Calgary·First Person

A real estate transaction gave me neighbours. A car crash taught me to value them

A car crash outside writer Becky Sarafinchan’s house opened her eyes to the beauty of having neighbours this spring. They’re connected by a random act of real estate and disagree on many issues, but that no longer matters.

It doesn’t matter that we don’t agree on masks or vaccine mandates

Four people stand together on a sidewalk along a busy residential road.
Traffic is frequent and fast on this street in Coventry Hills. But that hasn't kept friendships from growing between Becky Sarafinchan, left, and her neighbours Gina Williams, Jesse Williams and Jennifer Robinson. (Elise Stolte/CBC)

This First Person article is the experience of Becky Sarafinchan who lives in Calgary. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

The crush of glass and metal silenced us mid-phrase, the kids and I on that early spring day. I saw their frozen expressions as I wondered if I had really heard or felt that sound. We ran outside. 

Across our busy street, a SUV straddled the yellow line. Its grill faced the crumpled remains of our neighbour's two parked cars. Two cars, swiped by one driver. My neighbours stared in shock at the sad mix of wreckage, nose to bumper.

But this is a feel-good story. It's not about race track streets or distracted drivers. It's about neighbours. It's about me discovering that I care what happens to the people across the street, even when their lives merge little with mine. It's about the unexpected cheer that brings.

For most of my 16 years on Coventry Hills Way, in the suburbs of north central Calgary, the greatest common bond I shared with my neighbours was geographical. The random act of real estate mixed me up with folks I only knew in smiles and waves outside our garage doors. My life was filled with kids and work; I rarely thought of those who lived around me.

Until the pandemic, that is. Until human interaction became a source of anxiety worldwide and we were told to run for cover. In those long and bizarre periods of isolation when I couldn't see friends and family, I could still see my neighbours walking by every evening. We could share a weary smile and sometimes — from a distance — we talked. 

A group of five people stand around talking on a driveway.
Front driveways are a natural gathering place on this street in Calgary's Coventry Hills. From left to right: Gina Williams, Jennifer Robinson, Jesse Williams, Becky Sarafinchan and Glen McLaughlan. (Elise Stolte/CBC)

On the afternoon of the accident, I noticed Jennifer standing with the stunned car owners on the other side of the street. She was talking and pointing; the first to offer assistance. Although I've only ever spoken with Jennifer a few times, I knew she was open and kindhearted. It relieved me when I saw her talking with the neighbours. It felt like they were in good hands.

Someone called the police and a few people left to check their home security cameras for footage. Another neighbour motioned for the driver of the SUV to move to the sidewalk; he was still standing in the street. 

A group of teens, armed with the vehicle description, headed off to find an eyewitness who had left the scene. The adults compared stories of what each had seen and felt. 

Across the road, a young man dragged the bumper of his car onto his lawn. He crossed the street to a group of us, onlookers, huddled in a semicircle. He was debating if he should accept the offer: should he just settle with the driver of the SUV?

The group reacted at once: No! You can get help. It will be OK.

We lingered on the sidewalk and a conversation expanded beyond the crash. We began to talk about hockey and school; about work and the vacations we hoped to take. Normal stuff, but I had never stood and talked, never opened up about anything with my neighbours before. It felt new. 

People stand beside a residential street with vehicles driving past.
The street in front of Becky Sarafinchan's house can feel like a race way. (Elise Stolte/CBC)

Soon the teenagers returned from their search for an eyewitness. "We found the guy who left the scene!" they grinned, triumphant. They had checked his vehicle. "We even felt the tailpipe on his truck and it's still warm!" To their delight, the police wanted to know.

I watched those tall boys talk, eager to share and flush with their success. 

Standing in this group of people, suddenly feeling that they were my people, I felt lighter. It took me by surprise. I'd never thought of them as my people before. In the past, I was aloof and comfortable — a wave and smile would suffice for neighbourliness.

In truth, we don't share interests; we don't share the same ethnic backgrounds or weekend habits. We weren't all on the same page about COVID-19 – some of us were supportive and others against mask and vaccine mandates. 

Maybe that's what makes the huddled conversation on the day of the accident so special. It doesn't matter if we'd naturally be friends had we not physically lived beside each other. It doesn't matter that we have different views and beliefs. We are neighbours. That counts for something.

In the months since the accident I've thought a lot about what changed for me that day. It's like the pieces fit together and I was able to discover a gift I'd never seen before.

We visit more now. We share gardening tips and someone suggested a block party. There's even – imagine! – an inside joke or two we share. Community is growing where once I saw a street of strangers. I don't ever want to lose sight of that gift.


Telling your story 

CBC Calgary is running a series of in-person writing workshops across the city to support community members telling their own stories.

Read more from the workshop hosted by the Northern Hills Community Association:

To find out more about our writing workshops or to propose a community organization to help host, email CBC producer Elise Stolte

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Becky Sarafinchan

Freelance contributor

Becky Sarafinchan lives with her husband and kids in Calgary’s Coventry Hills. She likes to write about the small stuff in life because she suspects it might be more important than it seems.

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