Who’s My Neighbor? (Part 3)
“What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8–ESV)?
I didn’t know Barbara Searight well. Didn’t really know her husband Richard at all. Sad to say–after all, they’re our neighbors.
What I’ve come to know–mostly through written correspondence with Barbara–is she and I share a love of writing, an appreciation for friendship, and, what joins us most, a passionate heart for Jesus.
And Richard? He was born with what was called ‘concave chest,’ has undergone multiple surgeries, was turned down for the military (due to his compromised health), and married Barbara when he was twenty-eight and she was two years his senior. Together they raised five children. This man, with his somewhat rough exterior, has a love for simple things–like children and creating primitive furniture.
My first introduction to Richard wasn’t even a face-to-face encounter. Rather, he’d dropped off a little garden windmill in Green Bay Packer green and gold, grumbling to my dad, “I’m not a Packers fan, but I heard you were.” Thus, I know one more bit about Richard, who I’ve since learned happens to favor the Minnsota Vikings.
One day earlier this summer, Allie, her friend Haiden, and I decided to visit this couple. I had a get-well gift for my neighbor who, like me, loves to read–a copy of another friend’s recently released book This Life We Share (NavPress, 2020). Its author, Maggie Wallem Rowe, became a closer “neighbor” when she moved from Wheaton, Illinois to our small town the summer of 2018. We met for the first time at a Christmas party in December of that year and became fast friends.
With book in hand, our trio pulled in the Searight’s driveway on a hot July morning, wearing smiles hidden behind masks. We made small talk a few minutes, then I handed Barbara her gift. “After all, we do share life out here in White Oak.” I sort of chuckled at my play on words before continuing. “I hate that it’s taken me this long to accept your invitation to stop by.”
Barbara turned the book over, scanning the back cover. “Looks good.”
I explained that it was a devotional of sorts–that I hoped it would brighten her days. “I know you’ve not been feeling well.” Barbara nodded her affirmation. “Anyway, my friend Maggie signed it for you. She’s a beautiful storyteller.”
“Thank you,” Barbara said, her eyes smiling her pleasure. Then, turning toward her husband, “This is Richard. He thought you girls might like to see his birds.”
Each of us, being avid animal lovers, nodded our pleasure. “Yes. Yes, we would.”
Richard, wearing overalls, silently motioned for us to follow. He led the way to a pair of cages where, by leaning in, one could see several birds. “Here they are.” Richard spoke for the first time. “I raise them.”
Opening the cage, he slipped his hand inside, then carefully withdrew. The girls and I pressed even closer to get a better look. Richard’s aged hands held a small, nearly featherless creature. “Recently hatched,” he said. “Mama’s protective, but she won’t mind.” He lifted his hands, tenderly cupping the tiny bird.
“Wow,” we exclaimed in unison.
Always honest, “It’s kind of ugly,” Allie whispered–not wanting to hurt the bird’s, nor Richard’s, feelings.
“It’s a Birmingham Roller,” Richard replied, then Barbara continued for her quiet husband.
“They’re known to fly high in the sky, then somersault around–like a sort of acrobat–nearly crashing to the ground before landing perfectly.” Her eyes continued to smile as they shifted from us to her husband of fifty-three years. “Richard’s been raising them off and on since he was a boy–probably about your age. One of the things he loves the best.”
Richard nodded but spoke nothing more for a moment–just stared at the baby bird he still held in his hands.
“Why do they somersault?” Allie’s friend Haiden asked, eyes wide with wonder.
“Don’t know. No one does. Just instinct, I reckon.” Richard never took his eyes off the coveted creature, though they, too, were smiling.
“That’s really interesting,” I added. “Girls, we should read more about them–see if we can find out for ourselves.” Skeptical, I was thinking to myself, There certainly has to be a reason Birmingham Rollers behave this way.
Richard encouraged the girls to feed the adults–interjecting an occasional, “Careful,” “Easy now,” or “That’s it.” He stood beside them, a protective father.
Finally it was time for us to leave. Thanking Richard and Barbara for having us, I added, “Let me know how you enjoy Maggie’s book. There are so many wonderful stories between its cover, I just know you’ll love it as much as I do.” Then, “Hey, let me take your picture. I’d love to share with her how we’re sharing her book with others with whom we share life.” Again, I chuckled at my own creative play on words.
The girls gathered around Barbara who held up This Life We Share. Each said “Cheese”–though only their eyes smiled. (I thought I overheard Richard grumble once more, upon hearing ‘Cheese’–“I’m not a Packers fan!)
We left that day knowing a bit better these neighbors of ours–those who seek out ways to care for others in our small community, pick up trash along the road despite their own hardships with health, sometimes with extended family members.
Later, I looked up Birmingham Rollers, and I discovered that what Richard said under his breath, behind his mask, was true. Even experts can’t say for certain why these aerial acrobats do what they do–fly high, then somersault to the ground, landing in the nick of time. It’s just a mystery.
But as I’ve pondered further Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan I think I have an idea. Perhaps the Creator of all good and precious gifts–like Birmingham Rollers to a Boy-Man named Richard–placed within His creation certain characteristics simply to teach us lessons.
The Samaritan took pity on a wounded man along the road from Jerusalem to Jericho–someone he had no obligation to assist, whom thieves had beaten, whom religious leaders scorned. Humbly, not considering himself better, he then acted justly–serving this stranger kindly, with love. Thus, he became the object lesson of Jesus’ message to an expert of the Law. Though the Samaritan would long, no doubt, for heaven, Jesus used him as an example–demonstrating that it’s equally important to keep feet on the ground, eyes fixed on opportunities to serve while yet on earth.
“Which of these do you think proved to be a good neighbor?” Jesus asked.
“The one who showed mercy,” Expert replied.
“Go. Do likewise” (Luke 10:36-37).
Reminds me of an old Chris Christian song that speaks of being so “heavenly minded” we can’t be any “earthly good” (Gold Mine Studio, 1982)– As my friend Maggie shares in her devotional–the one I gave to Barbara–
We weren’t created to live in isolation but community … As [children] of our heavenly Father, we have a responsibility to care for [others] … (From Reflection 51, p. 239).
Seems Birmingham Rollers understand this truth and reflect it in their unique, acrobatic flight patterns. Perhaps God gave them the gift simply as a demonstration of how we, too, should live. While we aim for Heaven, soaring high, we understand that it’s equally important to spend our days here caring for others. Thus, like these birds, we return to earth (But how fun to somersault!) that we might live our days offering life–indeed, the Source of life–to those with whom our paths cross by-
While walking humbly with God.
Dear Jesus, give us eyes to see those in need around us. Give us passion for the lost. When words are difficult to find, speak through us by the power of Your Spirit. While You’ve called us to soar on wings like eagles, enable us to walk the dusty roads set before us–for Your glory and the good of others. Amen.
(Click here for a copy of This Life We Share.)