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The Art Of Being A Neighbor

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The Art Of Being A Neighbor

The Art Of Being A Neighbor

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1: I believe in adaptation.

Unidentified Woman #1: I believe in a silver lining.

Unidentified Woman #2: I believe that being flexible keeps me going.

Unidentified Man #2: I believe every single person deserves to be acknowledged.

Unidentified Man #3: This, I believe.


Our This I Believe essay today comes from listener Eve Birch. Birch used to be a hospice worker and crisis counselor. Now she works a variety of jobs: as a librarian, as a handywoman remodeling kitchens and bathrooms and as a home butcher traveling to where the animals are. She also runs a poetry group and does volunteer work in her community. Here's our series curator, independent producer, Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON: Studs Terkel, in his This I Believe essay, wrote about what he learned during the Great Depression: a belief in a community in action. Eve Birch heard Terkel's essay on the air a few years ago when she was living in a tiny cabin near Paw Paw, West Virginia, where batteries for her radio were one of her most significant expenses. She had no electricity. She had none of the things she once dreamed of having. But she found something else to take their place.

Here's eve Birch with her essay for THIS I BELIEVE.

Ms. EVE BIRCH: I used to believe in the American dream that meant a job, a mortgage, cable, credit, warranties, success. I wanted it and worked toward it like everyone else, all of us separately chasing the same thing. One year, through a series of unhappy events, it all fell apart. I found myself homeless and alone. I had my truck and $56.

I scoured the countryside for some place I could rent for the cheapest possible amount. I came upon a shack in an isolated hollow, four miles up a winding mountain road over the Potomac River in West Virginia. It was abandoned, full of broken glass and rubbish. When I pried off the plywood over a window and climbed in, I found something I could put my hands to. I hadn't been alone for 25 years. I was scared, but I hoped the hard work would distract and heal me.

I found the owner and rented the place for $50 a month. I took a bedroll, broom, rope, a gun and cooking gear and cleared a corner to camp in while I worked. The locals knew nothing about me. But slowly they started teaching me the art of being a neighbor. They dropped off blankets, candles, tools and canned deer meat. And they began sticking around to chat.

They asked if I wanted to meet cousin Albie or go fishing, maybe get drunk some night. They started to teach me a belief in a different American dream, not the one of individual achievement but of neighborliness. Men would stop by with wild berries, ice cream, truck parts and bullets to see if I was up for courting. I wasn't, but they were civil anyway.

The women on that mountain worked harder than any I'd ever met. They taught me the value of a whetstone to sharpen my knives, how to store food in the creek and keep it cold and safe. I learned to keep enough for an extra plate for company.

What I had believed in, all those things I thought were the necessary accouterments for a civilized life, were non-existent in this place. Up on the mountain, my most valuable possessions were my relationships with my neighbors.

After four years in that hollow, I moved back into town. I saw that a lot of people were having a really hard time, losing their jobs and homes. With the help of a real estate broker I chatted up at the grocery store, I managed to rent a big enough house to take in a handful of people. It's four of us now, but over time I've had nine come in and move on to other places from here. We'd all be in shelters if we hadn't banded together.

The American dream I believe in now is a shared one. It's not so much about what I can get for myself, it's about how we can all get by together.

ALLISON: Eve Birch with her essay for THIS I BELIEVE. Birch's advice to people who suddenly find themselves poor, make friends with people who've never had much money. They'll help you figure out how to survive.

After four years on the air, our series will end its broadcast on NPR in two weeks on WEEKEND EDITION. In the meantime, you can visit to see the 208 essays we've aired and browse the more than 65,000 that have been submitted.

For THIS I BELIEVE, I'm Jay Allison.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: Jay Allison is co-editor with Dan Gediman, John Gregory and Viki Merrick of the book, "This I Believe, Volume 2: More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women."

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