How Loving Thy Neighbor Taught a Very Different Lesson
Loving isn't easy, but Lessons can still be Learned
A couple days ago, I posted on Facebook a complaint about my hoarder neighbor. She is an elderly lady, doesn’t have Facebook, and I reported her hoarding a while ago when I had the misfortune of using her bathroom. My toilet had overflowed and was still running and running and I needed to use the restroom, but I was waiting on the emergency maintenance guy to get to my apartment and turn off the water. I rushed next door and asked my neighbor if I could use her restroom. I had never been in her home before, but I had sat on her back patio several times and chatted with her and when I’d driven by and seen in her back window, I noticed that she had an awful lot of tables, crates, and craft supplies in her living room. She invited me in and I was taken aback by just how much clutter there was and the unclean nature of her kitchen to my right and her filled hallway in front of me. She had boxes and boxes of ramen noodles, canned goods, and other sundry items. I glimpsed into the living room and saw craft supplies, Christmas decorations, crates and every flat surface was covered in these items. The carpet was invisible underneath all of the clutter. I was afraid to use the restroom, but I really had to pee!
I entered the bathroom, which I believe hadn’t been cleaned in the seven years she had lived there. The bathtub had black patches on the porcelain, the trash can was overflowing with old lady diapers, the sink had heavy rust stains, and the toilet had one of those assist seats on it that was covered in stains and band-aids. There was no cover on the tank. This is important for the next portion of the tale. I remembered my public bathroom and foreign country potty training and used the facilities. When I went to flush, the handle fell off and water spurted out of the tank into my face and on my arms. Imagine my horror, hand flapping, and attempts to not throw up. I washed my hands, refusing the hand towel that was suspicious, and dried my hands on my pants. I told her the handle had broken and she came in, water splashed on her, she brushed it off and with her wet shirt, she said she’d call maintenance some time later and she went to sit on her couch. I ran home, cleaned my bathroom floor, and took a scalding shower.
After seeing this, I reported her home’s condition to elder care and to my landlord. I was grossed out by her hoarding, but I was also concerned she’d burn our apartments down or introduce bugs into my clean environment. Her apartment was cleaned by a friend, and that friend comes every few weeks to help this woman maintain the cleanliness in her apartment. Her carpet is truly lovely, to which my godson reminded me, it’s been covered for seven years, of course it still looks nice! I’ve lived next to her for almost a year. I know her fairly well from our conversations and I know that she never uses her air conditioning. She leaves the windows open almost all day. She also smokes incessantly. Last week, as I exited my car, the entire front walkway of our apartment reeked of cigarette smoke and used diapers. It was a disgusting stench permeating the air and hard to breathe through. Walking to my door, the smell wafted to me. I posted about the smell of cigarettes and old lady diapers stinking up the apartments.
Before I continue, let me share a little bit more of our neighborly relationship. Aside from our porch chats, we have also conversed politely when we are both outside for some reason. I know we’re both night owls. She is partially deaf and can’t hear me when I play piano, which is convenient to know I’m not annoying a neighbor. I know she’s diabetic and a widow, that she loves to garden, and that she has some troubled adult children. She knows I teach middle school and that I love to sing. She volunteers several times a week, but is always home by 2:30, whereas my teaching job may end at 3:40, but I’m usually there until 5:30 or later, depending on how entrenched I become in organizing my desk or lesson planning.
The Parking Space
Around January or February, I came home from work, on time, to find someone was parked in my parking space. At the time, I was wearing a huge walking boot because of an Achilles tendon injury. My parking space is part of my rent package. It has my apartment number stenciled onto it and it is right in front of my door. I wasn’t just in a cast, I also had a trunk full of groceries and I had to park in guest parking. I honked my horn in frustration and parked. The neighbor came out with her friend and called over to me “I hope you don’t mind. My friend is in your spot. You’re never here this time of the day, so we figured you wouldn’t mind.” I stumbled over, hands full of groceries and limping with my cast. I replied, “I’m home now. And I do mind. This is my spot. I am in a cast, in snow, and I’d like to be in front of my apartment in my parking space.” I cannot tell you what my tone of voice was, but I know I didn’t yell and I tried to sound polite because we’re neighbors and I want to get along. Her friend yelled at me that she thought I wouldn’t mind. I responded that guest parking is for guests and numbered parking is for residents. My neighbor slammed her door while her friend grumbled, moved to her car, and slammed her car door upon entry. She drove away and I pondered if I should have a chat with my neighbor, but I still had groceries to unload and wanted to move my car to my space, so I hoped this was a one-time incident.
It wasn’t. Twice more, her friend was parked in my spot that winter. Each time, I gave a little honk and requested “Please don’t have your guests park in my parking space.” The reply was they didn’t think I’d mind because I wasn’t home. I shared that I was on a boot and that I didn’t know my schedule daily, but I wanted the convenience of coming home to an empty parking space and not having to hobble through the snow on an injured leg. Both times, the door was slammed in my face and her friend yelled at me and slammed her car door before driving away. I was able to impart before the neighbor’s door slammed that I would report her to the leasing office if she used my parking space again.
