Sometimes life in a small town or NEAR a small town as is my case is consumed by the frailties that come along with living far away from people yet close enough that some want to know what you are all about. I am a staunch advocate of "love they neighbor as thyself" and I put forth a lot of effort in trying to get to know and love my neighbors. However, we all live separate lives and we all have definitions of what is good and what is bad in life. I have had an astounding lesson in neighborly love over the last two months. I have learned more about the very definition and the falacy of believing that love - pure and simply given - is reward enough.
We have a neighbor who is an older man. In the 70s he was convicted of "bootlegging". He can yarn a tale of his days of old and engage even the least interested listener. He spends an enormous amount of time describing how he has rebuilt his life from the mistakes of that era. He is endearing. He raised his son by himself after returning from prison and he DID rebuild his life.
Meanwhile, Haley sits in the back of his truck while he is dining or sharing these stories in your home. It was not until today that revelation of "love they neighbor" really hit home with me. It was not until today that I realized that sometimes loving a neighbor means risking a friend or is that person a friend at all. Sometimes we fail to identify the proper neighbor to love.
Haley is a black woman. She's severely mentally disabled, handicapped or whatever the key term is for it these days. She has served and lived on the farm of my neighbor as long as I have lived here and for the last 20 or more years according to the local citizens. He gave her her own "shed" behind his house. He gave her own set of coveralls and replaced them each Christmas along with layers of old clothing that go under them. He gave her freedom according to him.
Her freedom consisted of riding in the back of his truck no matter what the weather - with his dogs, working on his farm as much as she was physically and mentally able and doing whatever household chores were available. Her demeaner was one of bitterness explained away by him and his son - my neighbors - as just her only method of communication. As did most everyone else in the area, my family "looked the other way" choosing to believe he was a good samaritan - taking in someone that only an institution would house otherwise and giving her a bit of personal freedom. She seemed content in the back of that truck. She seemed completely unwilling to reach out and talk to others. She seldom smiled and I seldom took the time to try to investigate who she was further. I was content in my knowledge that he was her protector, her savior and her advocate.
Two months ago, my world changed dramatically. In this small town, people talk I am told. I am a relative newcomer to this particular town. This neighbor came to see me in my office to discuss a hay deal but left with a very ominous threat. "I know what you did-we are enemies and you know what that means!" I was horrified. What had I done? Who had I gossiped to when I work so hard to mind my own business and hurt no one?
It took me three days to find out that Department of Human Resources had visited his house and removed Haley from his "possession". His "power of attorney" signed by her family was challenged, his ability to draw funds - yes funds- disability funds, food stamps, and other sources of income based on her disabled status - was ended. His ability to accept responsibility for his actions and his deceit was non-existent. Instead, he chose to seek out those who may have "turned him in" and the newer members of the community were the first on the list. I was on that list!
He resorted to "booglegger" tactics - one of my dogs was poisoned, I was threatened by his only two friends at the local Piggly Wiggly, they have stalked back and forth in front of my house. But...I am a country girl! I am not some city slicker who has never dealt with deviant backwood characters and tactics. So, I did what any country girl would do. I cried to my man!
My man - in turn - called this neighbor and advised him that if he ever bothered me again, he would "kick his ass". As any true coward would do - the same type of coward who would figure out a way to legally enslave a person for 20 years or more - a man who would seek to attack a female instead of accepting blame - called the Sheriff's department and filed a harrassing communication complaint against my husband. So much for handling things man to man - man to woman or simply by the standards of human communications!
That was nearly two months ago! Life has moved on. This neighbor is still suffering the consequences of his abuse and the truths are slowly coming to the surface. People in small towns do talk and evenutally the innocent are cleansed and the guilty are seen for who they are. If justice doens't work through our somewhat diminished legal system, justice works through the human conscience and through community standards as time progresses.
And...as with any trial or tribulation, the lessons are there that God intends for us to glean from them if we will simply be still and know...that He is God and that His will is always served!
You see....for the six years that I have lived here and proudly proclaimed that I follow the entire "love they neighbor" concept to the hilt, I have failed to properly love the right neighbor. I looked the other way, just like everyone else. I assumed that the stories of the beatings, the sexual and mental abuse were simply stories because I loved my neighbor and I was a good neighbor. I watched while they drove back and forth in front of my house house - Haley always in the back with the dogs - in the rain, sleet, heat - and I said to myself "how lucky for her to have someone to take her in! - I love my neighbor!" I never SAW the bad stuff, therefore, I chose to believe it did not exist. Unfortunately, there seems to be an investigation - under now sealed council - that has apparently found otherwise and Ms. Haley is now in a safe and secure environment. This means a substantial financial loss for the neighbor I chose to love who now hates me and assumes I am the turncoat who "turned him in". It means a loss of labor and income. It means that the truth may eventually escape the sealed council and he may one day be seen for the evil and hatred he has spread on this person's life.
I am not a turncoat or a tattle tale and I am ashamed at this point of that fact. For six more years of her life, Ms. Haley suffered. I was loving the wrong neighbor. Actually, I love that neighbor still and I pray for his salvation and that of his son who adores him. I know there is great good in him - I have seen it many times. But, I am guilty of being unable to love others as well - equally and without judgment. I am guilty of letting fear of judgment paralyze my ability to say "this is wrong". I am guilty of assuming there was no alternative for this woman than the private enslavement she endured. Sometimes I trust too much and the wrong people.
Looking back on the last two months I am asking myself would I have done anything differently and I can not honestly say I would have ever had the courage to make a stand and say it was wrong what this person endured. Even after the lessons I have learned I let fear and what people might think rule my actions. I suppose God still has a pretty big job ahead of Him. Once he absolves the issues with my pride, perhaps He can begin to teach me how to really love my neighbor - the right neighbor.
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