Last Tuesday my neighbor passed away. He was almost 88. But he wasn't just some neighbor-- he was some neighbor [ said like "Some Pig!" ]. And he wasn't just my neighbor since moving into this house in 2010-- he has been my neighbor my entire life.
|the house on the left: Keith's, the house on the right: the home where I lived until high school|
I've written before about my view from my living room, and how every time I look out my window I am literally looking at my past onto the same street where I grew up. And a few days after April 14, 1986 when my parents brought me home from the hospital, they brought me back to this street. And they introduced me to my neighbors. All of them. Up and down the block and behind our home.
Our neighbors knew us, and we knew them. When my mom needed an extra egg for her cookies she could walk over to Yvonne's. When she needed to run an errand during nap time, she knew Kelly or Bob could pop over and hang out with me or my sister, or we could go to their house [the house where I sit and write this now]. When some kids eyed the bikes my sister and I had left in our front yard one night, Tom watched from behind his screen door to make sure the motion light would scare them away [and if it hadn't then he would have]. And when our garage caught on fire one February night fourteen years ago and the flames licked at and threatened our house, Keith grabbed his garden hose and jumped right into the action while his wife, Billie, opened their kitchen to our worried and cold bodies. When I had chicken pox Joann let me borrow E.T. and Charlotte's Web from her extensive VHS collection. Jim was happy to field worried phone calls from my mom in the middle of the night as she asked for his pharmaceutical/medical advice. Marge was always available for a great conversation on her front porch, and Janet let us have picnics under her large evergreen, its heavy branches closing around us as if we were in Narnia.
We weren't just neighbors because of proximity. We were neighbors because we chose to be.
Slowly, our street changed. People moved. Kids graduated. Some funerals were attended.
Then Brent and I had an opportunity to move back, not just to my home town, but to this very street that taught me what it meant to be a neighbor in the very truest sense of the word.
And the day we unloaded our moving truck, a 90 year old Yvonne shuffled over carrying a hot cherry pie to welcome us. And when he noticed a substantial amount of water draining into our ditch, an 80 year old Keith crept into our crawl space to see what was leaking before we got home.
Yvonne never got to meet Becks, but she held Blythe and brought us a gift at her arrival. Keith was known for doling out candy to kids, and Blythe instantly fell in love with him and his chocolate. And when we buried him on Friday, a lump caught in my throat as I thought of the stuffed red monkey and chocolate hearts he brought Blythe last year for Valentine's day. And I couldn't stop my tears as I wept over the kind and gentle man who had been a neighbor to me my entire life.
|Last year on Keith's birthday [three days before Blythe's!]. We brought him a birthday card and he gave Blythe her butterfinger, as always|
The funeral home is just two doors down from the house where I grew up, and right next door to Keith's. How appropriate, that to bid him farewell we just slipped on our coats and walked right up the street as if we were paying him another visit.
I think Keith passing away caught me off guard a bit. I didn't think I would grieve that much over a man who wasn't family; a man who I could go weeks without talking to but saw almost every day driving by or in his yard. He was a kind, generous, humble man who knew Jesus. But I think the grief was thicker because it seems he is one of the last of the people who know how to neighbor well. How to do the behind the scenes things. How to be a good Samaritan. How to look after the least of these.
Do you ever get the sense that you are just existing in your neighborhood? It is where you land in the evening, where you sleep, where you rest up so you can go live somewhere else? Keith and the rest of my childhood neighbors [and my parents] taught me that this place, this street full of homes and people, this is where I am called to really love. To be a good neighbor in ways beyond just making sure no one steals their mail when they are gone on vacation. To celebrate with each other. To grieve with each other. To put out fires and welcome babies. This is what it means to be a neighbor. This is what it means to love.
Brent and I have a long way to go, but we want to invest in the people behind the doors of these homes around us. And someday if our children move back to this street, we want them to grieve when one of their neighbors passes away because they knew him; because they loved him.
Jesus said, "Love your neighbor as yourself." I think we do a good job of going out into "the world" and trying to find neighbors to love. When Jesus said this we think He meant just our figurative neighbors. But when the lights turned off in the house across the street last week, I knew He meant our literal ones.
Keith knew four generations of my family, not because he lived next door, but because he chose to be a neighbor.