To imbue a sense of normalcy and community during the COVID-19 crisis, families on the 800 block of Linden Avenue have begun reciting the Pledge of Allegiance from the sidewalk, while keeping a safe distance apart, every weekday morning at 8:30 a.m. to mark the beginning of the school day.
“It all started as a result of one of those block email threads,” said Justin Lewis, who lives on the block with his wife and their two teenage children. The entire block has 26 households total. Kids on the block range in age from babies to teenagers.
“One of our neighbors in the middle of the block said, ‘Hey, I’ve been taking my kids out in the morning at 8:30 just to say the Pledge of Allegiance. And, you know, we said, ‘What a great idea,'” Lewis said.
Not long after, the whole block got involved. One family put up their American flag for everyone to look at while reciting.
“My wife happens to have the dinner bell from her childhood, and we also have a bullhorn, so we rang the bell up and down the block this morning to bring everyone out, then used the bullhorn to lead everyone in the pledge,” Lewis said.
Dorothy Houlihan, who lives on the next block, was driving past on her way home from picking up groceries when she saw her neighbors all lined up. Houlihan works at the River Forest Public Library, which has since closed due to COVID-19.
“I saw that there were families with children, younger children, standing out front of their houses,” said Houlihan. “I’m thinking myself, ‘Oh, they are not all gathering together, are they? For goodness’ sake!’ But no, it was each family separate.'”
When she learned what they were doing, she hopped out of her car, stood at a distance and joined in reciting the pledge.
“It was such a dreary gray morning and it brought tears to my eyes because this is such a lovely way to maintain some normalcy and schedule and a sense of community without putting anyone at risk,” Houlihan said. “It was so touching.”
While the pledge is very short, its sentiment carries newfound weight in the time of COVID-19 and the ever-mounting alarm surrounding it.
The neighborhood started the ritual March 19 and intends to keep it up until schools reopen.
“I suspect the adults appreciated this more than the kids or maybe it’s because we have teens who would prefer to sleep a bit late,” Lewis said. “Regardless, we are hoping to continue this as a way to support each other and gather, from an appropriate social distance, and to kick off the remote/distance/e-learning school day.”
Houlihan plans to continue reciting the pledge with her neighbors each morning even though she doesn’t live on that block and her children have all grown up.
“I’m planning on being out there at 8:30 tomorrow morning. It’s a reason to get up,” she said. “It’s a reason for me to get out of bed in the morning and put on my clothes and get out there. We all need a reason, you know?”
As the COVID-19 crisis continues, families and individuals have holed up in isolation for fear of catching or spreading coronavirus.
“They’re kind of scary times and they make you afraid to be around people,” Lewis’s wife Megan said. “It’s hard to think about being in community when you can’t physically be in community. And so, you have to be creative.”
The 800 block of Linden Avenue has creatively maintained its sense of community. Separated only by a boundary of physical space, the neighborhood is, as the pledge says, indivisible.
“It’s a cliché in Oak Park that every block thinks that they live on the best block in town,” Lewis said. “But we agree. We think that we do live on the best block in town.”