I'm really not that great a neighbor. I seem to like my privacy more and more each year, and I have added a little barbed wire to the perimeter to be sure the riff-raff stays on the other side of the boundary. I wasn't always this way. Time and experience have definitely added a few locks and bolts to the doors.
It's very easy to be kind to children (especially little children) -- they're persistent for one thing. They don't take up a lot of space, and they have no problem seeing you as the authority. They let you be the one in control. They don't criticize you. They don't eat much. Overall, they offer a good return on your investment. Teenagers are a little harder, but are still preferred over the bonafide adult population.
Grown ups are simply not so easy to like. I find this to be true in many settings, but especially in my home. The worst kind are grown ups who do not respect my boundaries. I find that once you let them in, they're very difficult to get rid of, so I have been forced to reinforce my boundaries over the years. There are some, once inside, that feel compelled to criticize my life choices (including, but not limited to, my decor, my movie collection, my parenting skills, my book collection, my housekeeping skills (or lack thereof)...etc. etc. ad nauseum.
My trouble with grown ups has a certain pattern about it. There are certain personality types I have severe difficulty with. I really dislike one neighbor in particular. I will call him Association Man. He embodies many of the traits I dislike, so my next neighborhood story will be about him. This is not my first experience with such a person, by the way. In the last place we lived, the Association Man was a woman who we fondly referred to as "the Sea Witch" (our development was called "Sea Watch").
Association Man has memorized the "CC&R" s. He seems friendly at first, but looks over your shoulder as he shakes your hand to get a good look inside your place, hoping to find an infraction of the rules. He calls the Association with his complaints (or writes complaint letters that are delivered by the Association.) His lawn is meticulous, and he stands guard over it everyday. No lawn lives up to his expectation. He sweeps the street regularly. He has no children at home (in his case one step child who is grown and moved on). His corner is not enough. He comes to your corner, too. Association Man has actually cut the buds off of a tree in my yard (It would have attracted bees, he explained later), and cut branches off of other trees (the kids hang out under the tree and pull the leaves off of the branches they could reach. These leaves eventually come over to his yard. He did everyone a favor by cutting the branches to a height that the children couldn't reach. Ascetics were not motivating him at the time....) He does these things without asking -- fully believing he is acting in your best interest. He knows everything that is happening in the neighborhood, and is not happy about any of it. I have never one time heard him compliment anyone. Never a positive word.
Association Man is sick, and has been since we moved in. He was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy and is slowly degenerating. He is always home, on disability. Occasionally he has needed the help of a cane to walk. Lately more than ever. Sometimes I am able to peek through all the barbed wire and really see him. When I do, it breaks my heart. But I have learned not to get close to him, his thorns are poisonous.
In the beginning, he would entertain the neighborhood kids when he did the lawn (twice a day, every day). K was over there frequently. He'd "help". Association Man would teach the kids typical Cub Scout tricks, and remember back when his Step son was in Soccer. We were on the fence about him. He seemed to act kindly toward the kids. He was always there. He saw everything. He watched out for your property while you were at work. He cared about his investment. He was irritating sometimes, but who isn't? "Harmless" we said. "Good Neighbor" we'd add. Eventually we'd really hear him, see him. After the kids would go, (or even before they'd leave) he would criticize their parents who let the kids run amok on the streets and whine about how if he wasn't watching them who would be? and every new neighbor adds more unparented kids and too many cars and there goes the neighborhood..blah, blah, blah. It became exhausting to listen to him. Embarrassing. He was "good works" gone awry...
His step son got married and moved away. Far away. The courtship was riddled with criticisms -- she's lazy, you're lazy, they're too lazy, how do they think they'll keep a house? how do they think they'll ever pay for it? Who are they kidding? They married on the east coast. They are expecting their second child. They are very happy. Now Association Man is more bitter than ever. Nothing is in his control. He calls the police often -- the cute little neighborhood kids have become unruly teens. They evolved from kids who loved him, to kids who ignored him, to kids who confront him. The police are even tired of hearing from him.
If I see him outside when I pull into my drive, I try to run into my house. I don't want to deal with him. Yet I can't imagine my neighborhood without him. The kids complain about him, yet I think they are less out of control than they could be if he wasn't out there hovering all the time. I wonder what the street would look like without him sweeping it all the time? I wonder how much trash would be accumulating in the gutter? He is extremely unloveable. Extremely unlikeable. Yet even he is loved by God. Do we sound like him? Do we complain constantly to God? God doesn't get tired of the 911 calls -- or does He?
There is a part of me that defends Association Man. After all, he addresses issues that might eventually become a problem for me. I have a much higher threshold for chaos (I'm a mother, after all...), but I like a certain amount of order in the place I live. I like peace and quiet as much as the next guy. I want my street to be safe and clean. Underneath it all, I'm secretly glad he's there, being the bad guy. Being the Association Man. I'm off the hook -- as long as he plays the bad guy, the asshole, I don't have to. So far, nothing has ever irritated me on my corner that hasn't irritated him worse. So we let him handle it -- Then criticize the manner by which he accomplishes this. How much different are we than him? I wonder if he sees it in himself?
And the worst part of all is that I know that I know that I know that Association Man needs God. Badly. All he really wants is control. Control is the one thing he cannot have. Even his own body has become his enemy. I think about how to minister to him now and then, but I quickly shove that thought under the carpet. I'll pray for him in my head -- but I can't get any closer than that. So many more are so much easier to love. Maybe you can pray for him? For me?
One time (I'm so embarassed to admit) I saw him walking from the bus stop. I see him often when I'm rushing to some other place. This time I was on my way home. I had time. I saw him and I could have driven him -- but I refused. I first considered the mess in my car and couldn't bare his scrutiny, but mostly I just didn't want to do it. I didn't want to give him a minute of my time.
How ugly I've become.
++Pray for me. A sinner. A bad neighbor. Pray for Association Man. He really needs You, Jesus, now more than ever. Bless him, Lord. Heal him from the inside out. Then heal me.