Who is My Neighbor?

That question begins associate editor Erick Trickey's story "Promised Land" (page 78), which explores why a group of Euclid residents are fighting plans for Providence Baptist's new church and more than 100 new homes surrounding it.

From the Providence pulpit, it's easy to see that the true neighbor is "the one who has compassion." But outside that sanctuary, such clarity is clouded by politics, economics, lawsuits, race and fear — sentiments that are much farther away from compassion and a neighborly sense of community than the 23 acres the congregation wants for its new church.

Euclid's future is at stake, argue opponents of the church. The financially strapped city will lose out on future tax revenue and squander its largest tract of undeveloped land, they contend.

But Euclid's soul seems to be on the line, too.

Who is my neighbor?

No matter where you live, the question is important. From the metropolitan areas to the suburban enclaves that make up our region, defining who we are — as an entire community — is crucial. In light of the recent announcement that Cleveland is the poorest big city in the nation, with an estimated 31.3 percent of its people living in poverty, we find ourselves at a critical juncture.

When so many of us are struggling below the poverty line, we are all poor. Our community suffers. Too many dreams are being dashed, too many mouths are not being fed, too many minds are not being nurtured.

Pundits everywhere debate why, as a society, we find ourselves living so far away from the people who live right next door. Whether fueled by newfangled technology or old-fashioned apathy, the gap seems to widen every day.

The front-porch communities that make up Northeast Ohio have become fewer and fewer as more and more people huddle inside and lock their doors behind them.

In this column last October, I wrote about having to cut down the tree that defined our back yard in West Park. I recently received an e-mail from Gail Stern, who grew up in our house.

"It is with tears of joy that I tell you how much I loved your article on my dad's tree," she began. Planting the tree "was the most special thing my mom did upon his death on Nov. 4, 1964, when we were small children. He was 39 years old and a beautiful person."

Growing up, "it was a house filled with love and commitment," she recalls.

Gail met her husband, Tom, around the corner from our house in his back yard. They were married June 19, 1976, and have several children. Wherever they've lived since, Gail has planted a Norway maple as living tribute to her father's memory.

And she keeps in touch with some of our neighbors, who have lived on the street since the time Gail and her family did. In fact, they were the ones who made sure that she had a copy of the story. "I love them very much," she wrote.

Who is my neighbor?

Neighbors are people who share a lifelong connection. They are the people who knew us in our youth, picked us up in times of need or helped us to grow as adults. They are the people who stepped forward in our lives to make us who we are and they are those we don't see but who give us something unexpected.

Now, Northeast Ohio must decide: Who is my neighbor?

How we choose to answer the question will define us.

Correction: Several columns of our Private Schools "Cheat Sheet" (September 2004) were transposed for Lake Ridge Academy and Lake Catholic High School. The correct information for Lake Catholic High School includes: Foreign Languages: German, Spanish, French and Latin; AP Courses: 3; Number of Music Offerings: 9; Newspaper/ Frequency: Yes/N/A; Other Media Offerings: N/A; Speech Team: No; Academic Challenge Team: No; Number Nonathletic Clubs: 42; Number of Interscholastic Sports: 19; Number of Intramural Sports: 1; Lunch Cost: $2.25; Special-diet Lunch: N/A; % Grads to Four-year College: 84; % Grads to First-choice College: N/A; 2003-04 National Merit Finalists: 0. The correct information for Lake Ridge Academy includes: Foreign Languages: French, Spanish; AP Courses: 13; Number of Music Offerings: 14; Newspaper/Frequency: Yes/Quarterly; Other Media Offerings: Yearbook, TV/Video editing; Speech Team: Yes; Academic Challenge Team: Yes; Number Nonathletic Clubs: 18; Number of Interscholastic Sports: 10; Number of Intramural Sports: 4; Lunch Cost: N/A; Special-diet Lunch: N/A; % Grads to Four-year College: 100; % Grads to First-choice College: 90; 2003-04 National Merit Finalists: 5. We regret these errors.

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