The outrage against Ariel Castro for kidnapping, raping and keeping three girls (now women) in his basement for ten years as if they were dogs is surely justified. In fact, even if they had been dogs – the person would still go to jail. It’s almost unthinkable.
Neighbors have said everything from “I’m shocked. I barbecued with this dude and listened to Salsa music” to “Yes, we did notice once a lady crawling naked in the backyard” and the ole “The windows all had black garbage bags over them” line.
I think the neighbors should go to jail. What kind of humans beings would “notice” little things like that? Really? Three women and a young girl in a basement for ten years. Loud knocking from time to time. Bags on windows. Naked women crawling in the yard. Really? And you didn’t do anything? Put the whole neighborhood in jail I say.
But wait, let’s be honest for a moment. Think of your physical neighbors for just a second. The ones to your right and left. Across the street and behind your house. Most of us have six to eight houses within speaking distance. When you go to the mail box, wash your car, mow your lawn and take out the garbage – they’re the ones who might say hello to. Over the years, you might learn their first names – maybe their last. Their kids throw wild parties. You call the police. Or maybe you actually cook out together once in a while. More than most, you do actually know your neighbors. But…do you?
Can I be bold and say, “We do.” We know our neighbors. Of the eight houses closest to us, I can honestly say we know them. Really know them. We know all their names. Their kids’ names. Their pets names. We’ve been in their houses. In the basements. They’ve all been in ours – many times. We’ve helped move, paint, re-arrange furniture – and they’ve done the same with us. They have our front door keys, our garage code. They watch our pets when we’re gone, get our mail and our newspapers. Our girls have watched their kids. We do book clubs together. (Just finished reading the book of James – as in, the brother of Jesus).
None of us in this neighborhood are perfect. No Mother Theresa’s on our block. But also no ax murderers. Good-hearted folks who love a good drink, a good read and good family time. If suddenly, one of them started putting garbage bags on their windows – we’d all notice and say something. Something like “Hey, what’s up with those black garbage bags on your windows and weird noises coming from your house?” If the answer didn’t make sense, we’d call someone who would check it out. And we’d keep calling until we knew exactly what’s going on.
That’s because we’re good neighbors. Remember that Jesus summarized all the law and the prophets (which would have been everything to his Jewish audience) by saying “Love God and love your neighbors.” What if he was serious? Your neighbors. You know, the ones next door. And I’m pretty sure the only way to “love” someone is to get to know them. Go ahead – don’t be afraid. Go over and say hi. Then have a back yard party and invite them. Simple as that.
If you want tons of fun, practical advice on how to do this most basic (and greatest) commandment of Jesus, read my two friends’ book: The Art of Neighboring. It may be the answer for a nation which continues to be shocked by their neighbors committing crimes when they “had no idea.”
Just glad our neighbors know us, and we know them. And…it saves us a ton of money on dog-sitting and those fancy home alarm systems. It’s the way our Grand-Parents used to live. No fancy term needed – just call it “being human.”