I believe in neighborliness and in teaching children the value of neighborhood. I believe in the little lion. On the walk my young daughters and I make to and from preschool, the little lion is the second of the two lion statues we pass. Greeting first the big lion and, two blocks later, the little lion is one of our daily traditions. My children have introduced their friends to the little lion and related their conversations with him to their teachers, one of whom sent my daughter pictures of the lions she saw in Spain. Last year, after the little lion’s Santa hat blew off, I wired a new one around his head that remained there throughout the season.
Early this fall, the little lion moved from his post near the sidewalk to a spot near his front door. My daughters and I missed the opportunity to pet him or share a few intimate words. We waved and hoped he was well, safe on his porch from the fumes of traffic. Then, on the Monday after Thanksgiving, the little lion disappeared. We conjectured that our friend had decided to spend the winter indoors, and I tried to assure the girls that someday he would return. The next day, we wrote the little lion a letter telling him how much we missed him. I hastily stuffed it into the house’s mailbox, wondering if the lion’s owners would receive it, much less read it with understanding.
Two days later the lion returned to his original spot, bedecked with a Santa hat, wreath, and a cardboard sign: “To my two little friends! I missed you and wanted to come back outside to wish you a Merry Christmas!” The girls were overjoyed, but no more than I. We promptly wrote the little lion a thank you card and began our conversations with him anew.
We do not know the owners of the little lion. No doubt we have passed them on the street without realizing it. But the anonymity of our relationship does not diminish its significance. Clearly, we all treasure the dignified feline who stands proudly in front of his house. More broadly, we value the bond he has forged between strangers linked to one another by neighborhood. As a historian of modern Germany, I have read widely about the breakdown in neighborliness between Germans and Jews in the 1930s. Simple gestures such as greeting signify belonging and shared assumptions about civility and society. It may be that we have little in common with the little lion’s owners. My husband, for example, is not American and we do not hold the political beliefs of most residents of our county. But the owners of the little lion and we do share something important – a commitment to forging connection with those around us. We recognize the value of neighborliness and of the little lion in our midst. And we give thanks for those who hold these views as well. In this I believe.
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