Loving your Neighbor

I grew up in the Christian tradition and we talk a lot about the idea of “loving your neighbor.”  If you are Jewish or Buddhist or Muslim or not religiously affiliated I know we all have a similar idea, just with different words.

It’s this idea that we are – to use another Judeo-Christian phrase – are our brothers (and sisters) keepers, that we have some responsibility to one another as members of the same human family. 

We have that responsibility to our immediate circles, yes – to our parents and children and siblings and cousins, those related by blood. Also to our chosen family, the dear friends we love and have built deep relationships with. We also have a responsibility to our communities – to the people we don’t know intimately but live in our neighborhoods and cities and towns.  And zooming out further – to the whole human family. Glennon Doyle has this great saying – “There is no such thing as other people’s children” – and that is so true.  There is no such thing as someone else’s friend or grandpa or elderly neighbor. We belong to each other. We are all connected in undeniable ways.

Well this sure seems like a poignant time to be reminded of that.  

To be reminded that we are literally dependent on one another for survival – that I as an individual need the doctors and nurses to keep providing healthcare and the grocery store shelf stockers and clerks to keep stocking and selling me groceries.  I need the garbage collectors to keep rattling down my street collecting my trash to keep us healthy and keep society going. I’ve never been more aware of our interdependence and reliance on each other than in this surreal moment we’re all navigating together – it’s beautiful and terrifying.

There are so many thoughts swirling around my head about this time we’re living in – one is that this is in many ways a test of our individual and collective moral compass.  Will we as individuals make sacrifices – of choices, freedom, weddings, graduations, long-planned family vacations – for the good of people we may never meet?

In The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver (a fantastic book if anyone is making a #quarantinereads list) she retells a Native American folktale about the difference between Heaven and Hell. 

In Hell, there is a circle of people sitting packed closely together (clearly in a pre #socialdistancing era), so tightly they can barely move their arms. There is a large pot of stew in the middle of the circle, and everyone is starving – they have long spoons to reach the stew, but they can’t move their arms enough to get the spoons back to feed themselves.  They are starving and they can’t eat, tortured for all eternity.

In Heaven, there is the same tightly packed circle, the same stew, the same awkward wooden spoons.  And yet. And yet in this circle everyone uses their spoon to feed the person across from them. Everyone is feeding each other – and being fed by one another – and no one is starving. It’s not torture, it’s a feast – a community celebration.

I was talking to a dear friend the other night (yay for Quarantine FaceTime dates!) who lost her mom to cancer when she was 16.  She was telling me about a conversation with another friend who also lost a parent at a young age, and his perspective on social distancing is that he knows what it’s like to lose someone you love in a way you have no control over, so he was on board the social distancing train from the start.

I hadn’t made that connection, but yep, that is true.  When you know what it’s like to lose someone you love – to cancer or a heart attack or a car crash – and someone tells you “hey there is actually something you can do to help minimize the likelihood that another human being will experience such a devastating loss” – sign me up.  

I want to acknowledge that the losses are real – there is an entire cohort of young adults who aren’t going to get to experience their high school or college graduation. There are couples who have planned and saved for their weddings who aren’t going to have them. There are people who were about to make a career change or embark on the trip of a lifetime or buy a house or try to get pregnant and now life is so uncertain – it feels like our collective hopes and dreams and futures and plans are on pause.  

The day to day is hard too – I am an extrovert who loves to hug, I’m not loving this situation. I get it, I really do.

That’s the thing, though, about love – real love requires sacrifice.  Think of every great love story – the love between a couple, the love of a parent for their child, the love of two lifelong friends.  True love – the kind that taps into our deepest hopes and dreams as human beings, into our souls and hearts and spirits – is the kind that lays down its life for one another.

We are in a unique moment.  I can’t protect my 70 year old mom or my pregnant cousin or my precious asthmatic five year old nephew or my immunocompromised friends on my own. But you can. And it is my joy and my honor to get to help protect the people you love.

The most loving, sacrificial, heroic thing we can all do right now is to stay home, stay safe (#washthosehands!), stay vigilant and recognize now more than ever that we belong to each other. It is terrifying, yes, and holy freaking crap it is beautiful.

This weekend I have big plans for some quality FaceTime dates with friends I haven’t connected with in way too long, a long 6-feet-apart run to the Ocean and to whip up a #quarantinecake. I’ve got a homemade Funfetti cake planned, because if ever there were a time to celebrate the sweet gift of life, it’s now.

Stay safe, friends. Grateful for you all.

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1 Comment

  1. Whole country: read this! Better yet…whole world: read this! (and do it). Thank you, Mary for contributing to the way we all can help.

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