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Noticing our neighbors

By QuaWanna Bannarbie

Over the past year, our community has coined a phrase, “nourishing our neighbors,” to name the effort to feed school children in the midst of a pandemic. I applaud Suffolk Public Schools and their partnership with the local food banks to provide sustenance by way of bus deliveries and then offering other opportunities for our families to pick up fresh food at these community events. My family has taken advantage of this generosity, and I am grateful.

Do you know that before a decision was made to nourish, someone had to notice a need? When I am gathering my boxes from the bus delivery on Friday and the driver smiles because I missed a few weeks, I know that I am seen. In fact, I would go as far as to say that we look forward to seeing each other in those brief moments.

My husband jokes that I am the “nosey neighbor” because I know many of my neighbors by name and I pay attention to what is going on around me. My children think that I have enlisted neighbors to be my private investigators because I get calls when a neighbor wants to make sure that I know where they are and what they are doing. I am noticed, and I know it.

Some weeks ago, I was walking around my neighborhood and I happened to pass a truck sitting alongside the road. It is a work truck that belongs to the Orkin Man. I noticed a piece of white paper sitting on the dashboard of the truck. From a distance, I could see there was a child’s drawing on that paper. The closer I walked toward the truck I made out the words on the drawing and it simply read, “We Love You Mr. Orkin Man.” I smiled as I kept walking. I imagined the smile that must have come to my neighbor’s face when the hands of that young artist handed him that gift. I wasn’t expecting what happened next.

Just as quickly as I had imagined the engagement between the Orkin man and the child in my mind, the truth of what may have inspired that picture also came to mind. I remembered the names of Daunte Wright, Andrew Brown and George Floyd. I burst into tears right there in the middle of my stride. I realized that child just may have given my neighbor that picture after watching the news and noticing his dark skin is like all of these men that are no longer with us. That child just may have wanted to assure “Mr. Orkin Man” that he is not just a service worker to her house but that he is seen and that he is loved. I could be imagining too much. But I don’t think so. It was such a sudden reaction that I believe I was keenly, spiritually aware of this reality because I wasn’t just walking by that truck that morning. I was meant to notice that note.

After seeing that note on the dashboard, I have been convicted with this question of how well do we notice our neighbors? Even as I write this, the tears still swell in my eyes thinking of that moment passing the Orkin Man’s truck. That young artist was reminding me that it takes more than just noticing. There is an action that is required. We must engage with our neighbors.

The second greatest commandment in the Bible states “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:39). We all want to be loved. Perhaps you don’t love everyone because you do not know them to honestly say that you do. But certainly if you notice them, you can let them know that you see them. Learn their names. Exchange phone numbers. Haven’t seen your neighbor in a while? Leave a note.

We’ve got to be better neighbors. School agencies and food banks don’t have to do it all. You live right next door to someone that may just need your smile or wave your hand when you pass. Is that too much to ask? I am asking you to please notice your neighbors, because noticing is the first step to loving them as yourself.

QuaWanna Bannarbie is a teacher, writer and affirmer of faith, identity, relationships and experiences. Connect with her via iamquawanna@thebiggerme.net.