It was December of 1989. We lived in south Florida less than a mile from the beach. Tall royal palm trees lined the sidewalks. Mango, lemon and orange trees grew throughout the neighborhood. Tyler was 3 ½ and Zack was 1 ½ years old. We were always out in the backyard with them either playing in the sand or splashing in their plastic pool. Clothing often optional.
When Christmas break rolled around some family members came to visit. It was great. The activity around our house amped up for a week. The commotion got louder and the pace quickened significantly.
Now, throughout the years I’ve lived in a many places and have celebrated holidays a number of ways. This particular year our dinner was very traditional complete with a feast of turkey, stuffing, corn casserole, and all the other fixings.
I’m surprised we even noticed the knock at the door that afternoon. An elderly woman that I had never laid eyes on stood on the stoop. She introduced herself and pointed to her second story residence diagonally across the street. She said that she and her husband had enjoyed watching our family play in the yard. Her comment wasn’t made in a creepy way but rather more of a neighborly observation. The conversation stalled shortly after that. The woman’s gaze shifted down. She shuffled. I could feel the tension building until finally she admitted what she had come for. “It’s just my husband and I. We don’t have any family. (long pause) And we really don’t have anything to eat.”
The others inside could hear what was transpiring on our little porch and leaped into action. I’m not sure if it was humility or embarrassment but he woman would not come in, so we began to package up everything we could and I assured her that I would be right over.
In no time I was climbing their rickety stairs balancing a cardboard box spilling over with Tupperware and zip lock bags filled with deliciousness. But this would not be a quick stop. The woman introduced me to her husband, an aged lanky man who was very polite and gracious. He invited me to sit down. Their front windows peered over our back yard less than a hundred yards away. In spite of their obvious hunger pangs they deferred their Christmas dinner in order to tell me about themselves. As he began to tell their story the wife moved quickly to get a scrapbook and a couple photo albums.
We flipped through the pages as the man narrated. Immediately I recognized that my poor and lonely neighbors once ran with the entertainment elite in the 1920’s. Those were the golden years of Broadway. Black & white photos now yellowed corroborated their tales. Pages filled with clippings and pictures with younger versions of the people sitting in front of me hob-nobbing with Fred Astaire and mentioned in the same breath as George Gershwin and Irving Berlin.
Now they were scraping by – broke and forgotten.
I only lived across the street from them another month…only visited with them a couple other times.
My point? I’m not sure. I don’t know why that story was resurrected from the dark tomb of my memory today. But I think the holiday season can expose our true awareness and sensitivity toward our neighbors. The holidays can reveal if we’ve paid much attention to the people around us during the rest of the year. Do we know them? In our festivities and festooning, do we know who is lonely, hungry, or in financial – relational – spiritual poverty? Or do we only recognize them and take action when they knock on our door?