Neighbors

I had just read about loving your neighbor as yourself.

I was reflecting on what that means as I puttered around shutting up the house and thinking of little ways that I try to live this out.  As I left the house and started walking to work, I began wondering about the handful of men that I know who walk the streets of my comfortable, mostly middle class town tormented by  — what? — internal demons, mental illness, addiction?  Who knows…

I don’t know where they live; I’d guess that only about half have a fixed address.

Who’s your neighbor when you’re homeless?

And how would I go about even beginning to love these men as myself?  When we meet in the street, I can greet them by name, give them a firm handshake, look them in the eye, chat about pleasantries, or listen to deeper, often disjointed, concerns, whisper a prayer as we part ways.  But this all seems paltry and cheap.  There’s the occasional invitation to Sunday services and donations to organizations that they might go to for help.  But these are all still very little acts of love.

And then there are the times when they don’t seem to see me, or is it just that they’re averting their eyes and hoping that I don’t recognize them, as I do at times myself when our paths cross?

None of them has ever threatened me, but I’ve been afraid, nonetheless.

None of them has ever asked me for anything.  Maybe I don’t have anything to give that they need or want.  Maybe I’m not brave enough to ask.

Walking to work during a difficult week, one of them stopped me, rousing himself from resting in the park, to hand me a pamphlet as I went on my way.  I thanked him, told him it was just what I needed, wished him a good day.

What else is there to do when a homeless man hands you a tract bearing the words “Do not let your heart be troubled”?

I don’t know.  But I guess that’s what neighbors are for.

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