AS a child I had few friends my own age. I loved to read and especially liked poetry. One of my favorite poems was by Sam Walter Foss, "The House by the Side of the Road." The concluding lines read: "Let me live in my house by the side of the road / And be a friend to man." How satisfying that sounded to me then. How complicated that seems now.
For many people, it may be hard to imagine a "house by the side of the road." Today, it might be a condominium or high-rise overlooking the cloverleaf of a freeway. In an age of rapid mobility, one often doesn't even know one's neighbor, let alone become his or her friend.
Who is your neighbor anyway? This was the question put to Christ Jesus when he counseled a young man to love "thy neighbour as thyself" (see Luke 10:25-27). Next Jesus related the story of the good Samaritan, a man who stopped to befriend a poor citizen who had been robbed, beaten, and left for dead. The Samaritan didn't ask what the man was doing on a lonely road that was notorious as a hangout for villains and robbers. We don't even know why the Samaritan was there himself. But, as the story goes, the Samaritan was able to assist someone in need, and the parable provides an object lesson in being the kind of friend Sam Walter Foss might have been writing of. Isn't this kind of friend what a neighbor is, too?
A good neighbor comes to your aid in time of trouble, rejoices with you over the good in your life, and senses your real need in difficult times. Being a good neighbor is portrayed this way by Mary Baker Eddy in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: "The rich in spirit help the poor in one grand brotherhood, all having the same Principle, or Father; and blessed is that man who seeth his brother's need and supplieth it, seeking his own in another's good" (p. 518).
And what is one's deepest need? I think it's to know his or her own worth and true, spiritual identity. We can find answers in the first chapter of the Bible as to what this identity is. We are told we were created in the "image and likeness" of God. It is by learning more of what God is that you and I can find this identity for ourselves. In answer to the question in Science and Health "What is God?" Mrs. Eddy, who was the Discoverer of Christian Science, wrote of Him as ". . . incorporeal, divine, supreme, infinite Mind, Spirit, Soul, Principle, Life, Truth, Love" (p. 465). These words describe God's nature. If so, God's image and likeness must partake of these same qualities. We can know, then, that we include truthfulness, kindness, justice, and integrity. We include patience with ourselves, even when we fail to measure up. We include forgiveness of others when they fall short of our legitimate expectations.
I have found that endeavoring to express such qualities myself, and to look for them in others, keeps me in the activity of loving my neighbor as myself. Recently, I found this effective in maintaining good relations with my own next-door neighbor.
Early one morning she called. She was upset and complaining about some limbs of my trees overhanging her property. I was saddened, because in our neighborhood we have always helped one another. This particular person had always been very helpful in watching over my place when I was away.
I decided to pray for a peaceful resolution. I remembered that my spiritual identity included innocence, and that my neighbor's nature as God's image must be kind, generous, and not vengeful. In praying, I remembered she had a new granddaughter. So I bought a small gift for the baby and took it by. During the conversation that took place, an acceptable and unexpected solution to the problem came to light. My neighbor was satisfied, and we still remain friends.
So who is your neighbor and friend? It may be the person who lives next door or a member of your own household, or it may be a man, woman, or child halfway around the world. It's anyone who comes to your thought. And when you remember we are all children of the one God, you have the basis for establishing a good relationship with anyone.
We know our neighbors as we know ourselves-as the reflection of God. This is being a true friend to man.