“Love thy Neighbor as thyself.” One of Jesus’ two commandments. He also said to love your enemies.
“Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” Quote from my employer of yore.
“Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man.” Abraham Lincoln.
“Howdy, neighbor!” Fred Rogers
As a child, growing up in a cableless family, sometimes my only alternative on TV was the program “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” For many years, Fred Rogers gave free lessons on civility on PBS to children all over America. He had a certain ritual, Fred did, in taking off his coat and shoes when he entered his home set, exchanging the brougham for tennis shoes and coat for cardigan. Since my father never wore sweaters, let alone cardigans, this fascinated me for some reason. But Fred, it must be said, was all about neighborliness. He would chat up his puppet King Friday XIII, inquire of Daniel Striped Tiger’s health, take Lady Elaine’s emotional temperature, or deliver treats to the Mr. McFeely. He never forgot to feed the fish or water the plants. As I awoke this morning, it occurred to me that perhaps Fred Rogers was relevant to this blog post and had been relevant to me as a child. He was, it turns out, a Presbyterian minister.
Last week my Beth Moore bible study on the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22 -23) wrapped up. Beth Moore is a sprite of a woman from Texas who encourages women to get weird for Jesus. (And this is me getting weird for Jesus, right here, just writing this post and am already wondering how many readers will “de-fan” me on Facebook). Although I am Episcopalian and she is Baptist and her hair is way bigger than mine, there is very little in her studies with which I disagree. She is a lover of words and The Word and there is nothing I like better than someone who can pick apart both and open my mind. In any event, the ladies from church and I had a lovely luncheon on the back porch.
For those that don’t know, the fruit of the the Holy Spirit is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Yes, it is singular – one fruit. Through the Holy Spirit we are enabled to not only change our lives but change our present day. It is a here and now prescription for what currently ails us, forcing one to look beyond the self.
An opportunity for testing came last Saturday afternoon when our German neighbor growled through the fence at Thing 2 to turn off his music. Thing 2 had set up his laptop to play music while he practiced kicking his soccer ball, itself an item of contention. Our German neighbors, who appear to be in their sixties, do not have any children. Previously, the German neighbor advised Thing 2 that he would only, just once, return the soccer ball; that in the future he would not perform this service for errant balls accidentally kicked into his yard and for sure not during meal times. We promptly invested in five more balls.
Mr. Understanding, in general, avoids confrontation and so, for the past seven months we have not “engaged” the neighbor, choosing instead to lose the occasional ball. Thing 2 has been the sole point of contact. It’s part of his character building – learning to fend for himself.
But on Saturday afternoon, Mr. Understanding, the soul of patience, could take it no more. (Normally, I’m the one spoiling for a fight, willing to go to the mat over injustices big and small.) He marched next door and rang the bell. I marched right behind him, reminding him out loud to let the Holy Spirit do the talking.
It soon became apparent that the Holy Spirit was not going to run interference for us (and herein might just be the lesson). The music “if you can call it music, to us it’s just noise” became but one item in a long list of ways in which we were bad neighbors, coming, as we did, from a nation of gun toters. There had to be “SILENCIO TOTAL” (total silence) from two to five daily, during siesta time. The best I could do was walk home after the German neighbor’s wife suggested I listen to music on my terrace with head phones on.
“I am going to have a party,” I said, “And I don’t dance at parties with headphones on.”
The neighbor’s wife actually gasped out loud at the prospect of a party.
Walking away? It’s an option. It is as far as the Holy Spirit took me last week. Self-control, baby, self-control. But still, I probably shouldn’t have mentioned the party ….
For his part, Mr. Understanding brokered a deal wherein the German would only address a parent, not Thing 2. Mr. U conceded it is possible that some things get lost in translation, the common language being Spanish, acknowledging that the thirteen year old might not have caught the finer nuances. We will also be checking out that no music rule from two to five – it could be in the neighborhood association rule book that everyone ignores. (But does this mean we have to use silent silverware if we eat on the back porch? No noisy salad servers or ice clinking in glasses?)
As Thing 3 told us so tenderly years ago, “You might have to love your neighbors but that doesn’t mean you have to play with them.” Just pray for them instead. Love them from afar.
My family has been the happy recipient of good neighbors most of our lives, both on US soil and abroad so when I find an actively bad one, it’s rather surprising. Call me naive. Raised in Hippieville, there were, nonetheless, many traditionalists who knew how to send over dinner when needed, throw a baby shower, accompany one on a nasty chore. People to fend for you, to pick you up when you needed dusting off; people for whom you would do the same without a second thought. The value of a good neighbor cannot be understated. Like the fruit of the spirit, they are to be carefully cultivated. Perhaps a seed was sown last week but I am not expecting it to blossom next door. I’ll just have to grow it at home myself, like they do in Hippieville. Oh, and Fred Rogers’ epitaph? “Somebody who cared for his neighbor and his neighbor’s children.” It’s that last bit that gets me.
Q: What is the nicest thing a neighbor has ever done for you?
Today’s post is dedicated to a former neighbor of mine in Brazil, Boston Bean, who turns 50 today. She showed up when I was in the pit and brought all manner of chocolate and one very important pair of flip flops. It is also dedicated to Mrs. Hunt, the eternal good neighbor, and the author of the manual. I think it is fair to say that many girls growing up in Hippieville wanted to be just like her. And how could I forget Mr. Rogers? Many thanks to them and HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY TO ALL.