It was an atypical Sunday evening with the oven on and the nice dishes placed at the table. I was hosting the sister missionaries, and while we were getting to know each other, I ceremoniously presented them with a rare treat (in my house at least): a home-cooked, well balanced meal. I didn’t burn the frozen lasagna, the ready-to-heat garlic bites were amazing (if not a little too enthusiastic with the herbs), a legit salad graced us from its sealed bag, and the company was delightful.
That was until my neighbor (let’s call her Prudence) decided to join in via pounding on the wall to “politely” let me know we were being too loud. The sisters were confused, and I was perturbed: after all it was six in the evening, we weren’t playing the tuba, and our laughter couldn’t be that loud. This was an on-going battle, I explained to the sisters, wrought with noise complaints, calling of the manager and notices that my weeds were just as out of control as my child. Apparently Prudence doesn’t like the length of my weeds when she looks over the fence on her step stool.
Now, before you start taking her side, let me clarify: I live alone. My son is over only on the weekends, and I’m only home when I need to sleep and read books. No stereo, no tubas, no honeymoon excitements; just me surrounded by fictional men. So, how she is able to complain over and over again, especially over laughter (I’d understand if this was at 3 a.m., but again—fictional men only), is not something I’ve been able to figure out. I think she gets bored or has precision hearing, or is just a curmudgeon who hasn’t mastered the concept of apartment living. Yes, you can hear me . . . we share a wall!
But Prudence wasn’t about to ruin our evening—this was nothing a little ice cream couldn’t handle, paired nicely with a rambunctious conversation on exacting revenge. After crossing off most of the list due to budget restraints, environmental hazards and legal ramifications, we settled on the ultimate: the sisters would knock on her door and offer her eternal salvation! (Cue the Jaws soundtrack.)
It was the perfect solution: my neighbor became annoyed as she yelled at the sisters, “The sign says NO SOLICITING,” and I stifled my laughter when I heard the unwavering sister innocently reply with “I’m not selling anything.”
“You’re selling religion!”
She was relentless, but the sisters were trained, combat ready and not backing down, letting my neighbor know that “salvation is free because of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
With that the door slammed, the sisters carried on with their leftovers (I sent them home with the bottle of Ranch dressing), and I was on cloud nine. Not only had I given the sisters a referral, but my neighbor was given the opportunity to hear the gospel. It was perfect.
Almost too perfect . . .
While I was basking in my triumph, a soft, patient voice kept whispering, “Yeah, but did you really win?” Then, to make matters worse, I started to listen to that voice and begrudgingly grabbed my scriptures:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37–40; see also Gal. 5:14).
Yep, it was still there and the principle didn’t change one bit in all this time. No addenda or loop-holes added to justify my stubbornness; I was blundering over the second most important commandment. Brilliant.
For many of us, it isn’t a problem of knowing the right thing to do in this situation but of the application instead. It wasn’t about taking the high road or killing her with kindness; I couldn’t do any of that until I had a complete change of heart.
I had to love my neighbor.
I had to accept her as who she was. I needed to show empathy towards her own struggles. It wasn’t about being nice; it was about wanting to be nice, and that takes effort.
My first inclination was to wait until I cooled down. Maybe perceived as the more lackadaisical approach, but in this instance and with my mouth—definitely the smartest. This battle between us has been going on for nine months. I couldn’t just bake her cookies and expect things to be better, especially if you consider the edibility of said cookies.
So, I was going to wait (i.e. ignore the issue). But it kept popping up in my head. The issue never left me alone, but instead of feeling bad about it, I’d quickly turn the chess board 180 degrees and spend the time planning what I would do when I eventually moved out and left her with a going away present. For weeks I let it hover in the back recesses of my mind, often bringing it up among friends and family to get their ideas of how I could “gift” her. I’m glad to report I have very supportive and imaginative friends—quite proud of them, really. And who knows, maybe ex-lax would actually improve the taste of my brownies.
Venting sessions aside, I knew I didn’t have the gusto to act on any of these so-called solutions. I’m kind of a nice person and when it comes to harboring grudges and plotting attacks, I knew I was all talk and no action. That and the Holy Ghost wasn’t about to let up on me.
Yes, inspiration does often hit when you least expect it. It was a bright sunny Saturday and I was surrounded by chocolate, putting together little baggies of treats for Mother’s Day. It was then at my dining table writing cards of love and appreciation to my friends that my stubbornness finally subsided. I thought of Prudence and wondered if she would be having anyone over to celebrate Mother’s Day with her. I didn’t even know if she had children and that realization hit me, hard. I didn’t know anything about her. How could I be accepting of her, empathetic towards her needs, and ultimately love her if I didn’t even know her. And for the first time since Prudence had been introduced into my life, I really wanted to care.
So, for my “revenge” I asked my ten-year-old son to take two goodie bags: one to Prudence and the other to her cohort, the apartment manager. Yes, it was cowardly of me to have my son deliver them, but he’s a lot cuter than me. The manager was delighted and waved at me across the lawn. Braden took longer at Prudence’s door; I was hiding away and as the seconds ticked by became worried of what she might do to my sweet, innocent messenger, yet not too worried to show my face and actually be present. Minutes went by before Braden returned with two hand-knitted wash cloths gifted to me, which I took as a sort of truce.
I like to think that the battle is over, and as I’ve taken to self-reflection of what I’ve learned and how I’ve matured from all of this, only one truth remains constant: I gave her Ghirardelli chocolate and she counter attacked with cleaning supplies.