Love Thy Neighbor
Last night I took my dog on our usual loop through some nearby neighborhoods. Silent streets are eerie yet strangely soothing during the lockdown.
On this particular evening, as I rounded a corner, I came upon a block party. It seemed so foreign— a thing of yesteryear. Children were tagging and chasing each other. Teenagers battled in a fierce game of shirts and skins. Parents sipped cocktails in lawn chairs. People touching. Skin to skin. Bodies bumping against one another. I felt my heartbeat quicken along with my steps.
Then I started to weep.
I wept because as I heard those kids laughing and playing, I knew my fourteen-year-old was home without access to his friends indefinitely. I knew he too would love to be joining in the game. His season ended before it started.
I used the rest of the walk for internal dialogue. I wiped aside sadness for my son and stared into the grief behind my sudden feeling of desperation. My cheeks flushed as anger bubbled to the surface.
Upon returning to my house with tears streaming down my face, my son followed me to the backyard.
“What’s the matter, Mom?”
I told him that I was sad and angry. Angry that people didn’t seem to understand.
“Why do we need to wait until the refrigerated trucks for dead bodies pull into town before we take this situation seriously?”
I looked in his eyes and told him he needed to know what I believed and why I was so passionate about people staying home.
“It’s not about us. You are inconvenienced and missing your usual life, but you are safe. That is more than I can say for the many children experiencing hunger and abuse. Home is not a safe place for some Charlotte residents. Domestic violence complaints are on the rise across the country. Children who would normally have teachers and school counselors to advocate for their safety and report ‘strange bruising,’ are now left to fend for themselves. There are children right here in this city who are not just hungry but scared of danger much more pressing than the threat of a virus.”
I told him that the community college where I teach has students who have lost loved ones to the virus. We are hearing every day from students who have been tested and will not receive results for ten days. The tally grows. There are immigrant families who will not seek medical attention because they fear deportation or arrest. A secret threat spreads through the cracks of our broken system.
I continued to explain how our current situation is a stark reminder of just how connected we all are. I aim to teach him that we can live intentionally. I want him to know that the choices he makes can have an impact on our society at large. The quarantine has given me the chance to put this philosophy into action. It’s time to show, not just tell.
I do not claim to get it all right. I slip up on a daily basis and catch myself doing something that I later call into question. These are unprecedented times. But I know that the virus doesn’t travel - people travel. As a state employee, teacher, coach, mother, wife, daughter, and citizen, I want to know that we did all that we could to help ourselves and all of humanity. When I hear from the brave medical staff putting their lives on the line who beg us all to just stay home so they can work, I hope with all my might that we can do this one thing for them.
The choices we make today that might inconvenience us can literally save lives tomorrow. It is not an “every man for himself” scenario. We are our neighbors’ keeper.
When I finally finished pouring my heart out, my son hugged me.
“Mom, you do know that I haven’t left the house?”
He is my heart walking around outside of my body.
“I know, but I needed you to hear my why. I want us to stay home so that you can start high school and take drivers’ ed and play basketball. I want that child who is hungry and scared to get to go feel safe for eight hours a day with adults who look after her. I want us to heal ourselves and each other. Just because it isn’t happening to us, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”
I threw my arms up in exasperation.
He heard my desperate cries of frustration. He knows his momma’s heart, which I guess is what I really needed. Mother Teresa said if you want to change the world, go home and love your family. Yes, let’s go home to love our family, and let’s stay home to love our neighbor.