With 2020 coming to a much anticipated close, many are eager (understandably so) to put the events of last year far, far behind them.  However, in moving forward, we must be sure that we do not allow ourselves to put the events of the past weeks and months so far to the back of our minds that we lose perspective.  It would truly be a shame if we were to emerge from this past year, filled with such immense heartache, fear and uncertainty, without learning anything.  How can we take what we have experienced and become wiser for it? How can we be better to each other?

It may be the middle of February, the winter holidays long over, but neighbors in the community of Bethpage, in Long Island, are once again climbing up their ladders to carefully afix the twinkling lights and inflatable Santas that they only recently brought down.  They are doing this in order to show support and solidarity for one family within their community, suffering through a terrible grief.

An Anonymous Letter

It was February 3rd, when Sara Pascucci, along with a number of her neighbors, received the anonymous letters with no return address.  Upon opening it, she felt her heart break just a bit more.  The typed letter read, “Take your Christmas lights down!  Its Valentines Day!!!!!!”  True, it was the beginning of February, a bit past the typical grace period given by most HOAs to take down holiday decor.  However, whoever the anonymous sender of the letter was, had clearly not taken into consideration what would compel their neighbor to delay taking down their Christmas display.  

After originally posting online about the situation in The Long Island Moms Facebook group, Pascucci told the Washington Post that her father, Anthony Pascucci, put up the holiday display right after Thanksgiving, just as he did every year.  Her father loved the holiday, and this tradition, one that had carried on each year since her childhood.  Unfortunately, this would be the last year they would celebrate together.   After the whole family fell ill with COVID-19 on Christmas Eve, Mr. Pascucci, only 60 years old, passed away on January 15th.

In the days and weeks following his death, the family went about the business of planning a funeral, sorting through the financial mire, and simply grieving their loss.  It was during this time that she received the aforementioned letter.  

A Call to Action

In her Facebook post, Pascucci shared the letter, as well as her response to the anonymous sender. “So yes, we haven’t gotten around to taking down his Christmas decorations. And maybe we just aren’t ready to yet. I won’t apologize for this.”  When word of Mr. Pascucci’s passing, and the letter that the family received, began to circulate through the community, neighbors were both outraged and heartbroken.  The pain that Pascucci expressed in her post was the same pain that so many of them had felt and witnessed over the previous year.  She received flowers and words of condolence from friends and neighbors, but then, something else began to happen.  One by one, houses in the neighborhood could be seen once again lighting up, adorned in their holiday best.  Nativity scenes and plastic reindeer were once again on full display, but this time it was not for the holiday, but as a show of love and unity for their neighbor and her loss.  

What can we take from this?  How can we learn from the experience of Bethpage and apply it to our own lives, in our own communities?

Check in on Each Other

It can be easy to become so focused on our day-to-day lives that we forget to look up and look around us.  After the amount of time many of us have spent alone these past few months, it is easy to fall into a pattern of isolation, even from those close to us.  Now, as we begin to emerge from the height of the crisis, it is important that we check in on each other.  Give a friendly wave at your neighbors when you see them.  Ask how they are doing.  Reach out and let those around you know that you are open to giving and receiving support.  This is the way that we strengthen communities at any time, but especially in the moment that we are currently facing.  

Let it Go

Because we see our homes as an extension of ourselves, it is easy to feel a sense of resentment or personal attack when others in our community are not meeting our expectations.  Before you hype yourself up to storm over to your neighbor’s house to give them a piece of your mind regarding the length or their grass, or write a passive aggressive post on your community’s  social media page about the barking dog four houses down, take a breath.  Try to think of the bigger picture and keep perspective.  If the situation can jeopardize the safety of you, your neighbors or your home, then you should absolutely pursue action.  However, if, when you REALLY think about it, you can recognize the situation as a simple annoyance, then let it go.  Give it some time.  Think of a more productive and positive way that you can approach the situation and those involved.  Often, when cooler heads prevail, a much better outcome can be reached.

Give the benefit of the doubt

Odds are that the people living within your community are generally good human beings and are not, infact, out to make your life any more difficult.  Because we are all the center of our own universe, we can allow ourselves to believe that the actions, or inaction, of others are directly related to us.  The truth is, in an overwhelming majority of instances, they are not.  As Pascucci’s experience shows us, everyone is facing their own struggles that we, from the outside, know absolutely nothing about.  Allow yourself to give those in your community the benefit of the doubt.  Remember, these are your neighbors, members of the community that you love.

We Are in This Together

At the start of the pandemic, we were inundated with the sentiment that, “we are in this together.”  The idea was plastered across billboards, television commercials, even internet compilation videos of celebrities singing.  Let’s not allow ourselves to become blase about this sentiment, or allow it to become a meaningless slogan for a forgotten time.  We really are all in this together.  We need each other.  The idea of a community is based on the fact that we, as humans, have a basic need to form bonds.  That we are stronger, happier, healthier individuals when we are part of a group.  In the end, Pascucci says that she is thankful that the anonymous neighbor sent her the letter, because it ended up bringing her the love and support that she needed in such a difficult time.