I don’t play with fire much, but sometimes I am too attracted to topics that have to be tended so delicately, they are a challenge of my word turning abilities. This might be, in some ways, such an entry into that log. Let me know if I have tended the topic sufficiently gently.
I have good neighbors.
They all value the importance of that neighbor relationship: they let us use their beach house, they do things like bring in the neighbors trash cans, occupy my children with tea parties, close the garage door or call if a car door was left open for a long time.
Some say fences make good neighbors.
One neighbor is named Mitch.
Mitch is wonderful at welding art, and makes his living by selling his wares near and far. He and his wife, Rhoda, love over the top Halloween deco: cadavers and tombstones and screaming people and such. While he is given snide misogynistic commentary, he did help us in reinforcing a bumper so we could take our bikes on a vacation trip. Rhoda lent me some aluminum foil when I was half way through making garlic bread. He gave me a trellis for my climbing jasmine.
The point is, Mitch is a mixed bag. Like me, I suppose, even if I am not much willing to go there.
Mitch is older, he has wispy puffs of cotton white on his head and an abundance of ear and nose protrusions indicating the degree to which he really doesn’t care. His career is creativity with metal. There may be some Mitch in me, even if I am not much willing to go there.
My neighbor makes bells out of used oxygen tanks.
Mitch lost his wife of many years this past month. She slowly slipped away to lymphoma, with only a large cluster of cars around their house indicating a change of any sort.
Mitch will be a lonely old man without Rhoda.
I want to bring him some supper. Or cookies. However, in my humanity, I remember the crappy commentary he has made at times inferring that I was a female of not much brain. I took it in stride, because that is what one does. As a female, oftentimes we are trained to just let that stuff go by “Oh, he’s just an old guy, cut him some slack.”
So I do, and I think no more of it. Until the 3rd, or 4th or 5th time it happens. At which point I walk away thinking “man, he is hard to deal with,”. At this point my desire to bring him supper or cookies has diminished, considerably. I wonder if he would let it go past if I repeatedly called him “a useless old fart”, or some other colorful turn of phrase. I wouldn’t, because I’m not that way, but it is a fatigue of things females, or just people bear in the course of life.
At this point, there is no question that I have thought far too long about this, and I’d best get going on those cookies and perhaps a card, as I realize how fast Rhoda passed. I remember his sadness this past summer as he described her as “quite sick,”. He seemed worn and staggered with sadness, not as sharp with insults as before.
In the driving and mindless activity of the day these thoughts are turned over in my head, and back come the words of Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, about Christ in his most distressing disguise. In her world it was in the form of the forgotten and dying, for most of us it is rubber hitting the road of relationship in community. It is really hard enough to keep up that work sometimes, but if it is all one does as a follower of Christ, it would be amazing. Because it is really difficult to let go pass the hard things that people do. It is sometimes hard enough to forgive myself for the words that I wanted so badly to rewind and erase, especially valuing relationship dearly. Sometimes, though, even things which should not wear us down do because of external circumstances. Sometimes people unknowingly do things unthinkably awful at the worst possible time, and eventually one will need to be able to let it go past. Because hanging on to hurts is even worse.
Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, also known as Mother Teresa
Sometimes it is just time and space, and sometimes even that won’t restore broken relationship. Christ in his most distressing disguise might be the difficult people in our lives. Or it might be the invisible people in our lives or communities. The elderly, the poor, the misguided sister or brother, the parent, the lanky teen jaywalking in their hoodie over their head, the self-righteous, the opinionated, the judgmental among our communities all challenge one to realize that these too are Christ in his most distressing disguise.
“Seeking the face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, and his hand in every happening; This is what it means to be contemplative in the heart of the world. Seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in His most distressing disguise.”
And for today, I realized that my neighbor Mitch, with his mixed bag of good and bad was challenging me. Yesterday it was someone else, tomorrow a different person, and some days I will be challenged to just forgive myself.
Who challenges you? How do you respond? How would you like to respond?