[This reflection on the cost of being a neighbor was written by Rev. Dr. Michael Piazza. Rev. Piazza is a nationally-known author, activist, and church growth consultant. He is the founder and president of Agile Church Consulting and the pastor of Broadway United Church of Christ on Manhattan's Upper West Side. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.]
Christine Smith, a United Church of Christ colleague who teaches at United Seminary, tells the story of a friend named Kay. Kay was walking the streets of New York City one day with her lunch in hand, when she passed a woman rummaging in the trashcan. After she passed, Kay paused and turned back to ask the woman, "Would you like my lunch?" The woman looked up and said, "No, thank you, I've already eaten." Kay began to walk on, then turned for a moment to look at the woman once more. When the rummaging woman saw Kay still there, she asked, "Do you need me to eat your lunch?" Kay paused, and then said, "Yes." It is painfully hard for many of us to accept that the Good Samaritan in our lives might be a homeless woman, someone we feel is in an inferior place or, perhaps, a person who disturbs us or makes us uncomfortable. Robert Wuthnow, a professor at Princeton, conducted research about why some people are generous and compassionate, while others are not. He found that many compassionate people had something painful happen to them and then someone had acted with compassion toward them. This experience of receiving help transformed their lives. Jack Casey is a rescue squad worker, who had little reason to be a Good Samaritan. He was raised in a tough alcoholic home. Jack once said, "All my father ever taught me is that I didn't want to grow up to be like him." Then something happened to Jack when he was a child. He was having surgery and was frightened. A surgical nurse held his hand, reassuring him. "Don't worry Jack; I'll be here, right beside you, no matter what." When Jack awoke hours later, there she was, holding his hand. Jack Casey, now a paramedic, was sent to the scene of a traffic accident. A man was pinned upside down in his pickup truck, and, as Jack was trying to get him out of the wreckage, gasoline was running down, soaking both of them. Other rescuers were trying to cut the metal, so one spark would have caused both men to go up in flames. The driver was crying, saying how afraid he was to die. Jack remembered what had happened to him long ago, and said, "Look; I'm right here for you, no matter what." Days later, the rescued truck driver stopped by the firehouse to thank Jack and said, "You know, you were an idiot. The thing could have exploded, and we both might have died!" Jack said, "I know, but, if I had left you, something inside of me would have died."
It can be dangerous and costly to be a good neighbor.