Once the weather gets nice, there’s not a day that goes by when our street isn’t filled with kids.
We live on a cul-de-sac and our circle is the playground for the entire neighborhood. It is also the gathering place for the moms. That’s where I met Suzanna. She lived two doors up from us and had two little boys, one of whom was the same age as my son, Alex.
Over the course of three years, we became good friends. We watched out for each other and our kids, talked about our lives, our hopes, our struggles.
In early 2005, we celebrated the news of my third pregnancy. Suzanna thought she might be pregnant too because she was feeling run-down and sick. Tragically, her symptoms were caused by leukemia.
The doctors told her if she was cancer-free in October they would consider her treatment a success. I was due in October. We would joke that we were going to celebrate at Halloween. And we did: I had my new baby, and Suzanna was cancer-free. A month later, the leukemia came back. In March of this year she passed away.
Throughout Suzanna’s illness, our entire neighborhood kept close tabs on her and her family. We did what we could to help and support: We sent letters and cards, played with the kids, listened when Suzanna wanted to talk. We cried together, laughed together, were there for each other.
It never escaped my mind, though, that we all could not have been more different. Suzanna was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, some of us were Catholic, some were of other Christian denominations. But none of that mattered. What did matter was that we were neighbors and, therefore, a community.
A Foreign Concept?
In Matthew 22:39, Jesus told the Pharisees that the second greatest commandment is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But sometimes in our society today, that concept could not seem further from the truth. Maybe it’s hectic schedules or not knowing who’s living on your street, but people don’t seem to connect with their neighbors the way they once did.
One of the families in our neighborhood moved in not long after they had built a new house in another neighborhood. The people in that neighborhood, the wife said, never talked to each other. The kids never played outside. So her family decided to seek out a friendlier neighborhood.
And if we can’t connect on a daily basis with the people living on either side of us, in the same complex or on our street, then how can we begin to connect with members of our community, parish, city, country or even world?
If we can reach out to neighbors who are literally in our own backyards, then maybe we can learn to love our neighbors on a larger scale.
Here are some suggestions for ways to put Jesus’ commandment into action:
■ Work to foster community among your actual neighbors. For instance, this spring, I planned an Easter egg hunt for all the kids in our neighborhood. It was a nice opportunity for the parents and kids to get together. We are discussing plans for a block party
■ Seek out groups with whom you have things in common. For instance, join a group at your parish or a group involving a hobby you have, such as gardening, car repairs or scrapbooking. A friend of mine participates in activities planned by her condo association, such as book discussions, once-a-month dinners at local restaurants or foreign-language lessons.
■ Make yourself known. By getting out and about in your neighborhood, you can meet a lot of people. I met my neighbor Esther because she walks her dog every day. Working in your front yard and taking a walk in your neighborhood are also easy ways to meet people.
■ Celebrate those things that you don’t have in common and use them as teaching moments. Suzanna and I were of different faiths, but we didn’t let that impede our friendship. We used our differences as a way to learn more about each other and our faiths.
■ Think outside your neighborhood. There are many situations throughout the world where people need help. Those people, too, are my neighbors.