It all started with a request for sidewalk chalk.
My family was walking the few blocks home after church one Sunday afternoon, when my four-year-old daughter asked my wife to have some sidewalk chalk from her purse. She then proceeded to begin drawing arrows all down the sidewalk.
After a while, we asked her about why she was drawing these arrows, and she said to us, “so people can find our house!”
“Oh!” we said. And what’s happening at our house?
(Parent’s note: We were planning a nice quiet afternoon as it was our last day with Nana, who was visiting from Ontario)
“We’re having a tea party!” said she.
“Oh really! And where are we having this tea party?”
“On the sidewalk!”
So, as happens regularly with parents raising young children, our plans for a chilled afternoon with Nana were hijacked by an exciting new idea from the mind and heart of our child.
Here’s what we did: We brought out a few chairs and a small table and set it up on the sidewalk at the foot of our driveway. We set out the tea. We knocked on a few doors to invite people who lived nearby, and for the next two and a half hours we enjoyed a beautiful afternoon chatting with our neighbours.
Our Italian neighbours from around the corner brought out some cookies to share. The eighty-year-old woman on the corner who had lived in this neighbourhood for over 60 years came out and told us stories; including how she raised her six kids in her little 650 square foot house. People walking their dogs stopped to visit, and we even had one or two homeless neighbours stop by for a cookie and some tea. It was a wonderful and beautiful experience.
Today, it is a reminder to me of what is possible with a little heart, imagination and courage. Poverty takes many forms and is in every community. Some of that poverty is relational; taking the form of loneliness and isolation. All of us find ourselves there sometimes. The answer to much of the poverty we experience is found when we experience real community together.
How does that community start? With a little hospitality! And hey, if my kid can do it, so can I!
By Mike Van Boom, from Edmonton’s McCauley Community