The thing about humans is that in order to understand one another, we must sacrifice a bit of ourselves. It’s difficult to empathize because to do so is to reject the most self-protective part of our nature. To love is to be vulnerable and vulnerability is a dangerous thing.
I get that.
You want to know what hurts the most in my life right now? It’s that I’m misunderstood. It’s that the people who live below us suffer because of the noise we make and there’s nothing I can do about it. The noise we make is our living. It’s the age of our children who stomp and scream when they’re frustrated because they’re still learning how to be alive. It’s the heavy feet of our boys when they chase each other down the hall, giggling. It’s my two-year-old who has no concept of “inside voice.”
When I put my toddler down for naptime this afternoon, he turned to me and said, “Shhhh! The neighbors are sleeping!” And I know he said it because I say it All. The. Time.
You KNOW better than that!
I alternate from making a game of it: “Who can be the quietest? Who can walk on their tiptoes?” to “DID I JUST HEAR YOU STOMP? GET IN THE TIME OUT CHAIR NOW!!!!”
I lose my cool. All the time. All over this issue. This misunderstanding. These people who I may have been friends with, I sometimes think, if we’d met some other way. These people who may have cared about my kids, who may have taken the time to know them and love them, in a different context.
But life happens in our homes. And hearing that life above your head? The giggling and the playing, the singing and dancing, the yelling and tantrums (both mine and theirs), you can only understand a shadow of what is really taking place. We have other senses for a reason. The noise we make has become for them these words: Rude, spoiled, careless, inconsiderate, irresponsible.
And I struggle to bear the burden of being those things to someone else. It weighs heavy in me. The fear of this reality is not something I can shake. It binds me up. It winds into a tight ball of panic in my gut. And that anxiety hurts the people around me.
I don’t know how to explain this to you. What I’m trying to say is that we are not inconsiderate. We are a family trying to live in a city. But I see it. I understand how they feel our rudeness, our callousness. I understand how the constant slamming of feet on the ceiling would be excruciating to live with.
I read Jesus’ words about loving your neighbor and I wonder how to love someone who won’t receive my love. How to love someone whose hostility frightens me. Someone who believes my kids are wild and I’m the mother who can’t control them.
I don’t know. But I want to. There’s a reason Jesus said to pray for our enemies. And there’s a reason enemies become enemies in the first place. We only hear each other’s lives. We don’t see those lives. We don’t know the whole truth of one another’s reality, the personality behind the boy who stomps when he’s angry, or the toddler who cries in the night because his ear hurts. We fill in the sounds with narratives that we manufacture to fit our own perceptions. And then we all suffer for it.
The boys are are in the sunshine drawing on the sidewalk and riding bikes. I grab the broom to sweep our side of the porch. Subconsciously, I draw an invisible line in the porch and sweep my own dirt. Then I scoop it up and toss it in a trash can.
Brooksie is yelling, “Wook at me, Mama! Wook at me!”
Look. See me.
That’s what I think as I remember the pharisee’s words I found in scripture last week: “Who is my neighbor?”
Who is my neighbor? What does it mean to see another human–in all their brokenness, in all their need–to love that person, even if it goes unnoticed, unappreciated?
I take the broom to their side of the porch. I shake out their front door mat. I sweep and gather all the dirt. This is all I can do. This is as far I go. And then I pray to see them, not simply hear and fill in my own narrative.
I pray for the courage to love.
Photo Credit: The Wandering Angel on Flickr