It happened once more in the spring. I was out of my walking boot, but my trunk was once again full of groceries. I was rude. I just laid on my horn until the neighbor came out with her friend. I loudly stated that I would be letting the landlord know and again, the doors slammed. I reported it to the rental office and was told that no one should be parking in my space except for me and that if it happened again, they would speak with my neighbor. It happened three weeks ago, this summer. A different guest was parked in my spot, a truck backed in with the gate opened. I was rude again. I parked and yelled “I want the parking space I paid for in my rent!!!!” The neighbor didn’t even come out this time. Her guest stepped out, a middle aged lady with a short hair cut, and said “We’re just moving a few items. You weren’t here. I thought you wouldn’t mind.” In a barely patient voice, I stated that the neighbor should move HER car as it is in front of HER apartment and that she has infringed upon my space four separate times and I should not have to sit by while she, without my consent, takes something without even asking. That is disrespectful. Her friend stated, “Only fifteen more minutes.” And I said, “No, I want my spot now.” But the friend refused to move and once again a door was slammed. I waited thirty minutes until the truck lady drove away. The neighbor has barely spoken to me since the second occurrence of my parking space theft. I helped her friend who cleans the apartment, who also happens to be the violator of parking spot incidents one through four, carry the trash out. Her thanks was a grunt and a nasty look. I have tried to be courteous, but it has been difficult when I find this woman to be a rude, old biddy.
Facebook Feeding Frenzy
I posted my annoyance on Facebook, no names were used as I wouldn’t want to be guilty of libel nor tarnish this woman’s reputation should any of my friends know her. A Facebook “friend” of mine responded with “Hoarding is a disease. Cigarettes are an addiction. Someday, when you’re much older, you may have to wear old lady diapers. Compassion – find some.” Now, here’s the deal. The person who wrote this is a fellow graduate of my undergraduate alma mater. She is also one of my sorority sisters, and was, in fact, my big sister when I pledged. We were never close because she was standoffish in college, or shy, and she wasn’t warm and fuzzy as I wanted a big sister to be. She apparently has a degenerative disease and although she is still young, I believe my diaper comment may have hit too close to home, either due to her current need or a fear for her future need. I don’t want to impugn her character, but my overall feeling is that there’s no need to be judgmental and chastise me publicly. No one wants to feel or be shamed in front of 307 Facebook friends and acquaintances. Also, this rebuke came from a woman who has never posted on my wall, commented on one of my threads, or liked any of my postings. In eight years of “Facebook Friendship”, you only talk to me to rebuke me? No thanks!
I deleted my post and her comment, but was still bothered by it for several days. I wanted to write another post and justify my words, after all, she didn’t know the whole story, the ways I’ve reached out to this neighbor, the attempts I made to be polite and helpful. She hasn’t had the door slammed in her face by this woman. I was also angered that a professing Christian would be so unbiblical as to confront me publically before attempting to speak with me privately. Not that I ever want to be rebuked, but the Bible tells us to go to someone privately first and if they don’t repent, then bring in a second or third party to discuss the infraction. And even knowing that this woman isn’t a genuine friend, I had to ask myself why does her opinion matter? Why should I be perturbed by her rebuke?
Days later, the neighbor smoked in front of my air conditioning unit, bringing smoke into my apartment, which clogs up my nose and hurts my throat. I have little tolerance for cigarette smoke. I posted this on Facebook with the additional comment “Compassion be damned. She’s being discourteous on purpose. Discourtesy is not a disease, nor an addition.” Another Christian friend replied “70x7” on my thread, a quote from Jesus’ words in the Bible to forgive someone who sins against one 70 times 7 times. Once again, I felt publically reprimanded. I felt both women should have said something privately. It’s okay if I make an ass out of myself publically, but if someone feels that way, I’d appreciate him or her speaking to me personally and privately, rather than in view of a crowd of people. Castigation in front of others only puts the receiver in a position of defense.
As I wrote in my journal about this incident, I reflected on why I was so upset. Yes, I felt embarrassed. Yes, I worried I crossed a line talking about my neighbor. Maybe I wasn’t compassionate. But, it is hard to be compassionate to someone who I’ve reached out to but has been consistently getting ruder. My aggravation with Facebook has been slowly building up as I am juggling friends who are extremely left and extremely right and agreeing with one earns me demerits with the other, while rejoicing with the other earns me passive aggressive remarks about whosever side I am taking.
In the midst of the reflection, I learned something that I hope I can hold on to. In thinking of my own classroom, there have been several students who I never got along with and I felt like every day was a confrontation and always a losing battle. Like many teachers, I will say a student’s name when I want his or her attention. Some students do not mind, while others immediately react negatively. I need to remember how I felt in that moment. I need to remember so that when I teach, I don’t make a students feel they been rebuked in public, where they feel instantly defensive.
In an oblique way, I could thank my neighbor and my two judges. In a cause and effect schematic, the neighbor’s actions led to my boiling point, which led to my choice, good or poor, to post comments on Facebook. My comments instigated censure from my peers which caused discontent in me. Discontent led to reflection and reflection led to a discovery that will impact my teaching because I was able to put myself in my students’ shoes and empathize with their defense mechanisms. I may not love my neighbor, but I love my students and I love teaching and I want to have a classroom atmosphere that is positive and conducive to everyone’s best interests.