Faith Meets Life: Touching neighbours

In the 2001 movie, Life As A House, things get off to a rough start. Sam's Dad lives in a seaside shack beside million dollar homes. A male neighbour doesn't like where his dog pees. A female neighbour doesn't like where he pees.

Mom is remarried. The step-dad is type-A, white shirt and tie all the way. Sam is a suicidal, anti-social high school student who wears, in the very definite opinion of step-dad, too much eye shadow.

Back to Dad. He's laid off from the architectural company for which he has worked for decades. The scene is not pretty. He and his supervisor go their separate ways amidst several well-chosen four-letter words. Five minutes further into the movie he's in the hospital with a terminal illness. (I would have issued a spoiler alert but so far we are only a few minutes into the plot.) A nurse gives him a calming caress. He says, “I haven't been touched in 20 years.”

In the neighbourhood where I live, things are different. My wife just got off the phone with Jane (not her real name). Jane is a niece of our neighbour, Anne (not her real name). Anne's husband died a year ago. Her son died eight months later. She has no other children except another son who was killed in the 1970s. Today she lives alone, with Jane visiting often to keep her company. We called Jane to see if Anne is OK because we're in the middle of a power outage. If it goes on much longer Anne may come over to stay warm. We have a wood stove, Anne doesn't.

Nowadays, when it snows, Anne's driveway mysteriously gets cleaned. Sometimes a snow blower is used. We suspect the couple across the street. The young mother there also happens to be our dentist. But it could be the teenage children on the other side of Anne's house. When the snow is really heavy, John, another neighbour will attack her driveway with his Bobcat.

Every one or two years, the people in our subdivision get together for an outdoor party. The adults, kids and teens mingle.

When Anne's husband died a year ago, a lot of neighbours were at the funeral, which I led. Same for the death of her son. As neighbours we were able to pray together and read the story of the resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ. We asked for the love of God to surround, both the departed and those of us who remain. We prayed for each other, and to be there for our relatives and neighbours.

Living in our neighbourhood these past five or six years has been a journey for me, a spiritual journey of community and care. It's not a perfect neighbourhood. The high school, which we can see through the trees, was on national news last spring because of a bomb scare. Residents are annoyed because there's too much parking on the streets.

But all things considered, it's a good neighbourhood. There is no shortage of touch here - the ordinary hand-shaking-and-occasional-hug kind, and the verbal encouragement variety. I wish all were fortunate enough to live in a neighbourhood where people try to look out for each other, and where, when the going is hard, prayers and friendship are part of the mix.

What's going on with your neighbours, in your residence, in your shared house or apartment or on your block? As they saying goes, “reach out and touch” when the opportunity is there. If you can, pray for your neighbours. Be there for each other when the chips are down. You will probably not be sorry you found ways to touch the people journeying beside you.

Michael Veenema was a chaplain at Fanshawe until 2004. He continues to write for the Interrobang.

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