It’s hard to beat Rodney Dangerfield’s epitaph: There goes the neighborhood. He took his self-deprecating humor with him all the way to the grave.
Of course, neighborhoods are for the living. While the thought of a cemetery as a neighborhood is rather humorous, the thought of a neighborhood becoming a cemetery is harrowing.
Neighborhoods without “neighborliness” are perilous. Neighbors are people in communities in close proximity to another set of people, but being neighborly implies friendly attitudes and behavior; or at the very least, not destructive attitudes and behavior. The shortened slang term for neighborhood, “hood”, emerged from violent inner city areas. Dropping the “neighbor” from “neighborhood” implied much more than an abbreviation.
For the past few weeks, we have been following horrific crises caused by violence in Ukraine, the Middle East (ISIS, as well as the current conflict between Israel and Hamas, “Operation Protective Edge”), and in our own hemisphere, kids fleeing Central America on deadly journeys hoping to reach safety and their parents in the USA. These crises have been building for some time, but the unbearable circumstances causing the current crises seem too overwhelming to fathom, much less resolve adequately.
The horrors in all these crises are devastating, and the conflicts seem intractable. Hoodlums have military grade weapons and local power. Those neighborhoods are fast becoming cemeteries. While I am grateful to be living in a peaceful neighborhood far from these crises, it is still immensely disconcerting to consider the prevalence of terror and violence and disregard for humanity.
Most of us, however, teach our children to be good neighbors; to show respect and caring. We teach our children to extend this respect to others. “Neighbor” becomes a concept beyond proximity. We seek acceptance and friendship, or at least cooperation.Being a neighbor is not a unilateral proposition. Being a neighbor necessitates co-existence.
History has been fraught with violent conflicts between peoples, borders, nations, states, drug lords, territories, ideologies, and various sub-categories. History has also been made by neighbors; building communities, and rebuilding them after destruction.
A cemetery is not a neighborhood. Neighborhoods are for living–built and maintained by people committed to law and order, allowing for freedom from oppression and maintaining peaceful co-existence. It is distressing and sometimes paralyzing to watch as terrorists,tyrants and all sorts of thugs turn neighborhoods into cemeteries. Neighborhoods require care and attention. We must insist that leaders dismantle the political, organizational and military machinery that oppresses and violently destroys lives. While the neighborhood watch continues, we must also regard not just where we live, but how we live. How can we ensure peace, freedom and security for our children and for our neighbors’ children? They are never really that far away.