Normally, my column has a political slant. This time it’s personal. My next door neighbor died, and I didn’t know it until a week later.
He recently put his house up for sale. The real estate agent walked in and found him on a Saturday morning. His family does not know the cause of death. They assume it was a heart attack. He was 54.
I’ll call him Frank, not his real name. Frank moved in three years ago. Practically everything I know about him I learned by observing from a distance. He had a hot rod. He kept his house and yard up. He had an American flag hanging from the front porch. He worked evenings. He rarely had visitors. You can learn a lot about a person just by watching for three years.
We chatted a few times, but I can’t say I really knew Frank. I don’t even know his last name. What’s worse, I didn’t care enough to know more about him, which embarrasses me to admit. Nothing was stopping me from inviting him over for a hamburger, or turning off the lawn mower on a Saturday for a chat. I just didn’t care enough to do it.
I’m saddened by Frank’s passing, but that isn’t my point here. My point is that I feel rebuked for not knowing it for a week. I suspected something was wrong. Suddenly the activity stopped at his house and his grass went uncut—very unusual—but I didn’t even go knock on the door to learn what was happening. I was curious, but I didn’t want to look like a nosey neighbor.
Maybe I should be nosey sometimes. Maybe nosey is a good thing.
Do I need permission to go knock on my neighbor’s door? Doesn’t our proximity give me permission to ask my neighbor some questions, if only for my own well-being? Doesn’t my humanity obligate me to inquire about the well-being of my neighbor? How can I help him if I don’t know him? It’s not nosey. It’s what good neighbors do and how civil societies work.
If my neighborhood was crime-infested, maybe sequestering myself in my castle makes sense, but that is not the case. I live in Hancock County, Indiana. Ninety-nine percent of people here are good, honest, hard working, salt of the earth, America and apple pie people. Why wouldn’t I want to know my neighbor and help when I can? I choose to live in Hancock County because I get neighbors like Frank.
I don’t have a morale. I don’t have any pithy quotation. I don’t have a good ending to this article. This is more of a confession of sin. I had three years to get to know Frank, and I failed in my obligation to be a good neighbor. I regret it deeply.
Randy Harrison is a retired pastor who lives in Fortville; he can be reached at
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