When I think of meeting the neighbors, some very cliche TV scenes come to mind...a woman tapping on the door with a plate of cookies in tow, kids playing in the street while the movers unpack the van and their parents shake hands over a white fence...you know...the scenes from Desperate Housewives when someone new came to the lane and then we found out they had a body in the freezer. What I don't normally think about is an enraged Latina woman knocking on my door to tell me my son is keeping her kids awake. Unfortunately, this is how I met our next door neighbor yesterday. As I've churned over the conversation for the past 24 hours, I have come to an unsettling conclusion - I wish I had responded differently.
I steer clear of this type of situation. When there is an uncomfortable conversation to be had with a stranger, I typically let BJ take the lead while I slip into the back room and wait it out. It isn't that I'm uncomfortable with confrontation...I am actually quiet confident when it comes to conflict. It is that I am shamefully worried about other people being upset with me. And in this situation, that fear kept me from loving my neighbor well.
She brought a teenage boy with her to translate, which was a bit of a relief because after she would speak with strong, passionate frustration, he would look at the ground and mutter out something along the lines of "so if the noise is coming from here, could you just please stop. please." I don't speak Spanish, but I know that isn't what she said.
We haven't worried too much about the noise Ian makes because the neighbors below us make a tremendous amount of noise as late as 11:30 at night. We figured any little rumble a toddler could stir up wouldn't even be noticed. What we failed to consider was the fact that his room shares a wall with the apartment next door...and the other side of that wall is apparently her children's bedroom. So when he "plays drums" by taking a plastic bowling pin to the shelf on this shared wall, it creates a hammering sound in their apartment. We had no idea this was going on.
So there I was, standing in the doorway with wide eyes listening and watching as an upset mother spoke to me through a teenage boy. And all I could think was "settle this down so she likes you". WHAT?! A secondary thought running through my head was "this isn't fair...we make less noise than anyone else in this building and I am the one getting yelled at. It isn't fair."
I apologized profusely and promised it would stop immediately, but I also suggested that the noise could have been coming from other apartments in addition to ours. I looked at her when she was talking, but not when I was apologizing...and certainly not when I was hinting that maybe we weren't the only culprits. With a little time to process, I wish I handled that situation differently. As strong as her tone was, everything about her body language said that she was incredibly uncomfortable to be talking with me. It seemed that I made her uncomfortable, which was even worse. She also looked exhausted. The way she spoke about her kids gave me the impression that she is likely raising them on her own, a challenge I cannot even begin to relate to. I am sure that the noise coming from our apartment was just one small thing on a much larger list she is dealing with currently. It just turned out to be the tipping point in her day.
If I could go back to the doorway yesterday, I would not make a single excuse. I would not suggest the noise was coming from somewhere else. And I would not look at the teenager while addressing the mother. Instead, I would turn my whole body to face her, look her in the eye and tell her how sincerely sorry I am. I would also introduce myself and ask for her name, so that when I see her in the future I can offer a personal hello. She would be my primary concern, rather than focusing on how uncomfortable it made me. I hope that I would display compassion and that my apology would feel sincere.
I cannot change the situation now, but I will let it shape the way I approach those moments in the future. Because when I'm so busy worrying about what strangers think of me, I cannot love them well.