Our neighbor is a remarkably ordinary looking man. As far as I can tell, he wears the same outfit every morning to walk his dog. The outfit includes a rather spiffy hat. His dog is a boxer, and I see them many mornings when leaving to take my kids to school. We rarely speak, but we wave each time he’s on our street. I like the days I see them. The man seems like a kind of sentry; he watches us safely take off to start the day. And it doesn’t hurt that the dog is pretty cute. I don’t know a single thing about him, but the familiarity of his being there brings me a bit of happiness.
Affection for Our Neighbor
C.S. Lewis, in The Four Loves, says:
“Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our natural lives.”
The love we have for our spouse and children, family and certain close friends are that which first comes to mind when we think of love. The tone of our days, though, and our outlook can be remarkably affected by our interactions with the myriad acquaintances and strangers we encounter in the course of the day.
There are countless people we encounter in our daily lives, and the little seemingly microscopic choices we make can impact them as well as ourselves. I’ve been amazed many times at the remarkable interconnectedness that exists between us and the many beautiful ways it expresses itself. We need only pay attention to enjoy these moments. Acquaintances and those we feel affection for have the added benefit of being relatively simple interactions. They are not colored with the depth of emotion and history like our very close relationships are.
The bible is full of encouragements regarding these interactions. Romans 15 lets us know that:
“We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves; let each of us please our neighbor for the good, for building up.”
The concept of building each other up is so lovely, and so within our grasp. We can choose to build each other up, and it is our duty to do so.
Jesus presents it in Luke 10:27:
Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you.
How remarkably simple – what if we were to practice wanting the best for all those around us, whether known to us or not? We don’t know what any person is facing on any given day. Offering them our kindness can be a turning point or a moment of grace for another soul. The only cost is perhaps the loss of the momentary smugness of cynicism, which I for one can afford to lose, and ends up blessing us two-fold.
It is a quirk of human nature that discomfort or pain – even minor instances – seem far easier to recall and dwell in than small moments of kindness and decency. We recall the twerp that cut us off on the freeway onramp, but someone making room for us to make a turn or to pull in front of them is harder to remember because it doesn’t elicit the same emotional response. It is far too easy not to recognize that a great number of people we encounter are decent people and will act decently when given the chance, particularly if we approach them with the assumption of their decency. This is true in most of our small interactions. It can also be glaringly true in life’s more profound moments.
Our parish recently held a funeral for a 25-year old who died in a motorcycle accident. Deaths involving young people are inherently difficult to process or make sense of. Our pastor shared with us that a nearby vehicle had a dashcam that had recorded the tragic accident. The car owner tracked down the man’s mother and called her to let her know that he had it and would share it with no one other than the police and the mother if she so wished. His reaching out to her was a kindness itself, but he also shared a few details around the accident. Immediately after her son was thrown from his motorcycle, a big rig that was following intentionally jackknifed his truck to shield her son from being hit by any other vehicles. Multiple drivers stopped and rushed to see if they could help the fallen man. When it became clear that he was beyond any help they could provide, they cried and prayed around him until paramedics arrived. This was not a case of one person acting well. This was numerous uninvolved “passerby’s” that behaved kindly and with remarkable grace.
This kindness and grace were magnified when passed along to his mother and subsequently to the parish. In the end, our kindness blesses us and those around us. Hopefully, we won’t be faced with any life or death situations today. In all those that aren’t, though, we can make the choice to build our neighbor up and bring peace to their house, even momentarily.