(Christian Courier column, Sept. 2013)
My husband Mark has diabetes, controlled thus far by diet and exercise. My brother Rick injects himself with insulin several times a day. So when asked to canvass my street on behalf of the Canadian Diabetes Association, I said, “Sure.”
It’s a sobering thing to ask your neighbours for money. Every front door opens to a story.
One of my neighbours is a Mary Kay consultant who drives a pink SUV. She calls me (and everybody) “pumpkin” and “honey.” An American, she’s never forgotten that my sister and I sent her flowers after 9/11, so she’s fond of me despite the fact that I rarely buy makeup. A few years ago her husband left her for one of her friends. She’s had to re-mortgage her house and start her life over. When I mentioned that Mark was diabetic, not only did I get a generous donation, but I came home with three books about gluten-free diets and alternative health remedies.
My 80-year-old neighbour had seven bags of raked-up leaves at the end of her driveway. She cuts her own grass and walks every day. Her vigour is astounding. Although we’ve chatted many times outside, I’d never been inside her home. It was immaculate. Of course she wanted to donate, she said. She told me about her 57-year-old daughter who suffers from loss of vision due to detached retinas in both eyes. She can’t drive anymore and had to quit her job. Now she’s dependent on her husband for almost everything and is taking classes to learn how to function with limited eyesight. My heart is breaking as my neighbour tells me this.
The neighbour two doors down goes to the Baptist church. Now retired, he used to own the only grocery store in town. Some time ago he was diagnosed with a rare skin cancer on his face and had to undergo extensive surgeries and treatments. He’s lost a lot of weight but he was jovial as he met me at the door and gave a donation. When I asked him what he’s been up to, he told me he had gone fishing that day. He’d had an awesome day relaxing and thanking the Lord for his recovery.
One of my neighbours is a widow who goes to my church. She hobbled over to the front door to let me in. She was experiencing severe back pain, not something new. She told me she was getting a shot in her spine the next day. She gave me a donation and brought me up to date on her family. Her son has severe diabetes and needs a new hip. We talked briefly about the recent loss of her husband. She told me to drop by anytime; she would love to have me visit.
Jesus commands me to love my neighbours. I don’t know how to do that, exactly. There aren’t enough hours in my day to listen to all the stories on my street. There isn’t enough room in my heart to carry all the neighbourhood joys and sadnesses. Add in my family, my church, my Facebook friends and global neighbours on my TV screen, a suffocating press of needy humanity, and I become undone. Lord, how am I to pray for all who need prayers, to mourn with all who mourn, to rejoice with all who rejoice?
I’m drawn to the hope that neighbourliness counts as love, that I can be an imitator of Christ by sending flowers, canvassing for a charity or buying geraniums from the little girls next door who are fundraising for their school. I take comfort in the advice that novelist Henry James gave to his nephew: “There are three things that are important in human life. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.” Somehow kind seems do-able, a downsized love that’s manageable.
In Christianity Today (June 2013), Carolyn Arends relays the advice that singer Rich Mullins used to give his fans: “God’s will is that you love him with all your heart and soul and mind, and also that you love your neighbour as yourself. Get busy with that, and then, if God wants you to do something unusual, he’ll take care of it. Say, for example, he wants you to go to Egypt. If that’s the case, he’ll provide 11 jealous brothers, and they’ll sell you into slavery.”
So I guess I’ll just stay here on Thames Street trying to be kind unless God chooses to send me to Egypt.
(With thanks to my neighbours who kindly gave me permission to write about them.)