation guide said when I dropped off my older child at college: “It’s like the mobile you probably hung over your child’s crib 18 years ago. The figures moved round and round in perfect balance. Today you are a removing a figure. The mobile will tilt and may have a bit of trouble turning at first, but eventually it will re-balance itself and find a new center.”
But I worry that this time the mobile will tip and won’t rebalance. When new people move into my friend’s unit and a restaurant replaces the small shop around the corner, I’ll have to go back into dating mode, putting in that extra effort to make myself appealing while I decide what kind of relationship I want to have with them. When the mobile is balanced, home is the place where comfort is taken for granted, where friends are a fire-stairwell climb away, and I feel like a regular in every shop door I walk through.
But change is inevitable. Someday I could be the person packing up and starting over. As one of my high school French Club friends said recently in a discussion more about mortality than about moving, “I don’t want to be the first one to go, but I don’t want to be the last to go either.”