It is Dangerous and Costly to be a Neighbor

My UCC colleague Christine Smith, who teaches at United Seminary, tells the story of a friend named Kay. Kay was walking the streets of New York City one day with her lunch in hand when she passed a woman rummaging in the trashcan. After she passed, Kay paused and turned back to ask the woman, “Would you like my lunch?” The woman looked up and said, “No, thank you, I’ve already eaten.” Kay began to walk on and then turned for a moment to look once more at the woman.

When the rummaging woman saw Kay still there, she asked, “Do you need me to eat your lunch?”

Kay paused, and then said, “Yes.”

It is painfully hard for many of us to accept that the Good Samaritan in our lives might be a homeless woman, someone we feel is in an inferior place, or perhaps a person who disturbs us or makes us uncomfortable.

Robert Wuthnow, a professor at Princeton, conducted research about why some people are generous and compassionate, while others are not. He found that many compassionate people had had something painful happen to them and experienced someone that had acted with compassion toward them. This experience of receiving help transformed their lives.

Jack Casey is a rescue squad worker, who had little reason to be a Good Samaritan. He was raised in a tough alcoholic home. Jack once said, “All my father ever taught me is that I didn’t want to grow up to be like him.”

Something happened to Jack when he was a child, though. He was having surgery, and was frightened. A surgical nurse held his hand, reassuring him. “Don’t worry Jack; I’ll be right beside you no matter what.” When Jack awoke hours later, there she was, holding his hand.

Now a paramedic, Jack was sent to the scene of a traffic accident. A man was pinned upside down in his pickup truck, and Jack was trying to get him out of the wreckage. Gasoline was running down, soaking both of them.

Other rescuers were trying to cut the metal, and one spark would have caused both men go up in flames. The driver was crying about how afraid he was of dying. Jack remembered what had happened to him long ago, and said, “Look, I’m right here for you no matter what.”

Days later, the rescued truck driver stopped by the firehouse to thank Jack and said, “You know, you were an idiot. The thing could have exploded and we both might have died!”

Jack said, “I know, but, if I had left you, something inside of me would have died.”

It is dangerous and costly to be a neighbor.

by Michael Piazza
Co-Executive Director
The Center for Progressive Renewal


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