11 June 2007

Brother's keeper

The house across the street and down the block is still empty. It's been empty since Christmas Eve. The story doesn't really start Christmas Eve, maybe it ends there, although I certainly hope that's not the end.

My brother and his family were visiting from Switzerland last Christmas. We were having a big Christmas Eve dinner and planned to open presents that evening. As I was getting dinner prepped, two police cars stopped in front of the house across the street. Pretty soon, a coroner pulled up. Because the weather was so mild, my son and husband were outside playing. I opened the door and told my husband to be sensitive of the situation going on because I didn't want my son to see a bad scene.

During the seven or so years we have lived here, we have gotten to know most of our neighbors. We've gone to block parties and our kids play with other kids in the neighborhood. The man who owned the house across the street was older and kept to himself. He didn't socialize. He seemed very healthy, always out for a walk and active. I would see him walking down by the Mississippi and all over the neighborhood. He seemed to take pride in himself and his home.

Suddenly, the grass in his yard started to grow long. Not just long, but never got cut. He kept different hours, up late into the night (I was dealing with nursing a baby who didn't sleep through the night, so would see his lights on at odd hours while I was up with the baby). I didn't see him walking as much. Something was wrong. I thought he might be sick.

I thought many times of taking him over some food, seeing if he was OK, but was too shy and reluctant. When I was a child, I remember schlepping food all over the neighborhood that my mother had made for a family who was touched by illness or death. Often times, my mother didn't even know the family, but had heard of their situation. She cooked and I delivered. So, when things seemed odd with the neighbor across the street, I thought of making him some food.

But, I didn't make any food. The thought kept nagging at me, but I didn't know him. Other neighbors who lived next door or who had lived in the neighborhood longer must know him better and if they weren't doing anything and they weren't concerned, then I shouldn't meddle.

Then Christmas Eve came and they took his body out. The neighbor next door to this man was sobbing, other neighbors were standing outside on the sidewalk in a somber mood, passing along the story. He had committed suicide.

Seems he had some financial problems. He had lived in the house for many years. Some even said he grew up there. He was estranged from his family and seemingly had no friends. Now the bank was foreclosing on him.

I've never been there, so depressed or in despair that I have even remotely considered suicide. I can't imagine the horror of coming to that point. I wept for this man, but also for missing the opportunity to let him know that I had been thinking about him, that I worried about how he was, but I had let stupid things stop me from showing charity and compassion to a stranger.

The "For Sale" sign has been in the yard for months. No one is buying the house. Maybe they can sense the sadness. Even the neighbors comment about how the house looks "sad." Every day, I see the house and have a sense of regret. Despite how insular our lives have become, we still need to pop our heads up and look around. We are called to take care of our brothers.

We have other elderly neighbors. Now, I keep tabs on them and check on them. Even if I don't know them, I am always reminded by the house across the street about how things might have been different.

And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?
Genesis 4:9

1 comment:

Cathy_of_Alex said...

Very moving post, swissmiss. So often we don't want to intrude, but so often we should.

I will pray for your neighbors soul.