Thankful for Amazing Neighbor Love
This is is my neighbor, Reyna. She is a tough and beautiful lady of proud Puerto Rican descent. Reyna lives in the apartment building behind me and we met in our shared city alley. Yesterday she came over to my house with her walker ( she calls it her car, can you see her rearview mirror? : ) ) simply to wish my family a Happy Thanksgiving. She is definitely one of my favorite humans in my diverse city neighborhood. Reyna exudes kindness and the humility that comes with surviving both a tough life and the perils that health issues can hand all of us. Yet, her community spirit and love of people surpasses all of her most challenging days.
She reminds me of the childhood communal warmth that I felt growing up in a more rural area. My mom nurtured a deep small town community bond within our family and I knew every neighbor on our block. We somehow lived and worked out everyday life "with" one another. Each of our neighborhood families seemed anywhere from two to four generations out from "fleeing or seeking" a U.S. life as immigrants, becoming citizens; and, most income skillsets were predominately based around hard work with your hands. Yet, as I reminisce, the one thing that we did not have was extreme cultural diversity. We had socio-economic class diversity, as we all knew who was rich and poor; but, all town residents were pretty much homogenous “white”, conforming to prevailing "top-down" patriarchal, patriotic ways. That also somewhat meant that you were being “good” American citizens. That description even now seems to fit some current prevailing American "norms".
For me, my rural upbringing was both highly nurturing and somewhat boring. I was a creative, curious child and I would always ask my mom why we "Had To" do something. Her response was usually, “because They Say So”. My response, “Who are They?”. Conforming to those community “dominant norms” still seems to be at the center of most human lifestyles, yet so many of our tribal ways tend to greatly differ in our large country. As a nation, we have received immigrants with their accompanying heritage gift-ways from every corner of the world. All of these differing heritage stories added with our vast geographical differences have shaped our country into a huge, highly varied nation with a lot of different ways of doing community life.
Yet, even with all of our diversity, we still have a predominately two party government “system”. A system that seems to force all of us to choose between rigid order or creativity (at least, that’s how I view it). And, those two political system ways, which both have some great qualities, have now lead us deep into a prevailing “binary” mindset conundrum (meaning life and all of its choices has to lean either one of two ways...What? ). How did we get to that? And, how do we now find the words and ways to craft life-giving conversations with those who might not see the world just like us... to get out of "polarization"? To me, it seems reframing our view of Neighbor Love could be part of the answer.
I absolutely love my Chicago neighborhood lifestyle and taking the time to talk and learn "with" my very diverse neighbors. I’m still a very curious person! However, I'm now old enough to also know just how much I really do not know; and, my neighbor's stories are fascinating!! These neighbors continue to teach me so much about the beautiful ways and struggles of so many different American people groups unlike my own. Though, I must also clarify that my neighborhood would not necessarily be called “safe” by my rural hometown standards, nor many suburban comfort standards. Yet, I have learned some of my richest lessons through experiencing some uncomfortable time with others not like myself. I now see that this type of discomfort is a necessary life “rub” to keep my heart attached to my head. I am also old enough to clearly see that experiencing whatever your preferred level of comfort or prosperity “success” might be does not necessarily lead you to an understanding of others who have had to struggle through life in very different ways. For me, that depth of understanding has given me a posture of choosing to honor the God-given dignity of all human beings that do not have my shared life values (well, on my good days, as I still make lots of mistakes... continuing to learn : ) ). And, That is my definition of Neighbor Love.
Community Neighbor Love was instilled within me by my beloved small town folks... Yet, after living the second half of my life in my urban inner city digs, well, let’s just say that I have also learned the beauty of a very different type of Neighbor Love for those who are not just like me.
Honestly, who else now has neighbors like Reyna? Neighbors that knock on your door to tell you how thankful they are to have you as a neighbor and that they love you?