Who are our neighbors?
I often get confused, and I will admit, I also often get upset, with people’s actions toward each other. I cannot overlook someone who has not had the same opportunities as I have. I do not want to use the term advantages, because coming from a lower middle-income family, born in Newark, New Jersey, I do not consider myself advantaged; but I do consider myself a product of my opportunities, when I learned to recognize and accept them.
One of the things that I have begun to realize and to share with others is the idea that even the simplest things in life are filled with multi-level meanings. Cornell West said, “To be a Christian is to live dangerously, honestly, freely — to step in the name of love as if you may land on nothing, yet to keep on stepping because the something that sustains you no empire can give you and no empire can take away.” I couple this with the Bible story of the Good Samaritan. Many times, we have difficulty in recognizing who in fact our true neighbor is. It could be the family living in the house next door; it could also be the family living in the single-wide house in a trailer park; it could also be a poor Venezuelan family on the border of the United States seeking asylum.
My heart tells me that it is all three; two of them I have yet to meet, at least face to face. But, in all cases, these are my neighbors; these are family members that I have not had the pleasure of sharing a meal with.
My heart tells me that if I had not recognized the opportunities that came my way, I would not be where I am today. In 1990, while I was the president of the NPHS booster club, the Athletic Director came to the monthly meeting in September and announced that he had just lost his swim coach. To make a long story short and meaningful, I ended up being the temporary coach. After four years, this lead me to pursue my masters degree in history to become a history teacher at NPHS. This opportunity began my 24-year career teaching at both the high school and college levels.
One of these same people that I have not met could recognize the same possibility and end up becoming a teacher who affects the lives if his or her students. This is not impossible to imagine, unless you have no imagination whatsoever. Only a loving outlook on life can produce and add to the life of our neighbors.
Many of us look at ourselves and cannot imagine how we can be this open in our outlook; many of us just don’t know how, or we are to busy to think we can learn to be this open hearted. I find that if you follow your heart, you cannot do wrong by our neighbors living on the edge of society. All of us can learn to love our neighbors; it is not impossible; it is not even unfeasible.
Thinking of the poor refugees on our southern border, I am reminded of Father Zossima. For those non-bibliophiles, he is a main character in my favorite novel by Dostoyevski, The Brothers Karamazov. Father Zossima prays for his forgotten souls with the following: “Remember too, every day and whenever you can, to repeat to yourself, ‘Lord, have mercy on all who appear before you today.'”
My grandmother, as doty-ish as she was, always said, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” a good lesson to remember when dealing with those we think are below our station. God’s Love leads my heart always; it leads me to risk the attachments of Love for all my neighbors.
So – all those people who upset me with their haughty attitudes, well, I also recognize them as my neighbors, and I love them just as much.
None of us are perfect; especially me; I try, but alas, I have yet to succeed.
Maybe my new unknown neighbors can help!!