THE BLOG
11/01/2012 08:04 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Surrounded by Strangers

The storm known as Sandy walloped the hell out of most of our area. Yet before it roared, and after it subsided, I found myself experiencing emptiness utterly unrelated to the winds and tides: I didn't know my neighbors enough for us to weather any storm together.

Messages urging me to "Stay safe!" and to "Please check in!" abounded in emails and along social media. That felt reassuring, until I realized that more people were probably looking out for me on Twitter than on my street.

It wasn't always this way. My family knew almost everyone on the block 25 years ago. The first ones to move into our newly constructed houses met the later arrivals with offers to help unpack. A group of girls around my daughter's age trooped in and out of our houses, giggling and lending sparkly stuff. Eventually, they were (conveniently) replaced by boys around my son's age, bonding over a basketball hoop and borrowing things that all smelled over-ripe. Neighbors were each other's emergency contacts for school nurses, and we had keys to let the family pooches out.

Snowstorms brought out snow blowers, followed by snow people and then cocoa. An ice storm didn't stop a circle of neighbors from smiling and shaking our heads at the guy pouring kettles of boiling water over his frozen driveway. Heat waves were made bearable by impromptu pool parties and ho-ho-holidays were celebrated with zeal and camaraderie.

As with most warm things, the temperature on the block cooled. Kids went off in different directions, enlisting parents as constant chauffeurs. The owners of the smaller houses moved up by moving on, marriages fell apart and death stopped by our road. Newcomers arrived, but weren't motivated to mingle.

Though I'm not the world's most sociable creature, I sensed our street's growing disconnect. I brought offerings such as pies to some new neighbors (they weren't home-baked, though I don't think that was the issue). I invited everyone on the block to a "meet and greet" about five years ago, and was jazzed when a bunch accepted (one neighbor even offered to help). I looked forward to exchanging phone numbers and finding common interests over drinks and nibbles. However, only three homeowners showed; my "helper" wasn't among them, and one attendee's solitary goal was to solicit business!

I doubly feared Sandy's approach and attack, because I didn't know the phone numbers, let alone the last names, of the people surrounding me. After the atrocious storm absconded with lives, homes, electricity, and entire coastlines, I didn't see a single soul out on my street. Could it be because our roofs and power miraculously stayed on? Would my neighbors have turned out if their homes were imperiled or sought help if they were starving or shivering?

I'm glad that I don't know what would have happened, and I'm grateful my street was spared Sandy's wrath. However, I'm saddened that the storm advisory to "shelter in place" was such a solitary experience.