I’d like to help people. I feel the inner urge to be there for others. And I think big things. Like writing a self-help book full of clever sayings and eternal truths. And then I realize how fake I am: while I nurture heroic ideas in my desires and mind, I don’t even know the name of my immediate neighbors. Today, accidentally, I found out that she had been a nurse. Now a retired, soft-spoken, old woman. Her husband, an ex-soldier, was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. When they learned that C and I were about to buy a parasol for our newly built deck, they offered us their old, unused sunshade (which we accepted, but eventually couldn’t use as it was too old and weary). They live alone in a huge house. The house, which is their son’s, is almost empty. It has many rooms, but in them, the little old couple lives alone. Their children work in New York, and are busy traveling all around the world, making business in China, pursuing prosperity, wealth, economic stability, fulfillment, and happiness. It is understandable: they too have to provide to their own children. But this doesn’t change the fact that their parents, my neighbors, are lonely. They are not totally miserable: they are planning to visit Europe in fall, and Memphis next year. But the comforting sparkles of traveling cannot be compared to the physical-spiritual presence of another human being.
When today we interchanged a few words, they seemed sad. Their life seemed lifeless. Vacuous. Unhappy. Hollow. While they are heading outwards from the world, from life’s buzz, I, the fresh, young, still buzzing neighbor, am vaingloriously harboring heroism in my mind about charity, help, and goodness. But now I think I should start my mission right in my neighbor. Maybe I should prepare something for them, something symbolic, just a few pieces of cake, and take it to their house, and gently ask them how they are, find out their names, and let them open themselves: listen to their old stories about the army, about the nursing in the hospital, about old friends and old memories, about the details of their fading lives. Maybe heroism begins in the neighborhood.
And now what? I feel shy to do so. I feel shy to visit them. Indeed: it’s easier to dream about heroic love and selfless charity than actually do it. Helping others tastes delicious until it is an idea. At the moment when it could become an act, it tastes different. It intimidates. I need to be brave to visit my neighbors, and, by listening to them, bring some color into their lonesome, grey everydays.
How could I possibly love and help people until I don’t even know the name of my immediate neighbor?