Welcome to the KingZoo and Funny Farm, where we learn to live, laugh, and love together. Here you'll find snippets of life in our zoo, parenting tips we've learned along the way, reflections on shining God's light in this world, passions in the realm of orphan care and our journey as parents of a visually impaired child. Have fun!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Dear neighbor

Dear Neighbor,

A neighbor, according to dictionary.com can be a person who lives near, or simply is near, another. It can also refer to another human being or can be used as a term of address. A neighbor, as the Biblical story goes, is one human being showing mercy to another.

I choose to call you neighbor because I don't know your name. You don't live in my community but you are just a few streets away, near enough. I write to you because it is my hope that after reading my thoughts, you may be more likely to show mercy in the future, and thereby truly deserving of the term, neighbor.

I don't know if you remember the incident last week or not. Maybe it came and went for you. For my son, and for our family, it's hard to forget. These things don't happen in our community, or at least that used to be our experience. We've talked with our children about them, hoping that they would never have to experience them, but always (naively?) wishing that they would not happen here. Not in our neighborhood. Not with our neighbors.

In case you have forgotten, let me refresh your memory. Our teen-age son, born in Kenya, was riding his bike to meet some friends. They all had parental permission; they were just planning to have a snack together and enjoy the company of each other. These are good kids; making good choices as they head into adulthood. He was alone on the road. Do you remember him? Do you remember that you saw him stop his bike next to a mailbox? You must remember this part because it is where you enter the scene. I don't understand this kind of thinking but you apparently only saw two small parts of the whole; you saw a non-white male stopped beside a mailbox. So what? That's right, so what? But you chose to make a very large jump, a huge assumption. You yelled across the street to him, "Get out of that mailbox! If you don't get out of that mailbox right now I'm going to call the cops!"

You might feel a bit foolish to learn that he never even touched the mailbox. You might feel even more foolish to learn that his flip-flop had fallen off and he stopped the bike to bend down, pick it up, and put it back on his foot. That's it. He didn't touch the mailbox. He didn't open the mailbox. He had no intention of doing either. He simply put his flip-flop back on and continued on to meet friends.

None of us wants to think that this was an issue of racism but what else can we think? We have gone through every other possibility in our minds and none of us can come up with any other possibility. Did you take the time to stop and look? Because there's a big difference between messing with someone's mail several feet off the ground and bending over to pick up a flip-flop. If it had been his brother, just 3 months younger but white, would you have jumped to the same conclusion?

There are so many other things you could have done; so many other things you could have said. You could have done nothing. You could have looked across the street, and simply watched as a teen-ager replaced his flip-flop and continued on his way. No one would have faulted you for that. You could have asked if he needed help (if you truly had no idea what he was doing). You could have even reprimanded him for wearing flip-flops while bike riding; we've had that discussion many times. But you didn't choose any of these options and we wish we knew why.

Did you know that just last summer, this fine young man was stopped by a police officer in our community, not in an act of profiling or racism, but to thank him for wearing a helmet while biking? He then took him to the local ice cream shop for a treat. And did you know that he was biking home from work that day; a workplace where he is known as one of their hardest, most respectful workers? Did you know that his swim coach just told us that he wished that he had a team full of teens like our son? Have you ever seen him interact with his siblings? How he banters with the older ones and cares for the younger ones? That is the person you chose to not treat as a neighbor; the person to whom you did not interact with mercy.

I don't know why you reacted the way you did. I don't want to make assumptions about you as you did about my son but it does make me wonder; what makes one person mistreat another based solely on the color of his skin? I don't know. Do you? Would you be able to answer the question? I write this letter so that in the future, you will think about how you treat others. It is my hope that you will take the time to look at someone, no matter the skin color, no matter the age, no matter the disability, no matter the gender or how he "looks" and see that person as another human being. I pray that you will remember that along this journey called life we should choose to love our neighbor, to show mercy and compassion.

Hoping to change the world, one neighbor at a time,
Cindy

9 comments:

  1. Wow, Cindy. This is a powerful post. The letter format was such a wise way to structure it--so effective and empowering to you, the writer. You were able to ask those questions directly, to target them at the individual in question. I'm so sorry for your son's experience and hope it will be an isolated one.

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  2. My heart is sad. There seems to be so much hate in the world and I worry so much for the direction in which we seem to be going. I know this was hard for you to live and to write about, but thank you for putting it out there for so many to read. Give your sweet child a hug from a reader who cares.

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  3. This is a sad piece of writing. But, oh...so...powerful. I think you should consider sending to your local newspaper.

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  4. Tears are flowing down my cheeks as I write this. What a well written letter. What brings me to tears is that your son is such a remarkable person in many ways for him to hear such a thing breaks my heart. He is so very fortunate to have such a loving, supportive family to help guide him through this.

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  5. Cindy, I read this with tears in my eyes and goosebumps on my skin! It sickens and angers me that someone would treat your son or really anyone like this. I honestly hope with all my heart that you walk over to that neighbor and give him this letter!!! It sounds like you have a wonderful son by the way!

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  6. This piece grabbed my heart. It is so powerful. It grabbed my heart so tight because my son experienced a similar situation when he was only 9 years old by his 4th grade teacher. He is currently 23 years old finishing up graduate school this fall and still remembers the incident as if it were yesterday. I sometimes feel like I have failed him in some way because I did not take him with me when I went to see his teacher and have him be part of the solution. I wish that I used your approach but it was a different stage in my life, different part of the country.
    Thank you for sharing your story in a constructive way as this will help others who will face similar situations in the future. I can only pray that many others get to read your blog and use it to educate and help others families. I pray God's blessings on your family as you work through this together in love as you heal through Christ.

    Your neighbor and sister in Christ!

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    1. Thank you so much for commenting. I am saddened because I know that these are not isolated incidents. We pray that our children know their value in Christ and that one-by-one they can make a difference in this world.

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  7. No wonder it took you a few days to slice about this incident - very powerful and so hurtful. Your sweet son sounds like one terrific young man. I hope he knows how much he is loved!!!

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  8. What a powerful piece. If only you could present this to the "neighbour" - but unfortunately those with closed minds wouldn't take the suggestion that compassion and caring for those around us makes us true neighbours. Your son sounds amazing.

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