A Reflection: Love Thy Neighbor

 Muslim History Detective’s log, 05/3/13

“History is all around us,” I once wrote, “and we are all historians.”

“The creative ways we choose to preserve history can be used as a catalyst for building community across seemingly intractable divides and as a means to help us grow in our own humanity for the betterment of human interests.”

I was on my way to the bus stop to pick up my daughter on Tuesday, when I saw men bringing a stretcher out of my elderly neighbor’s house. On it was a body covered from head to toe by a velvet, royal blue cloth. Truly a brilliant hue of blue, my mind fixated on it for a second as my heart rejected what the mind already knew: my neighbor had passed away.

The full realization of this was confirmed by the presence of a police car nearby, with an officer inside taking notes, finally making it into my line of sight. Truthfully, the officer and the car were always in my line of sight but the mind sees what the mind wants to see until one is ready to really take traumatizing situations in completely.

I heard high school kids nearby discussing that “the old lady” had a heart attack.

I immediately said a prayer for her.

Today is Friday, and I still feel a bit of sadness every time I pass her house on the way to drop off and pick up my children from their bus stops.

For years, I had stood directly across from her house in the early weekday mornings and afternoons with my then toddlers when their bus stop was located there. A new mom, with children with special needs, and no other family (beyond my husband of course) or friends in the area, I always felt awkward standing on that corner. If you know anything about children with special needs, you know that (for many of them) you need to be able to control their environment as much as possible. Standing on the corner, or even making it to the corner, with loud noises and cars zooming by, is far from a controlled environment.

I can laugh about it now. But it wasn’t funny then.

Though I never knew my elderly neighbor’s name, she made it easier for me to stand on that corner because she always had a kind word, a warm smile, or a hearty wave depending on what she was doing outside, in her front yard, on any given day when I was also out there.

If someone asked me what I knew about her, I would say that she knew how to make people feel welcome–based on how she treated me. I would say that she loved Christianity–based on the big cross on her front door. I would say that even though she seemed to be about 80, she was far from sedentary given how she was always out manicuring her lawn, bending, kneeling, and raking, and the like. And I would declare that she was dainty, always nicely made up with her hair piled on top of her head. In fact, she reminded me of the character Lila Quartermaine from General Hospital.

These are some of the things I observed about her over the years.

Today I found her obituary online and learned that she was a flag twirler in high school.  Perhaps that is where the daintiness first made its debut. I also learned that she was a former school bus driver.  Perhaps she knew just how awkward I felt standing on that corner after all. She had also been a property manager at numerous locations until about 2003. That pretty much explains why she refused to let her own property go to the dogs, even at her advanced age! The obituary also named the church she attended and donations were requested to go to the Christian school run by her church, in lieu of flowers. So indeed, she loved her faith and backed it up with good works.

Doesn’t that make you wonder how much what people observe about you will match up with the reality of your history once you are gone?

The most important thing I learned from my neighbor’s obituary was that she will be surrounded by loving family at her funeral.

I think I can stop being so sad passing her house every day because, to tell you the truth, that is what has really been bothering me ever since seeing that stretcher with her body covered by a royal blue cloth. I was worried that maybe no one in her family knew she was gone.

In my moments of worry, I wished that we had gone a bit further as neighbors and gotten to know each other a bit better. Then I could have at least contacted her family to be sure they knew. I am so relieved and happy to know she is loved.

The Bible says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Well, my neighbor definitely lived up to this commandment, at least in how she treated me with a kind smile on many a day.

In Islam, a kind smile is considered a form of charity. And her charity is a gift to me that continues to give.

I pray she rests in peace.


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