We moved to Lancaster city nearly two months ago, and the one thing this new house has that I've never really had before is a front porch. Not a stoop. A porch. About 8 feet above street level, set back from the road, with a railing, and two glider benches.
I've joked about the fact that I have a porch, and spend a lot of time on it, and this fact has pretty much gone viral. But it's more than just a joke or a diversion. The fact is, I love my porch. Because I work out of my home and have wireless, I can just as easily work on my porch. Just yesterday my friend Joel came over with his laptop, sat on the porch, and we both worked while we chatted. It was very relaxing. I can even have clients stop by for business. Much better than meeting inside in a stuffy office.
I can sit on my porch with my dog and relax. I can watch people as they pass by, figure out who my neighbors are (some might call that being nosey), and check on the steady flow of traffic. And of course, for those who follow me on Twitter, I can comment on what's going on around me.
Like at this very moment an ambulance is speeding by with it's sirens blaring...and my dog is howling. In his five years of live he has never howled until we moved to the city. Now it is a daily occurrence with the steady stream of sirens.
I also have a nice back yard with a deck...and lots of sun. I could spend my time there soaking up the warmth, but then I wouldn't be able to interact with Lancaster and its residents. I wouldn't see my friends as they drove by and honked at me. I'd miss out on a lot.
But for me, the porch is more than all of this. It is a symbol of community. For the five years that I lived in the suburbia that is Elizabethtown, I barely ever saw or got to know my neighbors. And not for lack of trying. But at the end of the day, they would drive home from work, the garage door would open, and they would drive in and close the door behind them...never to be seen again until the following morning when they left for work again. Here in Lancaster, in the two short months that I've lived here I've met quite a few of my neighbors. The couple two doors down made a point of coming over and introducing themselves. They told me that they really desire that our little slice of Lancaster would feel like a neighborhood. Like the kind of neighborhood I grew up in. Everyone knew everyone else. We played together. We worked together. We had cookouts together. I miss that.
So for me, my porch is really all about community. Or as one friend said, a "safe place." A place where friends can stop by and relax and chat. We can get to know one another over a cup of coffee or a glass of my home brewed sweet tea. Sure they have to deal with my over-exuberant dog until he calms down, but that's part of the charm as well. It's a place for both individuals and families. Grown-ups and children. To read one of my favorite authors, Wendell Berry, you will learn that community implies both "membership" and "interdependency." What I do has an impact on my neighbors. In his book, The Long-Legged House, Berry notes:
That is how I view my porch. It may be MY porch, but I want to share it with others. With you. It is a sanctuary of public solitude, and a refuge. At times it can be noisy because of all the traffic, but when I sit out here alone, I am in a place of silence. And when I sit here with friends, despite the chaos around us, it is a place of relaxed conversation.
A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is
shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the
possibilities of each other's lives.
So...with that, I invite you to my porch. Yes, you too can be a part of Porchapalooza 2009. And if you can't make it, enjoy your own porch, your own community...and be welcoming to your friends and neighbors.