Many cultures and faiths hail loving our neighbor as fundamental to a life well-lived- our neighborliness is seen as a mark of our goodness. But in the hustle of our modern life and the isolation that our individuality and now COVID has increased, maybe it is in our collective best interest to reimagine how we love each other well, returning to that ancient question of who our neighbor might be and what our responsibility to love them really looks like.
Recently I was reading "All About Love" in which the author, bell hooks, considers definitions of love, bemoaning the fact that a word with so many meanings often becomes meaningless in the public sphere as there is no common, agreed upon definition. She is particularly drawn to Erich Fromm's summation of love as "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." Similarly, pointing to the idea of love as an action requiring something of you, Desmond Tutu said, "We tend to think love is a feeling, but it is not. Love is an action; love is something we do for others."
I have found myself more cocooned than normal after an adoption year, followed by a global pandemic. I leaned into reminders like Mother Theresa’s, “Want to love the world? Go home and love your family” and have been wrestling with what boundaries we need as we seek to serve and show up for others without burning out. I don’t know about you but I am less inconvenienced by others today than I was 2 years ago, and although that might feel comfortable, I don’t know that it’s a good thing.
Generosity and neighborly love look like giving not just out of our plenty, but with a heart that is courageous enough to lean away from the fear of scarcity, to give even when it feels like we don’t have enough. A “longer tables not higher fences” kind of living.
Am I willing to help a new neighbor who is homebound due to lack of transportation go to a grocery store on a Saturday afternoon?
Am I willing to navigate COVID safe interactions while inviting someone who is isolated with no social circle, into my home? Are there times where we bend so that someone else doesn’t break?
Am I aware, with ears and eyes open to the people in my proximity who could use an extra gesture of care, whether that be words, an invitation, or a meal delivered.
Am I open to loving a neighbor who I might have conceived of as an enemy? Am I able to receive the gift of a neighbor’s care or service and not pretend that I can do it all on my own, that I actually do need help? Can I even ask for it?
Have you been welcomed in, been given a meal in a busy week, received an encouraging word that was sweeter than honey, or simply exchanged a smile with a stranger that left you feeling seen and that the world is a little smaller? We can be this gift to each other through the profoundly simple act of being a neighbor. By being someone who is willing to extend themselves for another person’s growth and flourishing, believing that through our interconnectedness, our neighbor’s wellbeing is essential to our own.
As we sink our roots deep into community together, may our kindness, gentleness, and love be the nourishment our community needs to stand tall and thrive together.