Love Thy Neighbor

Fearful of ending up alone like the elderly widow down the street, a mother reaches out.

- Posted on Oct 10, 2012

An artist's rendering of an old house being tended to by neighborly angels

Outside my kitchen window the neighborhood was alive with people. We’d lived in this house for three years and I knew everyone on the block. Everyone except Mrs. Miller, the old woman who lived by herself two doors down. She barely left the house.

I’d hate to end up that way, I thought. Elderly and alone. It was time to get to know Mrs. Miller.

I put on my coat, hoisted my infant son onto my hip and set out to meet the neighbor I’d avoided for too long. As I approached the house, Mrs. Miller’s black dog pricked up her ears. The old dog had a lame hip and a slow gait, but she was always standing guard.

At least Mrs. Miller’s got someone looking out for her, I thought. But she needed more than a dog to rely on. I knocked on the front door.

“Come in!” Mrs. Miller said when she saw us. “Have a seat here in the living room.” She motioned to the couch. I’d only just sat down when the phone rang. Mrs. Miller excused herself to answer it. Once she’d gotten rid of the caller she hadn’t been back two minutes when the phone rang again.

“I’m sorry, dear,” she said. “It’s just the neighbors calling to check in.”

She answered and came back. “Susan down the street was asking if she could pick up my groceries,” she explained. “The boys next door offered to take the dog for a walk.”

How nice, I thought. But surely she couldn’t rely on folks calling up all the time.

“Do you have children?” I asked.

“No. It was just Mr. Miller and myself, until he passed away.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said. Mrs. Miller was truly alone in the world. “You must have family?”

“A sister,” she said. “But she’s in poor health and it’s difficult for us to visit. Sometimes I need oxygen.” She patted the metal tank that sat next to her armchair. “And then there’s my arthritis and my stomach and this darn swelling in my legs,” she said, leaning down to rub her knees.

“Can you get to a doctor?” I asked.

“Oh, there’s the nurse who pops in to check on my health,” she said. Then her face became serious. “Margo used to pick up my medications. But she’s moved out of town.”

Mrs. Miller was too proud to say, but I knew what she was thinking: What would she do without Margo?

“I could take over for Margo,” I said. “Picking up your medications would be no trouble at all.” My son started squirming on my lap and we said our good-byes.

“She really is all alone,” I told my husband in bed that night.

I knew that for sure now. And now that I knew the truth about how alone Mrs. Miller was, I was absolutely terrified of ending up like her.

“Didn’t you say she’s got a string of neighbors who drop in to help?” my husband asked.

“But she can’t rely on neighbors,” I said. “Can she?”

I turned out the light and hugged my pillow. I can’t do anything about the fears I have for my own future, I thought as I lay awake. But I can do something for Mrs. Miller now.

The next morning I went over to Mrs. Miller’s and asked more about Margo. Not only did Margo organize Mrs. Miller’s medicine with her doctors over the phone, she kept Mrs. Miller’s pantry stocked. “I can handle that too,” I said, putting an arm around Mrs. Miller’s shoulder.

In the coming months I made Mrs. Miller my part-time project. I got to know her, but I also got to know the other neighbors as well. There were the kids who ran errands and raked leaves, the lady who came to cook. The girl who walked the dog.

The stream of help never stopped. Yet not once did I see Mrs. Miller have to ask for a favor. “It’s like whenever you need anyone they appear,” I remarked to her one afternoon.

“Yup,” said Mrs. Miller. “God’s got this old gal covered.”

At Christmas I got so caught up with shopping and decorating, I nearly forgot Mrs. Miller! I made sure to carve out some time for her on Christmas Eve and walked over. I found her sidewalks shoveled, while mine were still buried under snow.

I started to knock on her door and admired the lush Christmas wreath that hung there.

“Merry Christmas!” Mrs. Miller said when she opened up. “Welcome to the North Pole!” Her living room looked like a party of lights and presents. “Some neighbors brought this over,” she said. “Isn’t it magical?”

“We’d like to invite you to our Christmas dinner,” I told her.

“I wish I could come, dear,” Mrs. Miller said. “But I already promised one of the other neighbors I’d go there. I hope you understand.”

Standing in that festive living room, I did finally understand. Mrs. Miller wasn’t alone. She had a whole block full of angels helping her. I’d been so terrified of ending up lonely in my old age that I couldn’t see the blessing in front of me.

God had provided for Mrs. Miller, and he would provide for me as well. He knew he could count on all his earthly angels to provide for one another.


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