I hate my neighbour. OK, so hate is maybe too strong of a word, but, well, I don’t know…
Here’s the thing.
My wife and I bought a quaint little 1 1/2 storey detached home in beautiful Southern Ontario (that’s in Canada). The house was fantastic. Great neighbourhood, close to a network of pristine trails and a river, and close to plenty of amenities. We loved it.
Now giving you a picture of our property is important so bear with me for a moment through these arduous details.
We live in a house with what’s best described as a mutual driveway.
Picture two detached homes with a double-wide driveway in the middle and that’s what we’ve got.
It’s an older house in an older neighbourhood and it’s common where we are.
Mutual driveway. This detail will be important later.
When we first moved in we loved our neighbours. They were great: quiet, kept to themselves, and parked politely on their side of the double-wide driveway.
The honeymoon ended a year and a bit later when the house went up for sale, sold, and our new neighbours arrived.
In hindsight, it should’ve been telling when their vehicles pulled in: a great big work van, a full-sized pick-up truck, and a Jeep SUV to match. Our modest hatchbacks were quickly crowded off our side of the driveway and forced to the very edge by their bigger, bulkier vehicles.
Ah, we figured, they’re just getting used to things. They must know they can’t take up more than half of the driveway.
But they were, evidently, just getting started.
Months later, it was the arrival of a 40ft camper trailer which heralded the beginning of the Age of Insanity which has coloured our lives in a particular shade of red ever since.
A 40ft camper trailer which they parked, ostentatiously, about 2 feet over the middle of the driveway, onto our side.
Oh, and their dogs barked constantly.
We were, through just about the entire experience, unfailingly kind. And, in a way, so were they.
When the trailer first arrived and parked itself well over the middle-line of the driveway, onto our side, I spoke softly and kindly with my neighbour next door. “Sorry,” I said, “but you can’t park it on our side of the driveway. We use the driveway and need to fit our cars there.”
He was, in the dozen times I asked him to move his trailer and vehicles, flusteringly apologetic. Tripping over himself to apologize for the inconvenience, seemingly utterly sincere, but never offering an explanation. And always, we learned, doing the exact same thing over again.
I’d say, some point that first summer, that we finally met the straw which broke the camel’s back but that wouldn’t be accurate. Rather, we learned a lot about ourselves through these ceaseless requests and encounters. Just when we thought we’d reach ours wits’ end and could take no more—the trailer was, again, parked over the middle—we realized there were countless more ends of wits to traverse and that, actually, we could put up with a lot more than we’d realized.
Our patience was, indeed, quite long.
But there were, nonetheless, several straws which, piled on, seemed to nearly break us.
I should pause here to explain what sort of person I am. I’m a rules guy—it was no surprise that I became a Catholic, to those who know me well. I like knowing the boundaries in which I can, and should, live and I like when others obey those boundaries too. So when someone—my literal neighbour in this case—was so clearly flaunting those rules it really began to drive me crazy. It made coming home and seeing their vehicles, or their trailer, or hearing their ceaselessly barking dogs a kind of chore.
Anyway, several straws…
Like the time we had company over and smelled sewage wafting into our living room window on the gentle summer breeze. I guess someone was using the bathroom in the trailer. Or the time I had to crawl into my car—a hatchback—through the truck because the trailer had been parked so far over the middle of the driveway I couldn’t even open my car door (they pulled it in after I’d already been parked there).
“Sorry,” the neighbour offered when I told him I had to get into my car through the trunk. He seemed sincere despite having apologize half a dozen times earlier (and done it again and again).
After all the polite requests to park on their own side of the driveway, all their apologies, and all of their continued disregard for our requests we weren’t particularly surprised with what happened next: the driveway got destroyed.
The source of all of our disagreement and angst—destroyed.
It happened when our neighbours hired a contractor to put an addition on the back of their house.
We had warning. The neighbour called out to me one morning and said, “You’re going to hate us.”
Too late, I thought.
“We’re doing some construction in July and it’s going to be loud.”
That was fine, I said, that’s life, and thought nothing more of it.
Until the construction equipment began to arrive.
An industrial excavator to dig out the foundation for a new basement followed by a parade of dump trucks driving up and down the middle of the driveway.
Not their side but the middle, and without our permission.
Unsurprisingly, the vehicles tore up our mutual driveway to shreds. Great big gaping rut marks and enormous cracks running the length of the thing. I was assured, on the spot by the contractors, that it would be fully repaired to our satisfaction.
