Who is my neighbor in lockdown?

Love; it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be

There is a design, an alignment, a cry
Of my heart to see
The beauty of love as it was made to be

“Ah,” said the lawyer, wanting to win the point, “but who is my neighbor?”

IMG_20200407_212609 (1)Last night I was asked to donate blood. Here when someone needs a transfusion they have to find people willing to give blood in exchange for the blood they will receive. Ours being a community where most people are malnourished, ill, or wary of hospitals, able donors can be tough to locate. So a blood donation can be a life-saver to that person right in front of you.

My heart sighed on hearing the request. Donating blood in a country with shady medical standards always makes me nervous. This time in particular the blood loss may depress my immune system in the middle of a pandemic. And I didn’t want to have to go to the hospital where our coronavirus victims are being treated (though in a different building).

Despite the internal reluctance I knew there was zero chance I would say no. A life was at stake. I’m the biggest, healthiest person available so whoever they found to take my place would be at greater risk than me. To deny the request would be to say that I valued my own little fears more than my neighbors’ more serious concerns – that I had failed to love my neighbor as myself.

So tie me to a post and block my ears
I can see widows and orphans through my tears
I know my call despite my faults
And despite my growing fears

But I will hold on hope

 


That incident reminded me of another several weeks ago, when an online American friend asked a question about homeless persons in his community. He had realized that when certain restaurants and services closed, many of the most desperate could lose their sources of sustenance. The concerns he expressed were both for their needs and for fear of what they might do to meet their needs.

Many responses were disheartening. Perhaps a dozen people encouraged him to buy a gun. Several others focused on security systems. A couple of responses compared homeless persons to animals and suggested they be treated as such.

But more than a few people thought that the key was to help make sure that their needs would be met. They talked about food distribution, having kids make sandwiches, spreading the wealth. Several friends humanized his homeless neighbors.

To act on our fears and separate, or to act on our love and come together. This has been a dilemma long before coronavirus, hasn’t it? Every day we decide whether we will respond to life with greater isolation, driven by the assumptions that scare us, or whether we will respond with greater openness and trust in God, driven by the hopes that empower us.

We will all exit this life one day. There is no escape from the inevitable. Those who try to save their life will lose it, as Jesus said. What we have control over is how we make use of the time.

In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
And where you invest your love, you invest your life
In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
And where you invest your love, you invest your life

Awake my soul
Awake my soul
Awake my soul
For you were made to meet your maker

 


Now in our third week of lockdown, the only day I’ve broken it for any length of time was for a food distribution. My friends had been distributing from the beginning, while I had been focused on my own family. Outside of making sure my teachers were taken care of and helping a couple poor households I had done close to nothing.

When I realized that one of the slums we taught in would be vulnerable to lack of income and higher food prices, I set about organizing a relief effort. My friends immediately agreed (they were already doing the same thing everywhere they could) and had the logistics worked out. My main contribution was just the vision to help these particular 140 families.

DownloadsTwo of my teammates, one of my teachers, a foreigner friend with a car, numerous kids and adults from the slum itself, and several of the slum’s well-off neighbors came together to distribute 3,000 pounds of dry goods, 300 pounds of fresh fruit, and a small amount of cash. The day was relatively effortless, with so many people helping in so many different ways that I never felt stretched or burdened.

The most striking aspect was seeing how many others had the same idea as us. We found that the neighbors helping our efforts had done their own smaller dry goods distribution earlier in the lockdown. Around noon someone from another community drove by in a food cart with hot meals for free, and later a truck pulled up with snacks. We spoke to a man who was interested in making a similar contribution and directed him to a nearby slum which had needy persons who we hadn’t been able to help.

When our distribution was over I walked home down empty streets in the fading light of dusk. As I approached a homeless man leaning against a wall, a car stopped just past him. The driver got out with a package of food to share. Further on I passed a hospital and saw a car with the trunk open and boxes of sweets being handed out to families of patients.

It struck me that virtually everyone I saw was in some way helping someone else. Even back in our our own, slightly more well-off slum, 99% of the neighbors we spoke to seemed more concerned with others who were worse off than themselves than they were with their own situation.

For there was no needy person among them, since any who possessed lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sale, and placed it at the feet of the apostles, who then gave to each according to their need.

 


I’ve felt for some time that our world was moving towards a sort of dystopia. You would think the pandemic would only strengthen that impression. Corrupt and ill-hearted world leaders are acting even more corrupt and ill-hearted, the poorest and most marginalized are suffering even more than everyone else, and fear, lies, hoarding, and self-centeredness are displayed with ugly prominence.

Yet as I walked through those empty streets, breathing in cleaner air under a clearer night sky, I was moved to glimpse something different. How precious was it that despite their own reduced income and fears of disease, every person out on the streets was there because they were trying to love their neighbor? Does the gravity of the situation help some of us, little by little, to let go of our fears and do what we can to help each other?

Don’t store up treasure on Earth. Don’t worry about ‘What’ll we eat?’ and ‘What’ll we drink?’ and ‘What’ll we wear?’ I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was sick and you looked after me. Love your neighbor as yourself.

But, as the lawyer asked, who is our neighbor?

“Which of those do you think turned out to be neighbor of the family hard-pressed by pandemic and lockdown?”

“The one who showed mercy on them,” came the reply.

“Well,” Jesus said to us, “you go and do the same.”

It’s there for you and I to take up, right now.

You can turn to your fear, buy that gun, hoard that food, protect your own health, and hunker down separate from your neighbor. Or you can trust in hope and open your hand to the needy, knowing that we all get through this together or we will all struggle to get through it at all.

And there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.

And now I cling to what I knew
I saw exactly what was true
But oh no more.
That’s why I hold,
That’s why I hold with all I have.
That’s why I hold.

Biblical passages are Luke 10:29, Acts 4:32-35, and Luke 10:36-37 (the last with slight modifications).

The paragraph of Jesus-quotes are Matthew 6:19, 6:31, 25:35-36, and 19:19.

Lyrics are from “Sigh No More“, “The Cave“, “Awake My Soul“, and “After the Storm“, by Mumford & Sons.

 

5 thoughts on “Who is my neighbor in lockdown?

  1. Lauren Daehnke

    It is so nice to read something so uplifting and positive in this difficult time. Wonderful post.  Also, I am so proud of you for giving blood.

    Like

  2. Mark Delaney

    Yet again the poor show us the way in generosity and willing to love thy neighbour.
    One of the most positive posts I’ve read from you for a while stranger. Beautifully hope-giving.
    Thank you!

    Like

  3. rach

    Once more, the poor are teaching us about truth and love. They might be Hindu or Moslem or ?? May we be teachable!
    Thanks!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s