When my husband, John, and I were first married, we bought a starter home in a cute little neighborhood where all the homes were practically piled on top of one another.  One night, we were sitting in our living room when there was a knock on the door.  It was the mother of Jane, the woman who lived across the street from us.

Jane’s mother needed a stepladder and a telephone and she asked if she could borrow ours.  As my husband scrambled to find what she needed, I tried to talk to Jane’s emotionally overwrought mother.  She was distracted and preoccupied and it was obvious she needed help.

“Is everything ok?” I asked her.

“Jane died a few weeks ago,” she stated simply, turning her back on me so she could look at her daughter’s now empty house.

I stood in my doorway, dumbfounded.  Mosquitos buzzed at our heads and moths flocked to the dim porch light overhead.

“She died?” I repeated, softly, incredulously. “How?”

“She was diagnosed with cancer about six months ago.  It came on fast and furious and the chemo and the meds weren’t much help to her.   She was real sick at the end.  She suffered a lot and now she’s gone,” she said as tears slid out of her eyes and down her cheeks.  She sniffled quietly.

I choked down my own fresh set of water works.

How could my neighbor, a woman who lived only ten steps away from me, be sick for months and I not have a clue?

How could she have died and I not know it?

I drove by her house, admired her beautiful landscaping everyday, and she was sick?

And now she’s gone?

I immediately thought about what I would have done if I had known:

I would have made her a meal.

I would have brought her fresh flower

I would have made her homemade cards and delivered them with a stack of smutty, celebrity magazines.

I would have done something, however small, to make this woman’s final days brighter.

But I never even knew she was ill, so I never had the opportunity.

Isn’t it strange that we live in a über technologically connected society so emotionally disconnected?

We don’t dare leave home without our I-phones, Blackberries, or Smart phones—we are constantly ‘in touch’—but in so many other ways, we are completely out of touch with those around us—our spouses, our children, our neighbors.  So much so, the woman who lives across the street from us can die and we don’t even know it.

I’m sorry, but something is really wrong with that picture.

The late, great Mother Teresa said,

The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty -- it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”

You, the person reading this right now, probably lives in a neighborhood where people feel unloved.

I know I do.

America is one of the most advanced nations in the World, yet the people who live around us are dying from loneliness and lack of concern.

What are we going to do about it?

Will we love our neighbors or let them die?

We all have 100 items on our daily to-do list and we shudder at the mere thought of adding just one more thing.  But loving our neighbor as ourselves needs to be the first item on our important get-it-done agendas because it means feeding starving souls.

Do we want to feed them or let them die of  hunger?

I once lived in a neighborhood where there was so much tension between two families, one of them put up a 12-foot privacy fence because they didn’t want to see the people who lived next door.  The Homeowner’s group went nuts at the ‘egregious’ offence (they even staged a late-night confrontation!) and the issue eventually had to be brought before a legal panel for resolution.

Everyday I drove by the fencing eyesore and I thought about those two feuding families and I wondered:

Why are we surprised there isn’t any peace in the world?

Perhaps you’ve experienced something similar in your own community?

Perhaps you’ve been the victim of gossip, poor treatment, and/or neighborhood drama?

Perhaps your next-door neighbor makes it their life’s work to make your life miserable?

How do you love those kinds of people?  How do you make a community out of that?

St. John Baptist de la Salle offers a solution, albeit challenging, for those difficult neighbors with whom we must live:

“Adapt yourself with gracious and charitable compliance to all your neighbor’s weaknesses.  In particular, make a rule to hide your feelings in many inconsequential mattersGive up all bitterness toward your neighbor, no matter what.  And be convinced that your neighbor is in everything better than you.  This will not be difficult if you keep even a little aware of yourself.  It will give you the ability to overcome your feelings of resentmentEach day look for every possible opportunity to do a kindness for those you do not like.  After examining yourselves on this matter every morning, decide what you are going to do, and do it faithfully with kindness and humility.”

We aren’t called to like everybody, but we are called to love them and our neighborhoods, our communities, the people we encounter everyday, are a good place to start.

If all of us decided to just one kind thing for another person in our community, I’m certain we could change the world--one charitable deed at a time.

Some suggestions for serving your neighbor:

--If you’ve never met the people who live in the house next door, go introduce yourself!  Today!

--The next time you make dinner, double the recipe.  Attach a little note and bring it to the house next door.

--On Christmas or Easter, deliver handmade (or store bought!) cards and delicious sweets.  (This is the one time of the year where it’s socially acceptable to be a Christ-bearer!  Take advantage of it!)

--On Halloween or Valentine’s Day (or any other holiday!), make goodie bags and have your kids hang them from neighbors’ doors with little notes.

--Mow a neighbor’s yard just because.

--Bring fresh cut flowers or a potted plant to the house next door.

--Organize a neighborhood potluck.  Set up lawn chairs and grills, block off the streets and have everyone bring their family’s favorite dish.  Give all the kids sidewalk chalk and bubbles and let them decorate the place.

--Purchase Sparklers for the kids on July 4 and invite the littles in your neighborhood to come share the fun!

----If none of the above are viable options, pray daily for your neighbor.  Beg God to bless them, every day and in every way.

What, says you, are your favorite ways to love your neighbor?

Image Credit: Morguefile

Copyright 2012 Colleen Duggan