Martini: shaken not stirred

 God bless my neighbor  

As a Canadian, I have lived my life in the shadow of a giant. A gentle giant. Strong yet kind. Powerful yet generous. Demanding yet fair. I have been mentored by this giant, even though my neighbor has not really had any reason to notice me.

Simply by living next door, I've been blessed. Changed. Molded into a better person. This neighbor has welcomed me every time I visit, has encouraged me in my work and recognized my meager contribution to society with heartfelt enthusiasm. The front door has always been open, the backyard a playground of recreational opportunities virtually without limit.

Like many others, I've taken my neighbor for granted. From time to time, I've burned with frustration over minor issues. Sometimes I feel so comfortable in my neighbor's home that I expect to be treated like family. When I've behaved foolishly, my giant friend has forgiven me. The greatest frustration has come from witnessing moments of weakness in the steady, strong moral character of this giant, for I expect my friend to live up to nearly impossible standards.

My neighbor's children, resolute and bold and focused -- and yes, at times even arrogant -- have influenced my own approach to life in uncountable ways. I am richer, deeper, stronger, more confident as a result. I am gentler, kinder, and more thoughtful. My life has been inexorably intertwined with that of my nearby friend, right down to the clothes I wear, the activities I enjoy, and the depth of my faith in God. While I may sometimes chuckle at my neighbor's obvious weaknesses, I'm grateful for every moment we've shared together for I have enjoyed them so.

This week I cried for my neighbor.

I gasped in disbelief. I struggled to deal with the horror I felt as I saw my friend suffer unimaginable tragedy at the hands of cold, heartless, ungrateful brutes. As I watched my friend's family torn to pieces by someone else's hatred, words were not possible. Only tears.

In the days that followed, I saw qualities that surprised me. Yes, I always knew they were there. But they surprised me just the same. I saw a family that knew what had to be done and did it. First through fear. Then, through tears. In the midst of untold grief, the foundation of my giant friend's approach to life was not shaken. If anything, it was affirmed. As I watched this family share its great pain through prayer and sharing and thoughtful, patient planning, I realized what I love most about my neighbor.

My neighbor has taught me the value of freedom. In my friend's home, freedom is not just a buzzword. It's not merely an abstract idea. It's not something to be feared or held cautiously at a distance. No. In my friend's home, freedom is something to be lived with all the energy, all the rich boldness that life has to offer.

Thank you America. As long as I live in your shadow, may you never stop teaching me that lesson, though I pray that you never again suffer for your freedom as you did September 11, 2001.


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