Variations on the obligation to love one’s neighbor show up across both the religious and secular spectrum. They tend to provoke a range of responses - from those who attempt to sort out what loving people who are not part of your immediate tribe would mean, to those who reject the necessity. This is not an easy idea - and even if you can sort out what it means to love people who you may not know well, or like much, or even trust, or know how to get to knowing, liking and trusting - it is a damned hard thing to put into practice.
Weeks ago I read the above opening paragraph to a Casaubon’s Book post by Sharon Astyk and knew I wanted to think about this as it related to me and my community. At the time I was still feeling like my little mobile park community was more a community in addresses than in behaviors. I kept sort of whistling in the dark with picturing, hoping and wishing for more shared exchanges. When the young manager made the statement, “We need to love one another.” I responded to him by saying, “I don’t know if I would go that far.” Then I witnessed some very loving acts of kindness and support this weekend. In fact he personified love in responding in total immersion, total leap into the emergency by driving to the hospital, speaking to doctors, viewing x-rays and more for the neighbor in pain.
I will borrow heavily from Sharon’s post, but the best approach is to simply read in total from the original titled, Is Love Enough, Working With and Loving Your Neighbors Whether You Like Them or Not. How can one resist with an inviting title like that?
I lean on Sharon’s post because, as I have just said, I am a neophyte in turning away from the money economy to the structure of love exchanges. This is how she outlines this structure:
Because rather than talking about “working” with your neighbors or “getting along” I did want to talk about the problem of actually loving them, despite the difficulties that the word love raises. But I think it is the right word, if instead of thinking of “love” as a particular feeling you have to evoke, we think of it as a larger structure for our relationships, an economy if you will, in the, literal sense of the world, a way of organizing our world.
The danger, of course, of speaking about love is that it evokes a range of things - religious beliefs, romantic and familial feelings, and occasionally a certain dippy, intellectually vacant inspecificity, the idea that our relationships will all be productive if we do group hugs and sing in a circle regularly. But in fact, I’d make the case for a language and world of love that is as rigorous as any mathematics, as formally structured as any economy. That is, it is not loving people to express things lovingly all the time. It is not loving one another simply to articulate your common ground, or to allow everyone to “express” their differences, being universally supportive, or falling backwards off a chair. Love is needing each other - not in easy or cheap ways, but really, truly needing one another. It does not require that you share beliefs, or even like each other - all of us can call examples from our biological families that support this fact.
I wrote about the culture of borrow and barter at the beginning of my living with little impact year. I have found a myriad of ways to incorporate this into my own life. Beyond my newsletter writing, my community interactions are more limited to a small circle. This ‘loving neighbors challenge’ framed as Sharon does in her post; it goes further. It is risky, it is frightening. Herein lies the leap, the jumping off point. This next is the part that transformed one of my vulnerable inclinations.
Money allows you to figure out what things are “worth” - with barter or simple sharing, there are things that can never be quite worked out. Is that firewood equivalent to 20 dozen eggs and a bushel of plums? Was it really enough for me to babysit in exchange for the help getting the gutters cleaned out? [. . . ]
Things never come out evenly. You always have to be grateful, and thus, dependent. If we give up all the things that have stood as barriers between ourselves and the people we need, that have enabled us never to be dependent, we’re never again going to be square. The only hope is that the person you are working with or bartering with or sharing with is secretly afraid that she/he hasn’t done his fair share either.
But then again, that’s what love is, isn’t it? I’ve never met anyone who loved someone, or was truly loved by someone else who didn’t secretly think that their spouse (or parents, or child or friend) was crazy to love them, that if they could really see all the way through, they’d realize how inequitable things are, and how little they deserve that love. So you end up just being grateful, feeling damned lucky that this time, you got more than you ever deserved. That some miracle, or gift appeared to you, and someone loves you.
Now that is certainly an incentive to love, to encourage imbalance on the side of generosity. This idea alone is inviting to me. I feel I have only touched upon a little shining treasure here. It’s like the start of a fascinating path of bread crumbs beginning right here. It is a path that we need follow by turning away from and by tuning out the noisy freeways beside us.