Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
Oh, the awful, terrible-bad sound of it . . . I happened to glance out the office window yesterday afternoon just before the sound and saw R.J. run into the street to pick up his little white dog, Pickles, and wrap her in a white sheet. And then it was there, the sound of her wail. And then my own: “Oh God, Oh Lord, PLEASE help her, please help him, please send them all the help and love you can right now! Not me, no! Oh God, I can’t go over there. I just can’t. I’m shirking my responsibility. I just can’t go!
I ran to the bedroom and turned on the radio as loud as it would go to mask the sound of Pickles’ wail. I kept praying for her and for him, pacing through the house. Then a sudden silence.
Pickles had died quickly.
Then it began again, the awful, terrible-bad sound of it, this time the unending wail at the wall of grief. Fifty-something R.J. sitting in his coveralls, feeling and looking like a little boy, his big heavy mansize shoes down in the ditch-bank, his head in his hands, his soul raw and bare. Then quiet. He lifts up the sheet, looking, I felt, to see if she might actually be breathing and he’d missed it. He had not. And then the wailing.
I moved into my little cottage here in the Mill Village twenty-nine years ago thinking I’d be here for five years. Never dreaming that I would be here long enough to mark the centenary of the house itself in 2015, here we both remain, still standing, albeit a bit creakier. “Oil can! Oil can!” Brilliant green moss is taking over the foundation on the north where my side door and driveway are located. Should I get something done about that??
I’m not writing about my house though. Well, I am, but not this house, not the hundred-year-old one that continues to shelter me in so many ways. I’m getting to that, so hold your horses. Why did I move here from the little house I was living in at Wakefield Farms for $75/month? One could say it was because Hewlett Packard was supposed to develop the property it sat on. One could say it’s because Grandma Ila had died, leaving my daddy just enough money to enable his daughter to put $5,000 down and take out a $21,000 mortgage (oh, to go back to those financial days!)
Or one could say it was because I needed to learn how to love. I needed to learn how to love in the house of my own heart.
Bingo! If that entered your mind I’ll send you my first Publisher’s Clearing House weekly-for-life $5000 check . . .
I had no way of knowing in 1987 (or was it 1986? “Oil can!”) that the reason I came here was to learn how to love. I couldn’t have known that embodying love was The Agenda and that it would take new neighbors in the twenty-third year of my tenure to really bring home to me the expansion message that was to require so much more of my heart to open. I couldn’t have known that it would be so hard to do. Until it wasn’t.
The new folks, a couple and their junior-high son, moved in next door during the hot summer of 2009 or ’10. Eagerly greeting them, I had short-lived hopes for new friends. The neighbors were loud, outside fighters who gave no thought to the impact their public displays had on the neighbors. Day or night, it didn’t matter to them. Midnights of excessively loud music accompanied drinking, drugs, anger, and depression. Suicide attempts and stays in the psych ward. Did I mention the extreme hoarding, both inside and outside? The trash all over the yard? Did I say that this is the first thing clients see when they turn into my driveway and that this is the view from my office and my living room? And my front porch, that outdoor room and sanctuary for three seasons of the year, that place where I write, read, nap, and sleep on summer nights?
During one of those loud music nights I called the police. When they got there I heard R.J.’s wife, Callie, ask, “You mean I can’t play my own music in my own yard? Who called you? Never mind, I know.” And I knew something just had to be done. Somehow it had to be done by me. And so I wrote a letter to Callie. I was going to leave it on her car windshield when I left to go to the chiropractor. In the letter I told her that we need to find a way to make life better for all of us and that I was willing to try to find a solution with her. Would she help, I asked? And then I headed out the side door, letter in hand, only to see that she was on her porch looking in my direction. I flew back in the office door, heart pounding. After about five minutes inside, I went back out and she started down her steps, obviously headed in my direction.
I dropped my big backpack on the ground behind my car, my keys, too, and walked to her, enfolding her in my arms as she said, “I’m so sorry. I know I’m not as good as the rest of y’all . . .”
We talked a while. I offered my open-hearted love and counsel. That night when I got home and went to the porch to check the mail I saw a pewter vase on the steps with yellow roses in it. We had come, Callie and I, to a kind of separate peace. Not much has changed next door, but there is movement. Callie is no longer there and R.J. is trying to make some headway in moving . . . Time will tell.
The wailing, wailing, wailing. “No, God, I can’t go.” I walk out of the house to drive to the museum for a walk while the sun is out, still so distressed by what has happened and is still happening next door. “If I go out the front door R.J. won’t see me,” I tell myself. So that’s what I do. As I get to the driveway, though, I suddenly drop my backpack and my keys and walk to him as he’s walking away from the ditch-bank. He’s gotten on his feet; he’s still talking on his cell phone, still crying. I follow him and walk into him, embrace and hold him as he grabs me, saying to his sister, “Amy’s here. She’s helping me.”
“Oh, R.J., I’m so sorry.” I’m crying with him. “Thank you sweetheart, thank you sweetheart,” he says through his tears, eyes already swollen. ”She was my best friend. She was all that was holding me together. Things aren’t going so good and I’m . . . .”
“I know, I know. I’m so glad she went quickly, though.” Am I saying the right thing here? Then I tell him that I had asked Sophie and Ginger (my cats) to meet Pickles at the Rainbow Bridge and that I know they have done that and that she will be alright. I told him that I counsel people who have lost their animals, say to him, “I’m here for you, J.R., but can’t do it if you’re drinking.” “I know,” he says. “At least she went quickly.” “Yes, that’s a blessing,” I say. “And you’ve still got Buster” (his dog), “and Buster needs you. So don’t go off and shoot yourself, you hear me?” “No, I won’t do that. I’m trying to get things together. I might go to Arizona. A buddy’s offered me a job out there . . . I need to get some of those dumpsters. Then you can get yourself a good neighbor. I need to dig the grave for her.”
While at the museum grounds I lie down under the cedars, thanking them for transmuting my own pain in that moment. I want to bring home some flowers for the grave, but it’s the wrong time of year. I guiltily pull off a small magnolia limb, hoping no one sees the former curator doing this without permission. Back home the grave is nearly finished. “I wanted her little grave to have something for it,” I tell him, “so I brought you this magnolia.” He thanks me again, saying he knows she’s in a better place, the place she deserves to be. “R.J., I’m here for you, and Buster is too; he needs you,” I remind him again as I leave. I come home and call some neighbors to let them know that R.J. could use their support. At some point, after the condolences are complete, we gather in the street and talk about speed bumps and 4-way stop signs . . .
Love thy neighbor as thyself. Opening the heart means learning to love, not so much as the world loves, but as the Love that made the world loves. When we manage that, we at last understand that responsibility is not a burden or a duty, but is about loving Life. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “I am you and you are me. Isn’t it obvious that we inter-are? You cultivate the flower in yourself so that I will be beautiful. I transform the garbage in myself so that you will not suffer. I support you. You support me. I am in this world to offer you peace. You are in this world to offer me joy.”
A somewhat related post can be read at the following address.
© Amy Pierce and In Spiritual Wonder, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Amy Pierce and In Spiritual Wonder with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.