Eighty five year old, David Parker, and his eighty-year-old wife, Alice, stood hand in hand near the narrow arched gate of “Memorial Park” chatting with friends - Alice’s favorite past time. But the friendly smiles in an instant turned to frowns of concern, even fear.
“Oh my goodness, David, what’s happening?” Alice asked, a tremor in her gentle voice, as Berta Wycliff, self-appointed, one-woman neighborhood watchdog, barreled past them and down the brick path like a run-away steam engine. Mid-morning strollers in her path, parted like the Red Sea, as it was obvious Berta would charge over anyone in her way.
“I don’t know dear,” David answered, squeezing Alice’s hand, as they watched Berta’s bulky frame zero in on a park bench nestled before a garden of roses – and the old man sitting upon it.
Berta pulled to an abrupt stop directly in front of the bench - fists drilling into her ample hips, feet planted firmly, her eyes focused on her victim, whoever he was, like twin lasers. “You need to leave now,” Berta demanded for all to hear. “You have no business here and I expect you to leave immediately.”
The old man said nothing, merely bowed his head and closed his eyes.
“I’m warning you, if you don’t leave this minute I’ll call the police.” Berta bellowed.
Still the man did nothing.
“I warned you.” Berta grabbed her cell phone from her pocket and held it out like a live grenade. “Okay fine.” She had time to only press one button before David’s normally gentle hand came down firmly upon hers, pulling the phone from her grasp. “What the….David! This is none of your business, give me my phone so I can call the police.”
“You’ll call no one Berta, and it is my business when you are attacking this gentleman for no apparent reason.” David stated.
“Gentleman? Look at him David. He’s a bum, a vagrant. He has no business in our park and I intend to have him removed – for the safety of all you understand.” Berta glared at David’s kind face with a hostility he had rarely experienced. “Alice, get back. What are you doing?” Berta exclaimed, as tiny five foot nothing Alice walked past her and sat down next to the old man, taking his fragile hand in her own.
“I’m loving my neighbor Berta.” Alice stated frankly.
“Your what? You’re being ridiculous – he’s nobody’s neighbor – he’s a bum, and probably covered in lice.” Berta shivered.
“I’m not afraid of lice, but I am afraid of hate.” Alice turned to the old man, her voice soft, “I’m Alice, and I’m glad to meet you sir. How can we help you?”
For the first time the old man looked up, his weary eyes meeting those of compassion. Without loosing Alice’s hand, he stood up and pointed to the golden memorial plaque on the bench, “My name’s James, and that’s my wife…Nettie….she died two years ago today.” The old man sat back down, “We had our first date, sixty two years ago, right on this spot…a picnic….didn’t have much money back then… and we sat on this very bench the night before she died. Please, I just want to sit here and remember my Nettie. I promised her…”
“I’m so sorry James,” Alice soothed, “can you tell me where you live?”
“No where particular, ain’t go no home anymore, but I’m not dangerous.” James sighed a ragged sigh, “Please just let me spend time with my Nettie, please.” James cried.
“You stay just as long as you need James,” said David, “Right Berta? That’s what I thought.” Even Berta’s hardened heart, reluctantly, had been softened.
“Would you please stay with me?” James asked squeezing Alice’s hand and looking at David. “I’d like to tell you about my Nettie.”
Dave and Alice sat beside their neighbor, on a bench within a park, and listened to an incredible story of eternal love.
The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31
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