Lauren and I met about eight years ago when I was living in California. She was my next-door neighbour and I remember having to introduce myself one sunny day in March because my son Zayd had kicked a ball over the fence into her yard so I went over to politely ask if she could throw it back. That was the day she told me her devastating news. Standing at the front door, she apologized for not having come over to introduce herself earlier. She matter-of-factly explained that her husband, David, had recently been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. In a matter of months, he passed away.
Lauren and I spent a year and a half after David’s death as neighbours. We were both stay-at-home moms so we spent many days going for walks to the park, enjoying long talks and sharing stories about our children. We both had children who were similar in ages and interests so they spent a lot of time playing together.
Strangely enough, as we started planning our move to Canada, Lauren was making arrangements to sell her house and move to a different city a few hours away. After moving to Canada I spoke with Lauren only a couple of times. Many years passed and we lost touch. Then, this past winter I decided to send holiday greeting cards to my non-Muslim friends and I included Lauren and her mother-in-law, Claire (who I had the pleasure of spending time with) among them. A few weeks later, I received a thick envelope from Claire. I found out through Claire’s letter that Lauren married a “very fine man” and they have a new son. Claire also wrote about how grateful she was that my husband, Yusuf and I extended a “warm, friendly hand to Lauren and the boys when they were most needy.”
I find myself reflecting on the lessons we can learn from Lauren’s story. First, as Muslims we hear a lot about how it is our duty to be kind to our neighbours. However, for the first time, I realize how deeply we can make an imprint on one another.
The neighbourly connections we are taught to form are the social bonds that tie us together and make us sisters and brothers in humanity. If our neighbours are not Muslims, they certainly will learn about Islam through our examples. We may be the first Muslims they meet and therefore, they will form impressions about Muslims and Islam depending on the kind of relationship we have with them.
My thoughts drift back to my current neighbours here in Canada. One of them suffers from mental illness and is in the midst of a marital separation. The other next-door neighbour is recovering from a work-related injury which leaves her in constant pain. What will I do?