Do you know your neighbor?


That’s how neighbors are describing Jared Loughner’s family.

Extremely private people, not the sort to engage. Wayne Smith, who has lived across the street from the Loughner family since 1972, broke the news to Amy and Randy Loughner that their son had been arrested in connection with the Tuscon shooting.

The news devastated the parents. “He’s a mess and she is worse,” Smith said.

But perhaps the most important piece of information that Smith provided us is the revelation that up until the day of the shooting he didn’t know the family’s last name. Didn’t know the name of the neighbor who has lived across the street from him since prior to the birth of the boy who would grow up to kill.

The Washington Post reported that Stephen Woods and his son Anthony live next door to the Loughners and saw the parents or the son walking their dog but they rarely spoke.

“There was times when we’d be out with other neighbor kids, and Jared wouldn’t be allowed out. He’d be watching from the window or door,” said neighbor Rick Dahlstrom. “They all became very isolated. Randy was isolated, Amy wasn’t out anymore. Something changed. They just kept to themselves.”

Welcome to Facebook America where your closest friend lives in cyberspace and the word neighbor no longer indicates anything other than the person who lives nearby.

Oh. Maybe not in your neighborhood. Maybe in your neighborhood you all get together for barbecues and bunco parties. I lived in a neighborhood like that once — back when I was in that trailer on cinder blocks. But the burbs aren’t really like that. Most of us are busily running from one thing to the next. We might speak at the grocery store or at church, but when people are at home, we leave them alone.

A lot of Americans, me included, live in neighborhoods where they don’t know the names of the people right next to them or three doors down.

I sat in church on Sunday, not staring forward, but looking around, actually turning my head to stare across the room at the number of people whose faces I recognize but whose names I don’t know. So I was already feeling ashamed of that when I read the news story of how Wayne Smith didn’t know Randy and Amy Loughner’s last name.

I felt even more disheartened as I read Jeremiah 29: 7 this morning: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile and pray to the Lord on its behalf for in its welfare you will have welfare.”

One of the things that living in this consumer-driven society has done is to persuade us that we would only be happier if… For a lot of people that “if” entails living someplace else.

Some place better.

Behind a wrought-iron gate with a security guard preferably.

A lot of us choose isolation over community time and time again.

Perhaps the most ironic aspects about the shooting is that Jared, a person who has lived nearly his entire life in isolation made his target, Gabriella Giffords,  a woman whose career was devoted to community-building.

We make fun of him but Mr. Rogers taught us a very important lesson, one we’ve completely forgotten: The world is a much friendlier and safer place when everyone speaks to their neighbor.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Well said and convicting. I do know my neighbors, but most of them only in a superficial way. They could be going through extreme difficulties, and I’d be oblivious. From time to time I feel a nudge that I should make intentional effort to get to know them more, but then life sweeps me along in its current and the still small voice falls silent. Stories like this awaken it again.

  • Every now and again we figure out that Jesus actually knew what he was talking about. He didn’t invent loving our neighbors as ourselves. God came up with that right after commanding us to care for creation as though we were the Creator himself. Jesus just held it up right alongside loving God above all as that primary precept’s inseparable counterpart. Funny thing about love, though. We can only love those we actually know and have a relationship with, make a part of our lives. Christians as a class are called to love everybody, but as individuals we can only love a few. ‘Cause we can’t possibly know everybody. Love is not an abstract, general disposition toward. It is concrete, personal and specific. It is person-to-person. That takes face time and ice breaking.

    Last week by chance, I went for a walk which gave me an opportunity to make some chit-chat with two backyard neighbors. I found out why my elderly backyard neighbor Ed had just sold an old Ford pickup that was his baby. He’s being foreclosed unless he can come to terms with the bank. His daughter was making payments for him but no longer can. His son-in-law has advanced brain cancer. Sorta changes things, especially since they are underwater mortgage-wise themselves. Two months ago, Ed’s beloved companion, Blue, a Siberian Husky, finally died. He’s alone. I’m glad now that I raked Ed’s leaves for him last month. I wish now I’d done far more. But now I can. And now I know what to pray for. I probably can’t know or love the people two blocks away. But I can love Ed, a good neighbor. Besides, Jesus said…

    And the neat deal is that we can pray for way more people than we can love. I hope many of you out there will. Thank you!

  • I remember growing up in a small town in Illinois. I knew (and still know) most of my neighbors. But once I was married and moved to the suburbs I rarely knew very much about my neighbors. Now, as I am attending seminary (the same seminary that brought us Mr. Rogers) I hardly know my neighbors down the hall in my dorm. We do so need to be friends with our neighbor.

  • Sometimes the most powerful lessons are the ones we learn during the most difficult trials. Thanks, Karen. This is a powerful lesson.

  • “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Don’t know who said that, but it’s appropriate.

  • John in PDX


    • I knew I should have just googled that before I posted it. Thanks, John.

  • Wonderful post, Karen. It challenged me to reach out to those who are our “neighbors” in the work force or on the walking path. We all need to reach out, to reach beyond ourselves–even if it is something as simple as a smile.
    Thanks again.

  • Even here in the sticks, people are becoming more isolated. I think where once neighbors felt a responsibility to watch over one another, now the sentiment is not to get involved. Let them live their lives and let us live ours. That’s sad, I think. In the end, we all need each other.

    Great post, Karen.

    • Very true! That’s how it’s becoming in our neighborhood trailer park in rural Tennessee.

  • Victoria Kamm

    Your post was excellent. What has struck me the most in all the coverage of the Loughners is the failure of most to understand that YES our children can live in the same house and be involved with things we can’t imagine. If that weren’t true we wouldn’t have our children on drugs, pregnant, truant or planning to run away. How many of us have prayed at night that our kids survive the loser boyfriend, the too mature circle of acquaintances, the peer pressure of drugs? I cannot imagine the horror in praying that my son’s mental illness didn’t result in disaster.

    Here’s the thing – parents become isolated because a) they love their children and hunker down to protect them b)they are judged so harshly that they can’t imagine reaching out.

    So much tragedy to go around…

  • Well said, Karen. Again. Thank you!