Turning Over a New Cheek

I currently live in a complex with a number of other tenants. We are situated very close by to a main road in Escondido, and there is a near-constant level of noise emanating from the passing cars. It’s not all that bad, but every now and again, a huge, noisy truck or ancient jalopy will go chugging down the road and vibrate the windows.

I have a neighbor who lives downstairs from me. I met and had a few, brief conversations with him shortly after I moved in. He sure seemed like a decent, hardworking fellow.

The other morning, I was awakened to the sound of car alarm going off. The alarm was one of those that goes through about 8 different iterations before shutting off, not unlike the battery-powered, toy laser guns I played with as a child. You know the kind. The alarm went through its cycle and then shut off, only to come back on again about 30 seconds later. This continued for what felt like a very long time.

I was still a bit groggy, and, being a heavy sleeper, had decided to just weather the nuisance in faith that it would eventually go away. My wife, not content to lay in bed and put a pillow over her head, peered out the window and exclaimed that she saw our downstairs neighbor walk by with his key fob held high, and push the button to SET OFF the alarm, apparently on purpose. I replied that such an observation did not make any sense, and that she must be imagining things. Meanwhile, the honking/beeping/woop-wooping continued unabated.

Annoyed and curious, I eventually managed to peel my body from the bed and take a peek out through the blinds from sleep-filled eyes. Sure enough, there was my neighbor, walking out to his SUV, key fob in hand, and as the alarm ceased, he dramatically pushed the button and set it off again. I was still tired, and very confused.

My wife decided to go downstairs and ask him point-blank why he was repeatedly setting off his car alarm. I had only begun to get dressed when she returned and told me, “He is setting off his car alarm on purpose because he says we kept him up all night stomping around above his room.”

At this point, I’m sure an incredulous expression appeared on my face.

I went downstairs, still a bit bleary, but with my nerves steeled. And I listened to my neighbor, I listened to his complaints and excuses. I listened as he rambled about his short temper and bad experiences in life and long hours of work. He mentioned being already vexed by his son, and being a light sleeper who is too annoyed by earplugs to bother trying to sleep with them in. And I listened as he gestured and pointed to the specific spot in the ceiling where the supposed “stomping” sound came from at 2 am (during which time, both myself and my wife were sound asleep). I did my best to remain calm and friendly, despite his juvenile behavior.

What motivated him to do this kind of thing? Did my neighbor honestly think he was going to solve the specific problem of his inability to sleep due to the noise we were making by passive-aggressively baiting us with his obnoxious car alarm? Why would anyone even go to such lengths just to bother someone else?

Behavior like this is inexcusable. However, it is not unforgivable.

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” ~ C.S. Lewis

The origin of this behavior goes back to habits and attitudes, and beyond that, it roots itself in the overall health of one’s spirit.

When my neighbor listed his afflictions and openly acknowledged his quick-trigger temper, in his mind he was stamping a big ‘OK’ on his behavior, as if to say, “this is who I am.” The problem with this mindset is that he was merely hiding behind a series of excuses. The bottom line was that he chose to act in a selfish, disrespectful manner, based entirely upon an unspoken, mental assumption he made that every other person should behave exactly the way he wants them to.

“…human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way.” ~ C.S. Lewis

I suppose nobody else has ever behaved in a similar fashion to my neighbor, eh? Right. On the contrary, I myself am guilty of acting improperly based on the exact same line of thinking.

Maintaining a rich, mental fantasy world where everyone else must appease your needs and be able to intuit them without you ever so much as telling them is an unhealthy habit. Frustration, dashed expectations, and a poisoned temperament will be quick to follow. Worst of all, you can become a slave to bitterness. And as the saying goes, “bitterness is like drinking poison, and then sitting and waiting for the other person to die.”

“You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act agains the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD.” ~ Leviticus 19:16 NASB

“I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; It shall not fasten its grip on me. A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will know no evil. Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy; No one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure.” ~ Psalm 101:2-5 NASB

When evening rolled around, I saw my neighbor again. We chatted for a little while about this and that, and he shared about the difficulty of going through a separation and his current living situation. Eventually, he issued me what seemed like a half-hearted apology for his behavior, though not without quickly following it up with anecdotes about how previous tenants who lived above him had been jerks and purposefully tried to make noise to keep him awake at night, just to spite him. I listened, and I will continue to listen, and probably ask from time to time, “And what else?” until, God-willing, he eventually runs out of excuses.

The next time I am tempted to explain my own behavior with any kind of qualification or trite excuse, I am going to stop myself. At the end of the day, I am responsible for my own actions; I own them. I am an adult. I should act like one. That means taking responsibility for my daily words and deeds, respecting others, and finding the means to forgive- but not to excuse or to tolerate- the wrong attitudes I encounter.

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