Farewell to a neighbor: Four lessons I learn from his death

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He was my neighbor. On Friday he was found in his home, the victim of an apparent heart attack. He had been dead for quite some time but no-one knew. His death was entirely unexpected.

I would like to say that he was a good neighbor. I would like to say that he was pleasant and friendly. I would like to say that he had a kind word for anyone and everyone. I would like to say all of these things but none of them were true. He was not a nice man and he terrorized the neighborhood with threats and misinformation.

I am relieved to have to no longer deal with my neighbor’s nonsense. But I find that the initial sense of relief is giving way to a sadness that is of an intensity that is surprising to me.

I will admit that I prayed many times that my neighbor would either move away or be healed. Certainly I did not enjoy the status quo, not knowing if he would become violent or carry through on one of his threats. I also did not enjoy the fact that he took a particular dislike to me. I would have been happy to find that my neighbor moved away. But I was not happy about getting the news of his death.

The way it ended was not something that I wished for him. Ezekiel 18:23 declares “Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live? This story could have had a much nicer ending.

In the end, my neighbor chose a path that left him alone with no-one to comfort or care for him. He died friendless because of poor choices throughout his life. He was like the proverbial dog that bit the hand of the one who fed him, reaping the consequences of his actions. Over the years people had reached out and tried to help my neighbor but some combination of pride, delusion and anger prevented him from receiving that help.

Could something have been done to help this man? Should the state have stepped in long ago when his behavior started being erratic and antisocial? If current child protection laws were in effect in the 50’s and 60’s could the abuse that my neighbor suffered at the hands of his father have been avoided? If so, would the outcome have been different?

These questions are unanswerable; any answers would be speculative at best. But they highlight one source of my sadness. My neighbor’s life did not have to be what it was. He was the victim of poor choices, some his own and some the choices of his own father. A life not lived well contributes to my sadness.

As a Christian I also understand that there are eternal consequences to the choice that we make in life. Part of my neighbor’s rejection of the people around him was tied up in his rejection of God.

I mentioned above his particular dislike for me. Prior to our purchase of our house, it was a rental property. One of the tenants while it was a rental was the pastor of a local church. His name was also Mark and he also shaved his head. In his delusion, my neighbor would sometime get me confused with that pastor and would express his hatred toward God and the church.

In Matthew 7:23, Jesus warns that a relationship with Jesus is the requirement for entrance into Heaven. I do not presume to know if my neighbor ever entered into that relationship, but there was no evidence that he had. This also contributes to my sadness and forms the bigger portion of it.

All this reminds me of four things:

  1. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, statistics prove that one out of one of us dies. We all must face that ultimate transition and how we end up is a summation of our choices, both small and large. We should, moment-by-moment, choose well.
  2. I am reminded that it is all about relationship. In the end there is one relationship that matters and that is the one with Jesus Christ. The first great command is to love God with our entire being.
  3. The second command is to love our neighbor. It seems to me that one who seeks to live out the two great commands will not die friendless. I am reminded that people matter more than accomplishment or things.
  4. I am reminded that we fathers have a huge responsibility. We must follow the medical code of “first do no harm” and above that seek to do good for our children.