And then we spoke to our neighbours.
We explained that no one had given permission to drive on our half of the driveway. We explained that they, or the contractor, would be responsible for fixing it.
They suggested we use some asphalt paint, or split the cost of the repairs.
We explained that either they’d pay or the contractor would pay but we wouldn’t be paying, we said, to fix a driveway that we didn’t break.
To make a long story short, our driveway sat damaged, and then slightly repaired, for a year before the contractors finally assumed responsibility and had it fully redone. In the meantime, to assert exactly where our property line was we had a survey done. To our surprise—although we had an inclination from the previous neighbours—we actually owned 2/3 of the driveway, not 1/2.
So the neighbours parking over the half-way line of the driveway had actually been parking significantly further over on the property we owned.
After five years in a house we loved (with neighbours we loathed) we decided it was time to move. A move which would bring us closer to work for my wife and closer to a cluster of our very best friends. It would be a good move so we bought a house and put ours up for sale.
And then I sent a fateful e-mail.
It wasn’t an unkind e-mail. It was, perhaps, a little too firm. It was, maybe, a bit sarcastic but, I don’t know, can you blame me? This would be about the 100th time I’d be asking our neighbours to please keep their vehicles on their side of the now clearly-defined property line and I was certainly a bit weary.
But I sent the e-mail.
We’re selling our house, I said, can you please keep your vehicles on your side of the property line.
You’d want us to do the same. I’m sure you can understand.
And off the e-mail went.
The response was far better than I’d imagine.
Outraged, I guess, at being asked to keep what’s theirs on their property, our neighbours decided to try and sabbatoge our Open House.
So, the following weekend, while our realtors were showing our house and we were out of town, they turned up the music in their garage as loud as it would go and proceeded to disassemble part of our fence.
Part of our fence.
While our realtor toured couples through our house they were outside taking down our fence.
Now they had, in the end, moved their vehicles back onto their side of the driveway but they’d suggested, in an e-mail response, that if we’re going to be stingy about the property line then we should take down the four-inches of fence that ties ours into theirs. This is a common practice where we are, and probably where you are too: instead of building two separate fences for our yards they simply attach together.
But, yes, it does go four inches over the property line in order to attach.
We were never worried about four inches, we said, our problem was when your vehicles were over by several feet.
They didn’t respond, so we assumed it ended there.
But it did not.
They were, apparently, angry that we hadn’t taken down the fence. So they did it for us. During our Open House.
Maybe this was the final straw.
In the end, we sold the house for above asking price with multiple offers. It was better than we could’ve hoped for, which goes to show God’s providence and grace. In spite of what would seem like our neighbour’s best attempts the house sold anyway (which must’ve made them pretty angry).
But, OK. What’s your point?
The point is: I hate my neighbours.
Because after all of this I’m just a great big ball of rage and angst. I’m frustrated and angry and maybe rightly so.
We tolerated these neighbours who continuously parked their vehicles over our side of the driveway. Who shirked responsibility. Who apologize profusely and then did nothing about it. Who sat about ten rows back on the night I joined the Catholic Church because, apparently, they’re Catholic and attend the parish near our house.
Because I hate them, and that’s so hard.
Never would I have imagined that when Jesus urged us to love our neighbours he would’ve meant our literal neighbours. But here you go. Here are my literal neighbours making it so difficult for me to love them. Making me strain against every fibre of my being not to be seething with rage to have been time and time and time again abused by my good nature.
It’s infuriating, but Jesus said so.
I think faith becomes really real though in these times when we must strain against our very nature. I think these are the times with faith really informs us, and forms us. It seems like in these times, when its most difficult to do the right thing—or do the Christian thing—when we’re really tried, tested, and pushed that little bit further down the road.
In the narrative of my Catholic faith I think of life as a constant growing closer to God. This is the purpose of purgatory, too, to purify any of those last vestiges of ill-will toward neighbour. Those last little sinful inclinations. And that’s with life as well.
These tests and trials teach me, somehow, to struggle through the anger and hate and to come out the other side learning how to love (and love better). And I guess I’m doing that.
At best, I haven’t killed anyone yet. At worst, well, I can smile at them when I see them next door.
Ultimately though this is the intersection of faith and real life and this is where I must live, in the tension of holding these values (of knowing I must love my neighbour) and of actually acting them out.
But, Lord, it’s hard.