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Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 285.
I learned a sobering and powerful lesson today.
My wife Lisa told me a few days ago that I needed to speak to our neighbor, who I’d never met since we moved in last September. She knows things like that.
Lisa spoke with our neighbor first about a week ago, although she sensed something was wrong earlier. She has so much integrity that she didn’t tell me about her conversation with him, knowing that both he and I had to have our own experience. She only said, “You need to talk with the neighbor across the road.”
When she makes a request like that, I know there’s a lot behind the words.
So today as I rode my bike home from work and began to pull the trash bins from the street curb, I saw our-across-the-street-neighbor lingering in his own driveway and I walked over to him.
All I had to say was “Hi.” After that, he talked for the next 45 minutes. He desperately needed someone to talk to. I soon learned that he’s about 63, and four months ago he was driving with his mother when they had an accident. She didn’t make it. He was hospitalized with serious injuries for a month. while his mother’s body lay in the morgue in the basement of the hospital.
Not. One. Person. Came. To. Visit. The. Entire. Month.
They had emigrated from Serbia and had no one else. As his eyes filled with tears numerous times while he shared, I silently resolved that I will ensure I meet all our neighbors every time we move. I will get to know them. I will check on them. We did that when we first moved to Australia, and then, for some unknown reason, I lapsed in that practice this year. Never again, I promised myself.
I stood there as this man poured out his grief, and just listened.
“I drove carefully,” he said. “We rested properly every hour or two. I asked my mother to wear her seatbelt properly. I didn’t speed. It wasn’t my fault.”
As the tears began to well again, his eyes looked directly into mine, earnestly asking for my belief. “It wasn’t my fault,” he told me as he told himself. Then, once again, he spoke of the loneliness of being trapped in the hospital with no one to care for the body of his mother or help with arrangements or to talk to. I tried to stay present with him compassionately, to listen to and feel his pain and aloneness, yet I was distracted by my accountability, remembering Baha’u’llah’s admonition:
How sad if any man were, in this Day, to rest his heart on the transitory things of this world! Arise, and cling firmly to the Cause of God. Be most loving one to another. Burn away, wholly for the sake of the Well-Beloved, the veil of self with the flame of the undying Fire, and with faces joyous and beaming with light, associate with your neighbor. – Ibid., p. 316.
There can be no doubt that if I simply said “Hi” to this man much earlier, his story could have been different. “I’m going to meet my other neighbors over the next few days,” I promised myself again.
We had one bright moment, though. Towards the end, when my neighbor’s grief had emptied, he asked what I do. I found myself saying a phrase I don’t recall hearing myself say, at least not to another suburban dweller, “I serve healers.”
The man’s face lit up with a smile and he said, “I’m a healer!”
This series of essays comes from Chris Kavelin’s new book Nudges from Grandfather, which can be found on Amazon.
You can also download the audio book.