I’m somewhere in the process of forgiving a neighbor. Of actively forgiving her, or them since I’m sure her boyfriend lives there. She is the homeowner. They are fond of smoking, which is fine, but their fumes creep through a vent in our bathroom because we share a wall in this renovated pile of bricks.
I’m not sure how long this has been happening, but I can say that we started noticing this when we became parents…three years ago. It was fine for a long time. I became a steady purchaser of incense. That was me you saw at the health food store in Lakeview or Evanston or Hyde Park or Woodlawn. I was the guy with his kid in the stroller, both of us sniffing the little sticks at random community festivals. I’ve become fond of sage, lavender, and, of course, jasmine. Cinnamon tastes good, but I don’t prefer it in the air. I’ve been to Target filling carts with every possible aide you can imagine. I’ve spent more time on the web searching for remedies.
I can tell you with reasonable accuracy when the Chicago Police Department changed its 911 guidelines and that they will come if an offender is still present. I can tell you that I’ve taken all the good steps I (and we as a family) could think of: having a trusted carpenter come and seal every outlet and baseboard, bugging my property manager and board until they agreed to add an escalating fine to my neighbor, which will either increase the expensive habit she already has or change her plans so that she smokes somewhere else. I’ve done other things.
But I’m more concerned about the split I feel, the one where I feel like I have to choose between being a good father and being a good Christian. The desire growing in me on good days is one where I’m admitting that the attempt to be a Christian is difficult, where I’m praying to God for my neighbor, where I’m seeing her (and them) as loved by God like my son. This is what it means. It means loving people who know that their fumes navigate near your toddler’s room but don’t change.
Then there is that other person. The guy who grew up and when planning wrong, considered it so that when he implemented his considered approach, it was untraceable. I was not then and am not now an impulsive person. I believe that impulsiveness is the act of impatient people. I tend to be patient. The shadow of that is that I tend to study my choices for a long time. And I go back and forth considering a) loving my neighbor and praying for her rescue from this addiction, which several neighbors have commented on actually and b) doing what that little person in me says a good father would do. And when I listen to the little person, I remind myself that there are some calls that the police will take and some calls they won’t. And I wonder if they’ll come if I become the less considerate neighbor. To be completely fair, the police did come yesterday when I called, and we got through the night without fumes. But every night is a test.
So this is my attempt to expand my circle of accountability. I’m trying to live in a forgiving way. I’m trying to be honest that being a father with a small child is hard because I’m a Christian. That whole thing about forgiving your enemies—loving your enemies—grabs my feet and slams to my knees, if you will. Though I don’t pray on my knees. I usually walk while I pray, but you understand my point. I want to love this neighbor. Even though she, after a relatively positive interaction didn’t limit her behavior. Even though I have aggravated my already strange sleeping rhythms by waking up at 1AM, 4AM, and 6AM to burn incense, not counting the days I’m still home between 9 and 10AM.
Will you pray for me? Will you hope with me? I want to live as a Christian father. I’m still doing more to address this. Indeed, I’ll do as much as I can. But I want to do it from a place of love. That even reads weird to me. Still, it best says what I desire. I meant it when my offending neighbor said to me, “You must hate” and I answered “No, I don’t hate you.” Because I didn’t and I don’t. But I want to love her well. I want her to be a whole and considerate and good neighbor. Even if her being a good neighbor comes after I’ve been a good Christian.
Liking your neighbor and loving your neighbor are two different things. You can love your neighbor without liking them. And it is good that you are praying for her. I will keep you in my prayers. Something to consider though, if a neighbor were to pull a gun on your child and threaten their life, would you do anything necessary to save your child? So if a neighbor threatens the health of your child with their second hand smoke, would you not also do what was necessary? Have you talked to your neighbor about the concerns for your family?
I have spoken to my neighbor, and not much has come of the conversation. Beyond that, I’m not sure exactly how to answer your good questions.
Part of my post is about the way I lean, the way I’ve considered doing “anything necessary,” so I am with you there. I think what I’m raising is a conflict, though, in being with you there. The idea and willingness to do “what was necessary” is not exactly–at least on the surface of the assumptive gesture–what is best. That’s what I’m listening for God’s words on. My considered reaction is very distant from what I’d properly call a response that comes from love. It seems–and I’m not claiming to be in this place–that a loving response for all of us is not to react with the same measure that I’ve received: Since you smoke, I’ll smoke. You pull a gun, I’ll pull one. That mutual reaction is not the redemptive reaction of my faith, even if it is a guttural one. And while I know that as a pastoral theologian, living it as a father is the problem.
Thank you for your willingness to keep us before God.