Why do I care?

My directly next door, as in her door is directly in front of mine, neighbor hates me. No seriously, I’m pretty sure it’s way more than just a strong dislike, I think she legitimately hates me. And it really, really bothers me.

I guess I can’t say for certain it is hate but I have a pretty strong sense. Admittedly, she’s a bit of an odd ball who does seem to be terrified of the world around her. She has added at least 4 deadbolts to her already solid deadbolt and chain. I’ve heard her start to open her deadbolts only to stop when she hears another noise in the hall, and she’s actually very hard to “catch” in broad daylight. I swear, she times her entries and exits when she knows no one will be around. But with me? She’s even stranger.

Now I know one of my struggles is that I really, really want (need?) people to like me. I know this need has gotten me in trouble before in many ways: biting my tongue when I need to speak up, or agreeing to work with someone I shouldn’t, or follow an idea that I knew was wrong. But with her, despite my best efforts to be extremely friendly, and smiley, and courteous – I’m just met with a look. No just a look of of terror, but a look that says she sees me as a legitimate threat to her safety, a look of pure disgust. I’ve never had a look from someone I didn’t know, and probably shouldn’t care to know, make me question my own goodness like hers. But maybe she’s just weird? Maybe she’s just unfriendly? Nope.

Julie and I were at Trader Joe’s a few months ago. At the register behind us, we heard this woman laughing and chatting it up with the cashier. She was asking this person about their day, and joking about the weather, and laughing like they were old friends. My jaw hit the barcode scanner when I turned to see my neighbor as this Chatty Cathy. And even worse…

A few weeks after that I ran into her in the hallway and saw her go piercing me with her terror-hatred eyes to lighting up with smiles and hello’s when another neighbor came into the hall.

I have never done anything to this woman. I’ve never said anything but nice “hello’s” and “how are you,” and held the door or elevator for her. And all I’ve ever gotten back was silence and a piercing look. And it drives me crazy.

Forget the fantasies I’ve had about confronting her and asking why, or sending her a letter pointing out that she fails to live the path she professes to follow (She has a giant sticker of Jesus on the front of her door), why do I care so much?

“What a wonderful opportunity to learn,” a wise teacher and coach once told me. I remember hearing those words with a bit of a frustration, and a desire to plead my case: “They are the problem, not me!” And that is true in this case, but for me the greater lesson in here, the greater gift a hateful neighbor can give, is inspiring the question: Why do I care?

The answer to that question won’t prevent piercing stares, but it will help me grow myself, my relationships, and my capacity as a father. A nice gift, indeed.

Grabbing the Sun

I felt my heart rate jump….

I had just done a quick scan of my inbox on a cold, Saturday in January. Immediately all the things I thought I had failed to deliver, or could be doing, or should be doing, rushed into my head. “Oh shit, I never emailed him that intro!” “Oh man, I said I was going to do that weeks ago.” “Oh, I should really reach out to so and so…” I felt both the impulse to do and run. I paced a bit, I consider ripping open my laptop and then I walked into the other room…and I reset.

There on the floor where she had been happily playing with her toys was my 6 month old daughter, Emmeline.  The toys, however, were not capturing her attention in this moment. Instead she sat with her arms up, attempting the grab the sun. In the early winter afternoon, we have this wonderful, direct stream of sunlight coming through our “living room” (this is a NYC apt after all). Our dog, Izzy, knows this all too well and she perfectly follows its arc throughout our apartment, soaking up the heat and stinking up the room with her pants. As I stood there in the doorway, I felt like I had caught Emmeline discovering the sun for the very first time. She saw the beams and was grabbing for them, perplexed how they seemed to be there and yet untouchable. I felt my heart rate go down, and my heart fill up. It was a simple thing in a simple moment, and yet it felt so big. It not only felt like one of many “firsts,” I get to witness as a father, but also another lesson from her. It’s often discussed, and I often ignore it, but in that moment I noticed the many things I take for granted in my life. The things that fall away like extras on a movie set, or background music in a coffee shop – things you don’t really notice until they are awkwardly removed. For Emmeline they are not extras or background music, they are on a long list of things to be noticed, discovered, explored and appreciated. And in her example, in that moment, I noticed again the beams of sun, I appreciated the warmth, and I felt better.