By Penny Allport

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on

We heard them first, voices – laughter and song, words indistinguishable.

“These young ones are having such a difficult time with physical distancing!” I said to John, as we walked with our dog Sophia on a neighbouring street.

It was mid-March, and COVID19 had become our new reality, every day a changing scene of information, death tolls worldwide, as fear compelled many of us to check the news each morning, and more locally – Dr. Bonnie Henry each day at 3 p.m.

As voices grew louder, John and I turned left, moving towards the faintly familiar melody, words still unclear. We rounded the corner, expecting to find a group of teenagers, and were surprised to see several couples and individuals our own age, standing at a safe distance, singing.

Immediately one, then two, then all of them began to wave their hands in welcome.  Breaking through the lyrics of the song with calls of – come join us, sing with us! Welcome!

It was shortly after 7 p.m. and we had begun to hear pots and pans banging around us, acknowledging the health care workers on the front lines of the growing pandemic, but as yet we had not engaged in the nightly ritual.

We stepped into the middle of the open street with Sophia, and joined in as the words of the song easily fell from our lips.

When the song finished everyone began to disperse with thank you’s and a final round of pot banging and cheers. One woman loudly drummed on a djembe and encouraged us to return, as John and I waved our thanks, continuing on to the dog park.

I remember feeling warmth, carrying the words of the song and the feeling of welcome with me the rest of the evening. I had moved to Victoria two years ago. Moving at midlife is not an easy choice, and with no young children, I had wondered how it would feel to arrive into this new city and find community again.

We showed up the following evening to meet the growing group of people gathering on the neighbouring street. After 7:00 p.m. banging of pots and shouts of gratitude, the group always sang a song with a small sound machine for back up.

At some point John and I realized we might have abandoned our own street. The next night at 6:55 p.m. we came out onto the sidewalk, John with his ladle and metal strainer, me with my hand drum, and Sophia on her leash, calling our neighbours to join us.

Soon more and more neighbours arrived – families with children of all ages and elders, couples and individuals along with a guitar, ukulele, flute, bells, tambourine, hand drums and rattles. After the 7 p.m. ritual of thanking care workers everyone stayed to sing a song or two.

As March turned into April we merged the two streets and our numbers swelled as night after night we gathered, sounding with shouts and instruments honouring the health care workers and folx on the front lines of the pandemic, followed by sharing songs anyone was free to suggest.

Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong, Come Together, Here Comes the Sun, and All You Need is Love by the Beatles.

On April 19th, with news of the shootings in Nova Scotia, I felt overwhelmed with grief at this senseless act. I was hesitant to join in the ritual but with an ease built in from nights of repetition I slipped out the front door with my rattle. After our gratitude for the care workers, I suddenly requested Hallelujah with KD Lang accompanying us. This spontaneous and collective moment of sharing grief called several more neighbours to join in with moving harmonies.  A growing orientation to 7 p.m. marked our days.

Several of us shared emails to make suggestions for songs and then a neighbour’s 50th Birthday included a car drive-by of her friends, and a boisterous round of Happy Birthday.

As April turned into May we celebrated a 2 year old, 7, 13 and 15 year olds birthdays, a baby was welcomed and a few more numberless birthdays for those no longer counting.

Bob Dylan’s birthday was celebrated with a week of Dylan tunes, and we reclaimed Neil Young’s songs from Trump’s grip … if only in our own hearts and minds, followed with some Bob Marley, Sam Cook and Nina Simone honoring Black Lives Matter.

The nightly ritual was compelling and comforting, inspiring and a daily dose of goodness, as one woman living alone acknowledged she went to sleep with good song lyrics on her mind each night, rather than over orienting to growing fears as our world continued to change.

The three-year-old girl across the street turned four and Sophia delivered a card attached to her collar. During the course of several months – walking Sophia to and from our singing dates, the two had developed a loving bond both visible and palpable. It was like a dose of oxytocin – the love hormone for those of you not familiar!

Fridays were for dancing!  One of the neighbors and her seven-year-old daughter made a playlist we could parade and dance to, as we sometimes took turns at one street or the other.

As Phase 2 began to open in relation to the pandemic, our numbers diminished on some evenings as folx began to change their movement patterns. Into June we shifted to Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, not ready to let our sweet chorus go.

Canada Day found us gathering for a street celebration when I became the recipient of the chorus’s glowing rendition of Happy Birthday, receiving hand made cards and bouquets of flowers, feeling fully landed in this sweet community now!

It’s mid July, and we continue to gather on Fridays – sometimes a handful, swelling to a dozen or more at times.  There’s no feeling of obligation but rather a genuine interest to pause at the end of the week, give thanks, and continue to sing what has become our theme song, the one John and I first heard as we rounded the corner that evening back in March … expecting to find a group of rebellious teen agers and instead finding a group of humble adults with care in their hearts and welcome words on their lips,

Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

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