Thursday, February 28, 2008

Love Thy Neighbor

James and his teammates had a game that they played in Ukraine that they called "Love Thy Neighbor." When I was a teen we called it "Fruit Basket Upset." I like the version they played in Ukraine better. A group of people sit in a circle with no empty chairs and one person standing in the middle. The person in the middle points to someone and asks, "Do you love your neighbor?" and the person pointed to answers, "Yes, but I don't love people who wear socks." So all the people with socks jump up and trade seats while the person in the middle tries to snag one. If the answer is "No" then everyone jumps up and trades seats. What a goofy youth game!

Okay, so this is NOT a picture of Ukrainians playing "Love Thy Neighbor." It just made me laugh!

Too bad the laughter, teasing, and good natured fun doesn't exactly translate into real neighborliness. Yeah, I know, I know, "Who is my neighbor?" has been answered by the man with the answers and we know it's not just referring to the person who lives next to us, but to the unlovable people with the characteristics that we most like to avoid. It's these people Jesus wants us to show his love to. But what if these people are your neighbors? What if people with the disgusting lifestyles make their home right on the other side of your bedroom wall?

When we moved in to our cute two room apartment with three huge windows, white walls, imitation wood flooring, and practically new kitchen appliances, we thanked God and started hanging curtains. Our neighbors were a nice military couple with two little poodles: one white and one black. They also liked to turn their television WAY up and watch movies all night. They especially liked war movies. I'd cringe from the other side of the wall as I listened to the gunshots and bombs exploding over the dying howls of actors. James had classes and make-or-break tests early in the morning, and so we'd be forced to try to sleep over the roaring sounds of aircraft or the strains of rising music. Ugh.

A few months later, the poodle family moved out and another couple moved in. This family had a medium sized dog and a small sized dog airline kennel that they locked him in. When I left in the morning, around 7, I'd meet my neighbor in the stairwell leaving for work. When I came home around 3, the dog next door would be howling and crying while I took our pug on a walk. At 5 when James came home, the neighbor dog's whimpers would intensify. By nine or ten at night, the moans and whines and groans of a dog penned 14 hours in a tiny kennel would tear at our heart and horrify our ears. On days when they did not kennel the dog, the neighbors would come in cursing and yelling that the dog messed all over the floor and furniture (what do you expect leaving an animal 18 hours without a potty break?). Many days the dog's owners didn't return until 1 or 2 in the morning (18 hours after leaving him). Our nerves were frayed and on edge as we tried to figure out what to do to jail break our neighbor dog undergoing cruel and unusual punishment. When one day a whole day passed, then two days with no relief for the animal, we started knocking doors looking for someone who knew what to do. Someone kindly gave us the number of the in complex apartment manager. We called that number and that person called our neighbors. An hour later, an irritated dog owner flew up the stairs, bundled up the dog and kennel and left, but they were back a few days later. In early summer, someone finally had enough and Animal Control was called in. We (sharing a wall the length of their apartment and a front porch) heard every word. The neighbors were cited for not having a license, but let off the hook because they said they were leaving a few days later. They did. But they never once looked our way again (I'm sure they thought we called Animal Control). We sighed with relief to see them go. Finally, we could sleep in peace again.

Towards the end of summer, we gained another neighbor. A nice young woman with a gigantic Rottweiler named, Duke. We weren't so sure we liked the loud, foul-mouthed boyfriend who moved in a few weeks later. Some people never learned as kids to use "inside voices." Although apartment dwellers know that pressing one's ear against the wall will allow access to revealing conversations (not that we do this, of course), these neighbors have never made the slightest amount of eavesdropping necessary. They talk at high volume when they are happy, angry, frustrated, or boastful. We know all about their money shortages, their relationships (who's cheating on whom), how often and how badly they lose at video games, their friends' law-breaking-habits, their drugs, their alcohol, and the stupid things they say to make other people think they're smart. Although by far the biggest neighbor dog to date, Duke has given us few problems, rarely barking and never assaulting Titus although the neighbor's method of "walking" him is to release him from our third floor apartment and let him roam loose until he decides to return home. Besides the drug parties (which we know are drug parties because they talk about the drugs at high volume like everything else) and the late night movie watching or conversations (also at high volume) which wake us up and allow us to hear every word of from our bed against the opposite wall, my two biggest frustrations with our neighbors are the profanity that shoots out of their mouth as verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and exclamations and their apartment demolishing fights.

During this time, We been trying more actively to be neighborly. I made a Christmas gift of homemade cocoa mix in a jar and gave it to them. We smile and say nice things on the stairwell when we meet them. I don't scream when their monster dog comes up behind me in the dark and scares me silly. James politely knocked on their front door the first time their loudness woke us up and explained that they probably didn't realize that they were keeping us up, but they were. Inside, however, we seethe. When our whole day is thrown wonky because they decide to throw dishes at each other a 12:30 AM and jar us awake out of a sound sleep, when I dream that I yelled expletives in my sleep and have to sheepishly ask my husband to be sure that it was just the neighbors again, when Titus cowers in fear because the yelling and crashing next door makes him feel like they are yelling at him, when words that I've never said (even in my sleep) pollute my mind because I hear them hundreds of times a day, I want to rage for revenge and justice against the people who live next door.

We are just trying to live wholesome, healthy, quiet, and godly lives within our means. We've evaluated our tiny apartment for placing a baby crib, changing table, and high chair (for one of these days) thinking that living at this simple level for a few more years will allow us to save for a piece of our own land or our own little house someday sooner rather than upgrading now and waiting for later. But it is unthinkable to imagine a little child of any age listening to screaming obscenities from next door. Our crude, self-centered neighbors will end up driving us away from the cozy nest that is our home.

But really, I know that the injustice is not balanced in my favor. To start with, we grew up in Christian homes with parents who revolved their whole life style over giving us what was best for a nurturing environment. They raised us to love God, pray, read the Bible, and find a community in the church. James and I both never knew a week without three trips to the church building to worship and study the Bible. We never feared that our parents would abuse us, abandon us, or neglect us. Our parents warned us that we would never find peace or comfort in a beer bottle or a joint. They cautioned us to save our heart for our life partner and to choose someone to marry who loved God above all else. Are we flawed? Of course. Do we need the cleansing of the blood of Christ? More than anything! But even by wordly standards, our life is stable and peaceful because our lives are established on a Rock that can't be moved.

When our neighbors are screaming obscenities at 2 AM, we shouldn't be full of anger and frustration, but the deepest pity and love for the people who live closest to us who are drowning in quicksand. May God make us His instruments of love even where it hurts most.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, keep up the neighborliness. I can't imagine how difficult it is, since we have never had to deal with anything like that. But, you two are lights, whether the darkness likes it or not. Keep shining for Christ. We love you! I won't pray for patience for you...ha, ha.


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