She’s seven, she has brown eyes and blond hair and precocious mind. She’s been at my house all day, playing with Jubilee and eating fruit snacks and watching musicals and now it’s the worst part of the week. I tell her it’s time to go home and the whining starts. And then the tears. And then the clinging and the “I wish I could live with you forever.” Pulling into the trailer park, my stomach is in knots. I leave her with her grandmother until next week.
Clare* is hilarious, adorable and hungry for attention. She just so happens to be my neighbor, at least in a general sense. She and her guardian live five minutes away from us. She thinks my house is a mansion.
When I was a young teen, I invented a philosophy called The Roast Beef Life. The premise was a devotion to a full and rich life, no matter the cost. The metaphor was, to put it simply, never settle for a Happy Meal when you could go home and prepare a delicious roast beef dinner with just a little extra effort. I have been thinking about that lately because my life has been very “roasty” this summer, but not in the way I prefer. Things have not gone the way we’ve prayed they would. As a matter of fact, every time we think we might get some good news, we get bad news. And yet, my life is rich and full and savory. Why?
Meggie is still not home and we have no idea when she ever will be. But we have a very real connection to Meggie that will never snap. We miss her strongly. We love her deeply. We pray fervently. We will be gloriously overwhelmed by joy when she finally comes home. Life is rich.
One of the unexpected riches of this summer has been found in keeping Clare on the weekends. By a strange series of events, we became connected to her situation and offered to help out. Clare has provided us with many opportunities to learn patience, but she has also stolen our hearts. We wish it was Meggie in our car, singing along to 50’s music and in our lap watching princess movies and at the end of the table eating or refusing to eat whatever has been served. But it’s not our faraway Meggie, it’s our right here Clare.
Because, as much as we love Meggie, Clare is my neighbor and I must love her “as myself.” The smart-alec scholar was hoping to trip Jesus with a follow up question when he asked, “Ah, but who is my neighbor?” Is there a detailed list, a specific geographic requirement to qualify as a neighbor?
Jesus replied with a story of a man who was beat to a pulp and left to die on the side of the road. You probably know how the story goes. A priest passes him by, a Levite passes him by and then, a “despised Samaritan” stops and helps him onto his own donkey, binds his wounds and pays for all of his medical bills. The point Jesus is making is that this bloody and forgotten man on the road to Jericho was neighbor to the priest. He was neighbor to the Levite. He was neighbor to the cursed Samaritan. And yet, only the Samaritan loved.
With all that is going on in Iraq and Israel, with the Ebola and the violence and the hatred, I cannot help but think that the solution is very simple. If we all loved our neighbor, every neighborhood would be safe. If we all loved our neighbor, there would be no war, no genocide, no need for gun control. If we all loved our neighbor, the whole world would be taken care of.
Today, we were all saddened to learn of the sudden death (almost certainly by suicide) of the talented actor, Robin Williams. I have just recently watched The Dead Poets Soceity, Hook and Mrs. Doubtfire and so the irony is strong and painful. I have just recently remarked to my family that he is so gifted. Now we can only say that he was gifted. It’s a terrible shock to find someone you admire is suddenly not on this earth.
With this terrible news, my thoughts on loving our neighbors came full circle and I suddenly knew what I’d been trying to say here for weeks, if not months. We’ve all been posting on Twitter and Facebook about how much we loved Robin Williams. I say I loved him, you say you loved him. Celebrities tweets will be retweeted and favorited as they share about their own love of Robin Williams. And yet, Robin Williams killed himself. He killed himself, no doubt, because he felt useless, depressed and unloved.
I don’t know who truly knew this man or whose responsibility it was, until today, to show him love, but I cannot help but feel that we are not loving our own neighbors. We can say we love Robin Williams whom we’ve never met, who has never personally done anything for you or I, who is now gone, and yet we cannot love our own, physically near neighbors?
The folks in your own home and to the right and left of it? The folks across the way, five minutes down the road? The girl who makes your coffee, the man who takes your promotion, the child who ruins your vacation, the crossing guard out in the sun? The beggar, the salesman, the woman at the deli who calls you by name? The pregnant teen, the dependent senior citizen, the unplanned baby? I could go on and on, but I think you’re getting my drift. Your neighbors are all around you and you only have so long to love them.
Will you? Will you love them? Or will you just tweet about them when they’re dead?
*Name changed to respect privacy