The old man recalled thinking about the reasons why those who knew his wife and lived near her hadn’t visited the terminally ill neighbor, attended her funeral service or, after her death, expressed their heartfelt condolences to him. Many of those people had jobs that kept them busy throughout the week, Saturdays were most likely spent attending to much needed tasks at home and he hypothesized that there were many family matters to deal with. The old man knew that most of the people who lived near him arose early on Sundays and went to church where they prayed for peace, kindness and compassion toward others. Those in attendance sang hymns about loving thy neighbors and helping the sick and those in need.
As the frail old woman lay all alone in her bed, save for her husband, her son and a few caring friends, the summer days seemed to pass just like any others for those who lived around her. The old man watched as the good neighbors watered their lawns, played with their dogs on freshly-mowed grass and washed their cars and trucks, which were parked on hot concrete driveways.
Sunday mornings came and all the good neighbors, dressed in their finest clothes, went to church. The pastor’s sermon gave praise to all that is in heaven and admonished those among the congregation who lived a sinful life. An amen was asked for and unanimously and vociferously given. The faithful rose, opened their hymn books and in unison sang “Rock of Ages.”
The passing of days, and weeks and months brought about changes in the old woman’s appearance. The cheek bones in her face became more defined and when the woman undressed her ribs were more visible. Her voice was becoming weaker and sleep occupied more of her days than it had before. There are those who said her appearance was ghastly but she was still a human being, his wife and to all who knew her, a good neighbor.
Sundays came and went and the old man watched as the people got into their newly washed cars and trucks and traveled to their places of worship. They sat nestled closely together on wooden pews and listened as the pastor’s sermon scolded those who lived selfish lives. The congregation once again opened the hymn books and sang, “How Great Thou Art.”
The pretend neighbors bowed their heads each night as they gathered together at tables preparing to eat their evening meals. They asked their lord God to bless the hands that prepared the food and bestow his blessings on those who were about to eat it. Amen followed the request for God’s blessings. Each night those who lived near the old woman kneeled beside their beds and, with clasped hands, asked that the almighty watch over them that dark night as they helplessly slumbered.
The old woman died on a warm July Sunday morning. All the good neighbors awoke early and readied themselves for a morning in the buildings they considered to be places of faith and ones they called churches. The blessed ones gathered together and listened while the pastor talked about the qualities of good neighbors. Most in attendance nodded their heads in agreement and as the preacher spoke several impromptu shouts of, “amen” were given. The service ended as the devout stood up from the pews and sang, “Forgive Them, O My Father.”
In the afternoon of the old woman’s passing the sun warmed the air and filled the sky with light, the soft summer breeze heartened the leaves in the trees to dance and the songbird’s harmonies continued to resonate. The old man accepted these deeds of nature as they cared little about the old woman’s death but he felt sad as he watched, through the same window the old woman once looked through, as his good neighbors ignored her passing with blatant and callous indifference.
Sometimes the old man feels as though he has become impervious to the feelings of disappointment brought on by the cruel acts of others but then he is, and far too often, reminded of just how uncaring people can be. There are those with an altruistic nature who would curse them and their false piety but the old man knows that the imitators will continue to sing from the church hymn books and they will feel no remorse or shame.
Love your life, learn to love the lives of others and be a friend to those in need of a good neighbor. And lastly, give thought to the true meaning of the words as you stand in church and sing, “Amazing Grace.”