Love Thy Neighbor
--by Joe Slevcove, posted Jul 22, 2007
When my wife, Beth, and I moved from the suburbs to a warehouse loft in the center of a large city, Beth embraced every aspect of urban life -- even the sirens, the parking problems, and the car alarms at night. The homeless people made me nervous, but Beth learned their names. The only neighbors who bothered her were the guys who ran the tattoo parlor across the street. They got into traffic-stopping fights, harassed women on the sidewalk, and intimidated men. They were the reason Beth didn’t walk on that side of the street. For two years she glared out our window at the row of men sitting in
front of the shop and fantasized about shooting out their tires.
Then one day she called me at work to tell me she was getting a tattoo. She’d never wanted a tattoo before and had even taken pride in being one of the few people in our group of friends with no body art. Though surprised, I said "okay". Later she called me back and announced, “I did it.”
When I got home, Beth excitedly showed me the delicately inscribed words “Love thy neighbor” on her wrist. She explained how she’d marched across the street and gone into the tattoo parlor. The walls were covered with drawings of skulls, bloody knives, naked women, and the Virgin of Guadalupe. Manuel, the proprietor, was working on somebody’s backside. Beth introduced herself as his neighbor and asked if she could watch. He said sure.
After a while, she went outside and sat in front to study the world from their perspective. The guy next to her asked what she was getting done.
“‘Love thy neighbor,’ ” she muttered.
“Why?” he asked.
“Well, you guys are my neighbors, and I’m having trouble loving you. You kind of scare me — you know, with the fights that break out over here and all.”
He ushered her back into the shop and announced, with complete sincerity, “Manuel, dude, we’re scaring our neighbors! We got to stop fighting.”
Manuel was defensive — until Beth explained that she didn’t want to change him; she just wanted to get this tattoo.
Manuel showed her a picture in a magazine of “Love thy neighbor” tattooed on a man’s inner forearm — with bloody knives in the background.
“Not exactly,” said Beth.
After they’d settled on a design, Manuel began to do his art on her wrist. Then he stopped. “How do you spell thy?” he asked shyly. “I didn’t go to school.”
The other tattoo artist piped in, “Dude, it’s not because you didn’t go to school. It’s because you don’t read the Bible!”
From then on Beth would wave to the tattoo artists as if they were old pals.
The music from across the street was not so grating to her nerves. No more fights broke out. The sidewalk felt safe.
Four months later, Beth took our car in for an oil change and saw Manuel talking to the repairman behind the counter.
As she began to remind him who she was, he stepped forward and gave her a warm hug. “Hey,” he said to his friend behind the counter, “this is my neighbor, the one I was telling you about.”
As Christians we are always being watched.