The tragic news of the murder of Elliot Verasammy, 62 and his daughter Sarah, hit a community and family hard. He was a well-known figure in his simple way, and a longstanding resident of the street.
He was chatty, warm and despite the tragedies in his life maintained a happy generous spirit. He was one of those neighbours who would call out a ‘Good morning!’ from his front yard if he saw you passing.
On the night of his murder, July 3, 3Canal member Stanton Kewley (Elliot had a long working relationship with the band) had spent the day with him, assisting on a project. Elliot was an avid Carnival fan, and lent his skill to the building of costumes and sets.
There are so many people who contribute in small ways to national and community life here, but because they are familiar to us, we can take their presences for granted. No one would have expected violent deaths for Sarah or Elliot because they were simple, good people. Without a doubt, your own street and area are peopled by folk such as these.
They tend to fly under the radar. They don’t have lavish homes or drive high-end vehicles. They don’t participate in ostentatious charity giving, but they will bring mangoes from their tree, eggs from their chickens, or just-baked bread.
But these are dark days, and we are wont to view most with greater suspicion or indifference rather than engage. Lifestyles as well, in the ease of driving in and out of communities means that your neighbours can become mere faces on a pavement or in their gardens.
Of the Hs the archdiocese has rolled out, ‘Hospitality’ is the keenest need for most, within the Church and external to it, and while Hospitality Committees are a start, the sentiment has to become part of day-to-day experience, in the pews and in daily interaction.
A church in Jamaica began Masses at one point, with having its congregants introduce themselves to the people around them. Given that most people sit in the same pews almost every week, it was not long before first-name greetings became the norm. A community was being built; the neighbours in the pews seated around became more than familiar faces.
In this week’s gospel, Christ is asked: “And who is my neighbour?”. He goes on to narrate the tale of the Good Samaritan, and the assistance rendered from an unexpected front. The lesson is in the basic show of humanity: seeing and then acting upon it.
Mental health issues like depression are taking on almost epidemic proportions worldwide, and there are greater experiences of loneliness despite the sprawling virtual connections that are being made.
Community with characteristics of love and support has become perhaps the most fundamental and potentially salvific requirement in a time of growing individualisation and navel-gazing.
There are major ways of acting in showing care for your neighbours: the donation of tangible things to help the poor, the migrants and refugees; and the donation of time to these efforts as well.
These are extremely valuable but there are also smaller ways of acting that are too easily overlooked but equally valuable: politeness and amiability in a public space; greeting a stranger with eye-contact; sharing your warmth and conversation; finding ways to be aware of who is around you, and being respectful to them.
Imagine, should these be implemented, the ripple effect. Everyone then becomes your neighbour.