I left work early on that Friday so that I could run home for a few minutes before an evening meeting. So when I turned on to my street and saw seven police cars and a fire truck directly in front of my house, I realized that perhaps those leisurely few minutes would be different than expected. My neighbors were all standing on the street staring down the block towards my house. As I leapt out of the car, I thought, “Is it burned down? Did I leave the curling iron on? But I don’t see anything wrong with the house.” It took only a few minutes to learn that it wasn’t my house the cops were watching. It was my neighbor to the right. He had shot himself that afternoon. My neighbor was dead.
I still don’t even know his name. That’s perhaps to be expected, since I had just moved in about a month earlier. Yet I had met all my other neighbors while moving in, and this guy kept to himself. I did see him a few times taking out the trash. He looked to be in his sixties, yet Heather down the block swore he was much younger than that. He was very small and looked weak; we have now learned he suffered from Parkinson’s. Heather had some interaction with him before. It was strange, she said, and she was so unnerved by him that she looked him up on the sexual offenders database. But he wasn’t listed. He was just a sad, sick man, and on that lovely Friday afternoon it was apparently too much. He wrote a note and killed himself in his home, just a few yards away from my front door.
When we see these things on the news, I always hate to see the neighbors standing outside, watching the horror unfold and gawking at a family’s grief. Yet here I was, standing alongside about ten other people, all of us trying to figure out what was going on. When had we seen him last? Yesterday morning, I think. Did we hear anything strange? Maybe a few pops last evening? No, that was firecrackers, and a few nights ago. Didn’t he have a dog? I think that was the other people down the street. No, I swear he had a dog. He didn’t because I never saw him walk a dog. But I do know he was up all hours. I think he worked on computers or something. I saw him up really late through the window once.
Are the police blocking my car? I need to get out in a few minutes. Oh, God, is that the media? I am going inside, I don’t want to be interviewed about anything. Yes, officer, I live next door. No, I didn’t see anything. No, I didn’t hear anything. No, I don’t know anything about him. Me? Well, I’m a pastor. Yes, in a church. No, I never spoke to him.
I genuinely hope that this article is not about me, my guilt, my fear, my shame at having never spoken to a person hurting so much he would shoot himself on a Friday afternoon twenty feet away from his neighbors. I hope this makes us realize we have many neighbors, some that we don’t even know we have, and that today we have lost one. One who was grieving and hurting and sick. One who stayed up late to work. One whose house is mostly dark, except for one light still on in the back. One whose lawn is now blocked off with yellow crime scene tape. One who had a sister who came to check on him that Friday afternoon. One who wasn’t a criminal, who wasn’t a predator, one who kept to himself. My neighbor, whoever he is, who is dead.
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
May it be so.