An open letter to my good neighbors

I didn’t ask your names. I didn’t think about it until later, after the police and EMTs and my crumple-hooded car had left. I have no name for you–no recollection of your features–no memory of your voices–only the conviction that you knew how to be good neighbors.

A sunny day. A busy street. A cloud of dust denser and thicker than it appeared. Then the lights came at me and I crashed into the vehicle ahead before I could hit the brakes.

There was no way I could have known that slow-moving street sweeper was there. If I had, I might have avoided the whiplash, totaled car, and experiential knowledge that airbags and seatbelts really do work. I would have slowed, put on my turn signal, entered the left lane and passed the vehicle, muttering something about the stupidity of street cleaning a highly trafficked road at an inconvenient time. I would have gotten home and put my baby down for a nap and worked on my novel for several hours.

If I had, I wouldn’t have known the two of you.

One of you called 911 and helped me get to the sidewalk with my daughter, away from the ominous green liquid oozing from my smashed-up car.

The other got my screaming child from the car seat and held her as I tried to contact my husband or parents or someone whose name I actually knew. You stayed for an hour, soothing Charlotte, comforting me, taking time out of your schedule to stay by a stranger’s side.

Other cars slowed as they passed, but no one else stopped.

Too often, my life has been wrecked, sometimes from my stupidity, sometimes by others’ evil or ignorance, and sometimes just because our world can be merciless. I’ve stood beside a fender-bender, kicking myself for my blind mistakes as my front bumper collapsed on the ground with a thud.

I’ve sat in the driver’s seat, stunned as the other person leaves the scene of the accident, letting me deal with the pain of betrayal and shame.

I’ve watched the whirl of ambulance lights as EMTs loaded me on a stretcher, my mind breaking as I wonder if I’ll ever have hope again.

Often I’ve felt entirely alone. Rubbernecking carloads of priests and Levites slow to a crawl, curious but uncompassionate. This cell phone call is important—the meeting I’m late for is important—the soccer practice or dental appointment or sermon preparation is importantmore important than the lonely person abandoned by the roadside.

I’ve also been the self-righteous priest and the busy Levite. It’s easier. Had I been in a vehicle passing by, I probably wouldn’t have stopped.

(The novel I’m writing is important, you know, and I can’t let anything interfere with my writing time. Here’s an alternate excuse: My daughter is tired. I can’t stop now; she would miss her nap. Too bad you didn’t wreck your life at a time that was convenient for me. How inconsiderate of you.)

I would’ve swerved into the next lane, said a quick “God help them!” prayer, and sped home to my all-consuming writing project.

Neither of you good men took that road. You didn’t know me and I didn’t know you, but you stopped anyway. You treated me like your neighbor.

Thank you.


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