My grandfather is nearly 90 years old and lives in a small town in Saskatchewan. It is one of those towns with a grain elevator and one main intersection. There’s a Co-op gas station that sells coveralls and a cafe that may or may not be open for lunch. In his living room, beside my grandfather’s favourite chair by the window is a pair of binoculars. I remember a few years ago picking up the binoculars and asking him what these were for. Birdwatching? Not at all. My grandfather made a hobby of counting cars coming through the main intersection down the street. “It’s getting busier around here,” he’d say, “they should put in some lights because I’ve counted as many as 15 cars an hour coming through there!” Busy indeed!
Every neighbourhood has both a private life and a public life. Our private lives are lived inside and behind fences, at work or in our cars. We can drive in and out of our neighbourhood, buy what we need online, and enjoy watching TV in complete privacy. We often need privacy and we have so many of the resources we need to create great private spaces.
Our neighbourhoods are also made up of public spaces. These are the places where we buy groceries, sit on a park bench, visit with parents outside a local school, meet with others at church, or stroll through the dog park. These are ordinary activities that happen around others. We need public life because it can nurture our sense of wellbeing, belonging, and community.
Going public is about finding places in our lives that we can share with others. Enjoying public spaces and activities helps us value where we live. When we realize that ‘home’ is more than our four walls, but also includes our neighbourhood and the people around us, we find new meaning and new possibilities.
Besides public spaces like parks, schools, and shopping centres, there are other special times when we ‘go public.’ I remember when the big floods of 2015 hit Chestermere. It was a difficult week but it seemed that everyone came out to help each other. Crisis moments call up the best in people and we realized that our private lives were connected to our public lives. While hard circumstances bring neighbours together, it is often festive gatherings in the community that help us enjoy our shared life together. Summer block parties, halloween, and Christmas are the kinds of celebrations that help to remind us that we are a part of a special community.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas the neighbours along my street share baking, hire horse-drawn sleighs, build snow men, and skate on the local pond. Even in the dark and cold of winter we have discovered that we enjoy stepping out of our private lives and into the public lives that we share together.
Going Public does not come at the expense of our private lives, rather it enhances how we live. May we create the kind of inviting and welcoming community that nurtures the life we share together. How will you ‘Go Public’ this Christmas season?