My neighbor died last week.
He was quite old and lived out his days alone in the house across the street from us. We waved when he checked his mail or mowed his lawn. We watched him leave for church half an hour before us on Sundays. We could see him through the front window each night, sitting in his recliner and watching television.
But my knowledge of who he was ends right there.
Because here is the shameful truth: we lived parallel lives for nearly three years, and I never introduced myself.
I don’t know his first name. I don’t know if he had any extended family. I don’t know what he did for a living in his younger days, or what his hobbies may have been when he was more mobile.
I don’t know what was most important to him, what brought him joy, or if he felt overwhelmingly lonely sitting in that quiet little house every night.
And I’m so ashamed.
I had great intentions when we first bought our house, thinking I would bake something delicious and take it over to meet him. But the busy schedule turned into life with a newborn, which became life with a toddler, and somehow it never made it to the top of the priority list.
I was so wrapped up in my own little bubble that I ignored the man across the street who seemed to have absolutely nobody who cared about him.
That is not the example I want to set for my children.
I want my kids to know how to love their neighbors, even if it’s a little bit awkward at first. I want to teach them how to form relationships with people from completely different generations. I want them to understand the value of face-to-face interactions, rather than relying on some neighborhood social network group to get in touch with the people around them. I want to model compassion and empathy and concern for everyone we encounter.
And it starts with a simple hello, every single time.
I’ll have to live with the shame of seeing that empty house every single day, but I hope it prompts me to action. I fully intend to meet the rest of my neighbors soon and show an interest in their lives. And beyond that, I am committing to opening my eyes and seeing the needs of others before my own.
My children deserve that kind of mother.