In large cities where passersby sometimes steal plants from your window boxes within hours of your putting them in, and graffiti is slashed across your new fence before you've even paid for it, there is rich comfort in the spirit of village life that unites many urban neighborhoods - especially mine.
Example: The cashier in the upscale restaurant that also carries fresh-baked pastries. She knows I love their huge raspberry and pear scones, and she keeps one for me every Saturday morning. She knows I'll come - rain or shine - with the exact change and a grateful smile.
Example: The tiny Chinese woman in the dry cleaners. Ask her where you can buy a few feet of elastic, and she'll say, "Nowhere. How much do you want?" And from under the counter she'll produce just the right length, making it clear she'll be offended if you even reach for your wallet. She crowns each year with a simple ceremony in which she presents me with a Chinese gift suitably wrapped for Christmas.
Example: The tireless staff in our branch of the public library who take special delight in getting the book you want faster than the downtown library, which has 100 times the resources and range of books. The gleam of triumph in their eyes lights up the whole street.
Example: The local diner where the whole village comes to breakfast on Saturday mornings. There are just four tables each seating six people, so unless you're in before 9 a.m., expect an hour's wait. But it's "village" waiting - a time to swap business cards, family pictures, and compliments. A time to bond with neighbors and share gardening or computer skills, arrange to borrow a tall ladder, or recommend a DVD.
I call these villagers my family, my support team - and helpful examples of love in action. Nothing is too much trouble for them. They keep me on my toes. They force me to consider how I rate as a neighbor.
The Bible story of a man from Samaria who stops to care for the victim of a violent roadside robbery provides a helpful gauge (see Luke 10:25-37). In the story, even passing clergy ignore the man's plight. This reminds me that lack of caring is all too easy to justify. "He's different." "He was asking for trouble." "I don't have time to stop." But those excuses don't stand up in the face of Jesus' insistence that his followers (and the lawyers who are listening) rate love of their neighbors second only to their love of God.
Jesus' helpful illustration was actually his response to a question: "Who is my neighbor?" And that question stretches my thinking every day in the "village." I'm realizing that my neighbor is anyone of any race, faith, or social background who is in need. Also, that love means seeing what is really best for that person, and doing everything possible to help him or her achieve it.
Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy wrote: "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."
And where does the strength come from? you might ask. Mrs. Eddy continued: "Love giveth to the least spiritual idea might, immortality, and goodness, which shine through all as the blossom shines through the bud" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 518).
With that strong and plentiful supply of love, there are definitely no excuses for halfhearted gestures. Vibrant villages - populated as they always are by other "spiritual ideas" - need our compassionate involvement in local activities and our readiness to help care for other villagers.
I recall a man who passed me in the street one moonlit evening this past summer. He was singing loudly and tunefully to himself - until he spotted me. "Good evening," he said with a touch of embarrassment. Then, in explanation, "I like to be happy. What about you?" And on he went, singing just as enthusiastically as before. Clearly, he had joy in his heart, and he just had to share it with someone.
Yes, the intimate neighborliness of village life, in all its informality, variety, unexpectedness, and delight, can be recreated wherever you are, even in a big city, especially when you know that its source is love - and Love is God.
For all the law is fulfilled in one word,
even in this;
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.