Being a Neighbor

A policeman knocked on my front door this afternoon. He came to tell me that a neighbor a few townhouses down from us had apparently committed suicide over the weekend, to ask me a few questions about him.

I wasn't much help to him as I hadn't seen or heard anything unusual, didn't know the man or anything about him really. I knew so little about him that I couldn't remember if he had a dog or a son or if I was thinking of another neighbor I didn't know well either. I had only a hazy image of him in my mind, way too vague for a man I've lived a few feet away from for over four years.

After the policeman left, continuing to work his way around our little court of townhouses, knocking on door after door, I watched him through our kitchen window and allowed myself to feel the horror of it. Sometime this weekend (was it when we were out to dinner with CJ's parents Saturday night? While we were sitting in our basement watching the Olympics? While we slept?), this man had shot himself, and he had died. Just a few houses away from us. He had been alone, and he had decided that his life was no longer worth living. And most likely, we were just a few steps away.

I wish I had talked to him at least once, wish I had tried to get to know his story, wish I hadn't just assumed that he was a man who didn't have time for or interest in me. The reality is I didn't take an interest in him, didn't have time for him. I'm not saying I'm to blame for his suicide in any way, just that it makes me wish I thought of people differently, that I thought of them first instead of myself, didn't assume that if they didn't reach out to me, I shouldn't reach out to them.

I make excuses for myself, tell myself that I don't want to bother people or interfere, but the truth is that I am selfish with my time and energy, that reaching out toward others exhausts me, that sometimes I'd rather just get my kid and my groceries into my house than stop to talk to my neighbor, to really care about him.

But Jesus calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and if i were hurting or lonely or thinking about suicide, I would want someone, anyone, to care, to take initiative, to reach out to me even if I didn't know how to reach out to them. I know this because I've been in dark places, know what it feels like to not know how to even ask for help, know how it is literally life when someone shows they care.

Today I mourn the loss of the neighbor whose name I don't even know, and I grieve the reality of my own selfish heart.