When my wife and I lived in the big city, we both worked long hours. We joked that we only saw our house in daylight on weekends. We rarely saw our neighbors, either.
It's been easier living in a small town. We were soon on a first-name basis with even distant neighbors. Around here, all that's needed is a meeting place (the post office, complete with a socially gifted postmaster) and some not-so-minor victories over shyness.
Even before our move, though, we knew that real neighborliness is something beyond basic kindness. The work of being a good neighbor is more mental than social. It's more about how we see the people next-door than how often we see them for dinner.
The practice of neighborliness is really subject to the same discipline that applies to cultivating an inner spiritual life.
Say you're already investing time each day to pray or to meditate. To quiet thought, to simplify, to purify, to listen for the creator's voice. In communing with the infinite, we grasp who we truly are a little better, see our innate spiritual makeup and goodness a little more. We feel loved by God. And that has profound effects on both mind and body. We shouldn't be surprised to find ourselves thinking more clearly. Feeling better, sleeping better. To find self-destructive habits dropping away, discarded like worn-out shoes.
But all you have to do is think about that meeting last night, or glance at a newspaper headline, or turn on the TV, or overhear two neighbors arguing - whatever. And there it is - wretched humanity. Why care about neighbors when you can get a better return on investing in your own well-being?
Could it be because happiness in this world actually depends on the welfare of all within the circle of your own thought? And on how big that circle is? There is, in fact, a spiritual law of happiness. It is in five words: "Love thy neighbour as thyself" (Mark 12:31).
When he was asked "And who is my neighbour?" Jesus answered with a story: A man is robbed and left injured. Travelers on the road (who would have seemed worthy to those in Jesus' audience) pass by with only curious looks at the sad scene. One (who would have been seen as an outcast) stops, nurses the man, and goes the distance to ensure his continued care and comfort.
We can't pick the part of a spiritual law that feels good and ignore the rest. We can't love our own spiritual nature and think of others as bereft of a lovable nature. Even if what they do or say appears to violate that nature, they are still God's. Therefore this law compels in us a search for the good in others. It's a search that's equal to the search for our own spiritual worth.
A few weeks ago, my local newspaper reported the following incident: Two men pulled into a service station. One of them handed the station owner $100 and asked him to do whatever he could to fix a minivan that was along the road a few miles away. He said he would be back to settle up if the repairs cost more. A woman and her children were stranded with the vehicle. They had no way to get home, and no money.
The two men had learned that the woman had lived in the area only a short time. She didn't know her neighbors. She had no one else to turn to. But she did have good neighbors. Two men who, by conscious compassion or spontaneous commission, acted as "good Samaritans."
When the human need is felt, the heart of a neighbor cannot do otherwise. Perhaps that's why you're reading this newspaper today. Somewhere, someone - a neighborhood mentioned in a story, a people under siege, some individual lost in hatred or fear - needs the blessing of your care. Needs to feel what you discern of their true nature as God's good creation. Kin to your own spiritual selfhood.
The mission that the Monitor's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, gave to the paper - "To injure no man, but to bless all mankind" - fully extends to readers, as well as to writers and editors. It makes a wonderful good neighbor policy.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society