"Hi, Lauren," my husband, Justin, shouted across the street to the sidewalk on the other side of the road. Our neighbor was out for a walk with her dogs, and we were out for a rainy-day stroll, too. Daily fresh air has been a key strategy for me in transitioning into this time of physical distancing and working remotely.
"Hi!" she responded with a big smile. Lauren’s two dogs seemed to smile, too. "I’ll stay over here so we can all stay safe. How are you two?" she asked.
Then, after some brief connecting, she said: "If you ever need anything, just let me know. I can leave it outside your house. I was just checking on another neighbor this morning as well."
Lauren, like all of us, is figuring out what it means to be a good neighbor in safe ways in the midst of a pandemic. We’re all learning, collectively, how to act in compassionate ways as we simultaneously avoid close contact.
The word "neighbor" comes from the Old English words "neah" and "gebur," which translates to "near" and "dweller." These days, neighbor refers not only to the people who live nearby, but also to any fellow human. Many of the world’s sacred texts reference care of neighbor as a special priority of a religious life.
For example, in the Old Testament book of Leviticus, God commands, "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge … but love your neighbor as yourself."
In the New Testament, about that very verse, Jesus is asked by someone in a crowd, "So who specifically is my neighbor?" Then Jesus tells a story about a Samaritan man who helps an injured stranger. Jesus uses that narrative to help people recognize that neighbor doesn’t only refer to a "nearby dweller"; it actually references all humankind.
As we discern how to be good neighbors to one another in southeastern Minnesota during this time, looking back into our community’s recent history may be a beneficial place to start.
In late 2017, the Rochester City Council approved a resolution designating this community as a "City of Compassion." Let’s keep living into that identity!
There were three many focuses expressed through this designation: 1) to honor and support compassionate thought and action already existing in our community, 2) to grow a culture of compassion as a binding force in our community, and 3) to create opportunities for meaningful participation in compassionate actions.
To be a neighbor is to be compassionate. It is to look beyond ourselves and remember the value of the wider community. We are a deeply interconnected species, and compassion is part of the fiber that holds us together (even when we can’t be physically together).
Over the next few weeks, how might you continue to practice physical distancing while also digging more deeply into Rochester’s three focus areas? How might you support compassionate thought and action? How could you take one concrete step toward nurturing a culture of compassion in your household, congregation or neighborhood? How might you engage in a loving action through the use of the phone, mail or video chat?
We aren’t able to be physically connected at this time, but we can still be compassionate neighbors to one another in safe, intentional ways. Explore what this might look like in your life!