Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning;
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.
A long time ago, a man in a wheelchair lived in a house, surrounded by relics from the seventies. I never met him but my friend was his neighbor and worked for him, and she relayed back to me his quirks, his five dollar mail order radios, and his penchant for orange and brown.
He moved to New Orleans to a rest home, and he gave her a lot of his furniture. Her house looked like an episode of the Brady Bunch for a while after that, but it was her style to be different, so everyone was happy.
He died during Hurricane Katrina.
Paralyzed by polio, he was helpless against the water and the lack of medicine and electricity.
When I drive by his house, I wonder if anyone remembers him, and I cry because his house is still here, but he is not. I cry because the chance to know him is gone. My friend remembers him, talks about him from time to time, but there is no work that she can do for him now. I cry because we only have a moment, a chance, a flicker of an opportunity. I cry because I am glad she helped him while she could, and now all that I can do is drive past his house and remember.
What does it mean to love my neighbor? I was quick to rush to the most obvious charity case, the people who wear wounds exposed. I knew I should be loving the smelly people and the “least of these”. From time to time I volunteered at a Rescue Mission or contributed to a can drive. Good Christians do these things…
It took me years to meet my actual neighbors, the ones in nice houses with three cars. They were nice people, and we exchanged cookies at holidays. We kept to ourselves and closed garage doors before exiting our cars. No one was waving a white flag, no one was dripping blood on my front door.
I have moved away from that neighborhood, but I am realizing that my comfortable thoughts need readjusting.
I’m starting to think that everyone is bleeding and beaten. I’m starting to think that “loving my neighbor” is not a passive suggestion to follow when there’s nothing to do on a Saturday. It is a command from God, and we are commanded to do so because it is a matter of life and death.
I am realizing with horror that often the ones most in need of love are the ones who fit in and look nice. The ones who live right next door might just be drowning, alone and uncared for, and how many times have I failed to carry them on my back through the waters?
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus replied:” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” –Matthew 22: 36-39