My grandfather, a local Fort Worth surgeon for nearly 40 years, once told me why he gave a lot of free medical care to the railroad companies (as well as others): “Be good to your neighbors. There will come a time when you will need them.”
I was 10 years old. I knew my grandparents lived in a fairly affluent neighborhood on the West Side. My grandmother was an opera singer and involved with the Fort Worth Opera Association. “Granddad,” I protested, “Those folks don’t live anywhere near you and Mi Mi.” I couldn’t imagine rail yard workers, or anyone with the railroad companies, having anything in common with my family or my relatives — no shared realities or similar possessions or education or lifestyle. I crunched my brain trying to see us all at a party together. Nothing!
Granddad just smiled and added, “We live closer to each other than you might think.”
But my grandfather was a man of few words — an old school, country doctor type, who got right to the point and used conversation sparingly — leaving some matters left to riddle. His sense of humor was dry at best. His nurse of 30 years was Carol Luckie. As kids, we went to his office for checkups, flu, etc., and he’d always come into the waiting room saying, “Who’s gonna get Luckie today?” The double entendre was always lost on us, and created more distrust than laughter after the first time — a visit with Nurse Luckie meant throat swabs and shots.
So he left the “who’s my neighbor” question with simply “closer than you might think.” Though his life seemed to always suggest the real answer — “everyone.” It was years later that I learned about my grandmother’s alcoholism, her struggles with her own past, and subsequent sobriety with AA for the last 35 years of her life. More than one of her key Sponsors, as well as fellow members and new friends, were rail yard workers.
My father was a small child when his parents immigrated to Boston from Ireland in the late 1920s, near the Great Depression. They struggled for a number of years, trying to integrate into the life and culture, but found themselves mostly staying close to “our kind” (my Irish grandmother would say) — other Irish Catholics in Boston. Though I think that was as much out of her own prejudice and “taste” as out of necessity. I still have a sign from that era in my office at church that reads, “Help Wanted — No Irish Need Apply.” The external differences, the possibility of change, of losing something — even if all that we’re losing is the ambivalent comfort of not having to get to know different people or having to think about it at all — these changes create subtle but compounding fears. We cling to familiarity and repel, or attack, what is unfamiliar. And it seems like we go through cycles of this kind of fear until we grow more accustomed to it and the next “new change and fear” comes along. But the bottom line seems to be this mistaken thinking that we ARE in fact so different as to not have much in common, or of significant use, for strangers, outsiders, those folks — until we discover we are, in fact, “neighbors.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality . . . The good neighbor looks beyond the external accidents and discerns those inner qualities that make all men human, and therefore, brothers.” We’re all kin folk in the Kingdom of God, the Kin-dom of God. As my grandfather would say, and my family has discovered time and again, “We live closer to each other than you might think.”
This Sunday, join us in eleven:eleven celebration as we reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and what it means to be grasped by the depth and beauty of seeing our interconnectedness — even when it can seem so far out of reach.
January 17, Second Sunday of Epiphany
“grasped by what we cannot grasp”
Rev. Tom McDermott
featuring singer-songwriter Lisa Stoval
with the Revolution Band
Special Note: As many of you know, Stewart Turnage, longtime member (and a past sound engineer) in eleven:eleven, passed away unexpectedly a couple of weeks ago. Many of us, as well as members of the Fort Worth Bike Association, his wife Anna, and family, will be honoring his life with a dessert reception in Wesley Hall this Sunday from 1:30 – 3:00 pm. You are invited to join in the celebration.