I live in an apartment in a city of almost 2 million people. I am surrounded by apartments filled with people, in streets filled with people, in a city filled with people. I know everyone in my block of units, and wave to a few in other blocks, but I am never home long enough to meet and know everyone. For those I haven’t met, but see daily through my kitchen windows, I feel as though I know them. I know when they wake up and go to bed. I know what their pyjamas look like as they water their plants or take a stretch on their balconies each morning. I can hear the music they listen to and hear their late night conversations through my bedroom window. I feel connected to them.
Directly across from my kitchen window in the neighbouring apartment is an old man — we’ve named him Arthur. He lives alone. Arthur would be at least eighty-years-old, and he gets up late in the morning. He fumbles his way out to the balcony in his striped brown pyjamas, leaning on the railing for support. Occasionally he hangs one or two items of clothing on an old piece of string he uses as a clothesline, and he comes out every couple of hours to check if they’ve dried. Each day he quietly stands out in the sun, breathing in the fresh air coming straight from the ocean. He loves the fresh air so much he never closes the glass sliding door or curtains to the balcony, which is off his bedroom. Two weeks ago I noticed the glass sliding door was closed and the curtains drawn. I was hopeful that Arthur had gone away for a while, maybe to visit family? I’d never seen or heard anyone else at Arthur’s, but surely he has family, or a friend? He’d never, ever closed that door or those curtains in the almost twelve months that I have lived in my apartment.
Arthur’s unit was strangely silent for two weeks, and I was starting to become concerned. Surely he wouldn’t stay away for that long? He couldn’t walk without a walker, and I knew he wasn’t in his unit unwell, as he wouldn’t have had time to close the curtains or door. I puzzled over who to ask, who to contact. I didn’t know what to do, but I also didn’t want to invade his privacy.
I didn’t get the chance to ask about Arthur. A few days ago his apartment was a hive of activity. People were in there moving things around and sorting stuff. A large skip bin was delivered under the balcony and things were being thrown from the balcony into the bin. A truck arrived and picked up old furniture from his apartment and garage. Nothing was spared. Paintings were removed from the walls and tossed into the large bin; photos, bedding, clothes, kitchenware, books. A beautiful old grandfather clock from the garage was thrown carelessly on top and I felt incredibly sad.
It’s pretty obvious that Arthur had gone into hospital and died. Everything he owned was thrown into that bin or removed in the truck. His old, red walking frame wasn’t spared either, and I can see his stripped apartment from my kitchen window. It’s an apartment filled with sadness — a life gone, with no one to truly care.
We are all created in God’s image; believers and non-believers alike. Regardless of the lives we live, we all want to matter to someone, to know we are cared about. God has written eternity upon the hearts of each of us, and as image bearers we are created for relationship. I don’t know much about Arthur besides his daily routine, but I do know he was always alone. Once Arthur had gone, every worldly possession was either carried off in a truck, or thrown into a trash bin. Every item in his unit would have meant something to him. Humans cannot help but surround ourselves with things that are either practical and useful, or meaningful. As the paintings were discarded, I couldn’t help but think about Arthur having chosen them. It’s hard for me to reconcile that at the end of his life, everything that Arthur had chosen and collected, ended up in the rubbish heap. Is there anyone on this planet who will even notice he’s gone, besides a neighbour who spends too much time in the kitchen? We had a storm last night and I watched as the rain bucketed into that skip bin, soaking through his discarded belongings. It seemed like a final insult.
I cannot help but reflect on the life of a Christian when I think of Arthur. As Christians, we are never alone. We are filled with God’s Spirit and we have the gift of each other. Life was never meant to be spent alone. God has always modelled relationship to us; there are three in the trinity, God chose a nation as His own, He gave us marriage, church, family, and community. Community living has always been important to God, and this is reflective in our church life.
As Christians, we cannot live isolated lives; we need one another. I wonder how different the end of Arthur’s life would have been had he been a Christian. I know how my church family cares for one another and I am saddened that so many people in this world don’t have it. We need to cleave to our churches and to each other. We need to stay in community and encourage accountable Christian relationships. While the world may tell us to live as we want, looking after ourselves; we know our God tells us differently. Paul repeatedly exhorts us to be unified, connected to the body, of one mind sharing in one spirit. God is a God of connectedness, relationship and we need to live our lives similarly; grafted in to the Body, connected to our God.
 1 Peter 3:8, Philippians 2:2, 1 Corinthians 1:10, Romans 12:4-5