Unlearning to Love Our Neighbor

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[I had a conversation with my friend Tad, AKA Donald Sternin-Stearns, and what he told me was so good I asked him to write a post about it. I hope you have friends like that and conversations like that. He wrote it. Here it is.]

It was the day before they announced businesses would be closing due to Covid that my wife and I actually started looking for a house to buy in earnest. We had just gotten married October of this year, and the conversation of buying a house always felt like a hypothetical. Much like traveling to Europe, or having children. Much to our surprise we were able to knock off two of those hypothetical’s in a week. And not just any week, but the week my wife turned 40, we closed on a house and got a positive pregnancy test. In one week I had gone from a poor, (currently) jobless, renter, to a home-owning father. It’s a reality that has been so far away for so long, a part of me never thought it would happen. 

A bit of backstory on me, my name is Donald Sternin-Stearns. I am a longtime smoker, borderline alcoholic, foul-mouthed Christian. Born in Seattle and raised in Wenatchee, despite not being particularly well off I always considered myself to be incredibly lucky. Being a white male in Wenatchee it was always so painfully clear to me how easy I actually had it. I’m not what you would call “educated,” so finding a job that pays more than minimum wage is just not likely. Somewhere along the way I had decided for myself that I would, in fact, never be anything more than a renter. Living paycheck to paycheck. I know with 100% certainty that if I had never met my wife, that’s exactly where I would have stayed.

With the crazy new reality setting in of being a first-time parent and home owner, we had on rose colored glasses. In our excitement we completely overlooked the glaring flaws with our new house, namely the hollow core back door that had a dog door cut out of it, compromising its already weak structure. The night before Father’s Day, only having the keys to the new house for less than a week, while staying at the old house, someone pushed in that back door and was able to walk away with easily over $2000 worth of stuff. New electric lawn mower, laptop, blah blah blah. You know the story, anything they could sell or use themselves.

When we noticed everything missing, initially I was furious, obviously. We went around to our neighbors asking if they’d heard anything, called the cops, checked out pawn shops. Just the thought of a stranger going through our things like that, it led us into a cycle of emotions, anger, fear, rage, hate, depression, rage, rage. That wore off in about a week, to an extent. What I’m left with is empathy. I’m positive that whoever robbed us did not do it for kicks, they did it to survive, they did it because that’s what they know. We were lucky enough to not have everything we owned here. Sure, it was an invasion of privacy, but no one was hurt and ultimately we didn’t lose anything that can’t be replaced… Save for a few scandalous pictures of me in a tool belt, to which I say to my robbers, “You’re welcome.”

Not but a few days after this took place, my wife and I walked over to the neighborhood Safeway to get some dinner. Walking into the parking lot, to our right we saw a minivan, completely packed full of boxes and personal items. It looked as if they were moving. Except for the back passenger window being totally blocked out by towels. Our conversation stopped as we walked passed the van to reveal a mother braiding her daughter’s hair in the empty parking spot next to the minivan. The girl couldn’t have been older than 7, with her brother right next to her, maybe 5. Suddenly our problems seemed very small.. The stresses of moving, getting robbed, not working, playing phone tag with incompetent workers at companies that couldn’t care less about you, your lost money, time or sleep. It all suddenly was irreverent. Even though our problems are still real, in perspective, they are minor annoyances.

Immediately upon walking in we are confronted with a guy at the register screaming at the cashier because she didn’t give him a second receipt. Our knee jerk reaction was to intervene, but we are currently in a pandemic. On top of that, its not our own lives we have to worry about but also the life of our child. Our pace slowed as we walked approached the altercation but picked back up as we passed. Turning the corner around the self checkout to ask from afar if we should call 911. The man had already paid for his few items. He could have just left, like a normal person. But he was furious and he selfishly unleashed his hate onto this teenage black girl making minimum wage. Ultimately he left and she went on break. And we were left furious at the scene we had just witnessed.

I couldn’t help but wonder if all of this was somehow connected. People being so desperate that they will risk their own lives to take what isn’t theirs, a woman living in a minivan pretending for her kids that they’re just on vacation, the man so irate that he didn’t get what he wanted that he was actually spitting in the face of an innocent girl. I truly believe that the real problem here is not political, or what our socio-economic might be, or even (God forbid) lack of prayer in schools. The problem is, we are slowly unlearning how to love our neighbors. We isolate ourselves in front of our phones and only surround ourselves with friends and those who believe the same as we do. There is no doubt in my mind that I would not be here today if it weren’t for the positive influences I’ve had in my life. People that showed me extreme love and patience even when I was a total asshole. I challenge you, dear reader, make yourself uncomfortable. Meet your neighbors! Not just one of them, all of them!! Be there to give that crucial advice when someone really needs it! Here’s the thing, if you’re trying to change the world over Facebook, it’s not going to happen. If you’re looking for hope, find it on the micro scale. Help people that actually need it!

Good job on making it to the end! Hope you got something out of it! 

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