Dividend of Neighborliness

Norman was a sometimes easy, sometimes hard man to love. It’s the nature of love.

I met Norman about five years ago. He was 58 years old, but looked much older. He shared a house with an older and dying brother. The house sat on a hill a mile off the highway. Getting to their house, required a four-wheel drive vehicle. Besides the steep climb on a less than well maintained road, getting from the highway to the house meant crossing two creeks, one of them twice. I have never seen a more picturesque setting for a home. To be on that hill and look out over the surrounding Kentucky land was to taste a bit of heaven.

Norman and his brother and their home were not picturesque. The house was a tarpaper covered shack, dirty and cluttered inside. The house had electricity but no water, satellite TV but no bathroom. Norman and his brother knew their priorities. They were crusty old guys who had lived hard lives and who had been given too many reasons to distrust folks like me.

I was at their house as a part-time hospice chaplain. I remember thinking as I saw the house and then the two bearded, dirty, old men sitting on dilapidated over-stuff chairs on their about to fall down front porch, this is not going to be easy! I was right.

Norman’s brother died before I really knew him, though I had begun to see the men beneath their exteriors and had begun to look forward to my trip up the hill. I buried Norman, age 63, on July 10. It was a simple graveside service. He now rests beside his brother.

Norman and I stayed connected after his brother died. I learned to love him. He learned to trust me and then to love me. He was not always easy to love. He was cantankerous and did not always act in his own best interests. He convinced me that he wanted off the hill and out of that house through which the cold winter’s winds blew. Along with other friends, I worked hard to secure him a place. When we succeeded, Norman refused to budge.

Norman had only a handful of friends. There were eight of us at his funeral, along with his sister and her husband and son. We learned over the years, that he often played us against each other, hoping, I think, to gain a little extra attention from one by telling how another had neglected him. He didn’t always tell us the truth. He wasn’t always easy to love; but love him I did.

Normally, when I read the story of the Good Samaritan, I see the focus on the good we are expected to do unto others. Norman reminded me that when we dare to love another and to enter his life, we are the ones unto whom good is done.

Once I got past Norman’s crusty exterior and his dilapidated house, I encountered God and his love in new and fresh ways. There may be more than one reason to help a neighbor.

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