Wednesday, November 18, 2009

For Whom the Bell Tolls…

I just heard some disturbing news – a neighbor of ours died of a heart attack several weeks ago. But his death wasn’t the disturbing part, at least not totally. I hardly knew him, probably never exchanged more than half-a-dozen words in the almost three years we lived across the street from his family in our tiny southwest Ohio town. There was no fuss at the house, no gathering of vehicles to mark an assembly of family mourning his passing. I learned of it fourth hand, from a student of my husband’s who used to live in our village. Even the neighbors we do occasionally chat with, however superficially, never mentioned it.

What is so disturbing is our increased isolation, of our loss of community. I remember when I was growing up in Toledo, a much bigger city than where I live now, and I busted out my front teeth falling on the pavement during a game of tag. The neighbor lady three houses down mopped up the blood with her dish towel and all but carried eight-year-old me home. I doubt if I knew her name, but she knew me and took care of me without hesitation. And again probably twenty-five years later, when my son rode his bike into the chain link fence at the end of our street, the entire block turned out in response to his cries, one neighbor corralling the other kids, another picking up the bike while this time I mopped up blood (what would we do without dishtowels?).

Would that happen today? I’m not so sure. We are so sheltered, so busy with our personal crises that we barely take time to learn our neighbors’ names, much less care for them when they need a hand. We’re paranoid, anxious, fearful of strangers – all fueled by non-stop media assaults blaring the horrors of the world into our homes 24/7. And I think we are all the poorer for the separation. It’s much easier to despise the “others,” to call the police on the neighbor’s barking dog rather than make a personal plea, when those faces we see every day don’t have names.

I’d like to offer my condolences to the family, but it’s a bit late now. And I don’t know their names.

Maybe that’s where I need to start…

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