Who is my neighbor?
It was bound to happen.
I’ve tried to be so careful about walking with our dog since he’s become so sensitive to loud noises. Loud noises seem to paralyze him. He freezes where he is, refuses to move, begins shaking and wildly panting. Thunder, trash collection trucks, lawn mowers and blowers, and construction noises all seem to have the same impact. And that means that our walks are largely limited to evenings – after all of the noise except birds, bugs and other critters has gone away – and then he’s literally pulling me down the street, anxious to get out and enjoy his long-awaited walk.
So last night was bound to happen: We headed out for a brisk, long, winding walk through the neighborhood. As darkness fell on an otherwise quiet evening, the sound of fireworks in the distance sent our sweet dog into a panic. He froze, unwilling to budge, even to get out of the street.
The problem was that we were a few – four or five – blocks from home when he was spooked. We might as well have been four miles from home, given the fact that I can’t carry a spooked 65-pound dog. And, not having a cell phone with me (because I hadn’t anticipated fireworks on July 2!), I couldn’t call my husband to ask him to pick us up.
So there we were, mama and scared dog, quite literally stuck just minutes from our front door. And I hoped that someone else who had decided to take a late stroll might happen by.
Just a couple of minutes later, as I was still trying to comfort our dog, someone did walk by – a man I’ve seen almost every single day of the fourteen years that we’ve lived in the neighborhood, out on his daily walk. So I thought that surely he’d recognize me (or at least recognize our dog!) and I spoke to him, asking if he might happen to have a cell phone so that I could call my husband. He barked back (no pun intended), “What’s wrong with you?” I tried to explain quickly that my dog had been spooked by the fireworks and that we couldn’t make it home. And he quickened his pace as he walked by me, quipping, “Lady, you’ve got small problems.”
I can't argue with that; he was right. In the grand scheme of problems in the world, I had a small (first world) problem in my terrified 65-pound dog who refused to move. And in all fairness, it wasn't as if it were a life-threatening problem: Eventually, my husband would have wondered why we'd been gone so long and would have driven around to look for us.
But a couple was approaching from the opposite direction as the man rushed away. I called out to them. “Excuse me, by any chance would either of you have a cell phone? My dog got spooked…I need to call my husband.”
The first gentleman who passed me without stopping had now stopped and turned around in the street, watching to see if the other neighbors would come over to me. Was he stopping now because he might need to assist them, just in case my five-foot-two-inch self with my cowering, now slobbering dog, posed some danger? The couple stopped. They came over to me, introduced themselves, petted my frightened dog, shared a cell phone, offered to wait with me, and commented that they were glad that they had decided to take a late walk and were able to help. We hadn’t met before – but when I mentioned the block on which I lived, we talked about all of our common neighbors and friends. We talked, like neighbors meeting each other on the street. Today, I’m sending a thank-you note to my neighbors – and new friends – and I’m making a gift to their worshipping community in their honor.
No doubt, in this day and time, many of us would be leery of someone (yes, even a 5’2” non-athletic-looking me with a cowering dog) on the street asking for help. We might think twice, uncertain if it’s a trap or a scam.
I think that’s what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. meant when, in his retelling of the parable of the Good Samaritan, he commented that the priest and the Levite who passed by the injured man may only have considered what would have become of them if they stopped to help, while the Samaritan asked a different question: What would become of the injured man if he didn’t stop to help?
Who is my neighbor? Yes, my neighbor is the hungry neighbor with whom I can share a meal.
Yes, my neighbor is the neighbor without shelter, with whom my worshipping community can share hospitality through Room in the Inn.
Yes, my neighbor is the child in the failing school, where I and others can help read, tutor and provide a strong, mature, and loving presence.
Yes, my neighbor is the person looking for employment who I can connect with those who have jobs.
Yes, my neighbor is the refugee with whom I may share the far-too-many items in our home that we no longer need and use ourselves.
But, yes, my neighbor may be the person who lives just blocks away, whose gender, faith tradition, or skin color is not the same. That’s my neighbor, too.
Today, I am grateful for good neighbors who wondered what would become of me if they didn't stop. And today, I pray that I may always be that good neighbor.