I’m happy that I can say, for the most part, I have very little conflict in my life. I don’t yell, have big fights, hold a lot of anger against anyone. People have hurt my feelings and I’ve hurt theirs, but those moments have been few and far between… and usually very unintentional.
Which is why the experience I had this past Friday night was so incredibly shocking to me. I would have never dreamed of blogging about it, except the longer I sat with it the more I realized that – like all things in life – there was a lesson to be learned.
I have an upstairs neighbor who has lived directly above me for a couple of years now, who I really don’t know at all. I’ve seen her two, maybe three times in the hallway and honestly wasn’t even sure of her name. Those few times we smiled and said hello… nothing memorable, just neighborly.
The thing is, she and her boyfriend are very loud. In the beginning it was loud parties and loud music, but after some complaints were filed from multiple neighbors those died down. Mostly we all just put up with rude things, like cigarette butts landing on my patio from her deck above or being woke up at 3am from the noise. Annoying, yes. But, being the non-confronter [read: wimp] that I am, I just picked up the cigarette butts and dealt with it.
You all know I’ve been feeling less than stellar, and this past Friday around midnight or so the noise was really getting to me. There was a lot of loud talking, running around… sounding like they were moving furniture. And I was exhausted. I normally let it go, mostly because I have no way of telling her to be quiet. I can’t walk up the stairs to knock on her door. I don’t know her name or have her number. So I walked into the kitchen, grabbed the broom and rapped it on the ceiling.
Less than a minute later, there was a knock on my door and the very angry sister of my upstairs neighbor started laying into me before I got the door propped open. She was literally shaking with anger as she started telling me I was a rude little person... that she has a three year old with every right to be running around if he felt like it, and I needed to back off and let them socialize with her sister. She said they would be in and out all weekend and I’d better get used to it... I was rude for hitting the ceiling, should stop complaining and leave her sister alone.
I know you all don’t know me in person, but I don’t know how to fight. I’ve never yelled in an argument in my entire life. Which means I was standing there, stunned. Before I could literally get a word in edge-wise she said, "Oh, and I have MS. We all have problems. You being sick or whatever doesn't make it ok to mess with her life.”
That’s when I understood the feeling of being sucker-punched.
Tears stung my eyes, I looked at her and told her I was sorry about her MS, that I barely know her sister and don’t have her number to call her, I can’t walk up the stairs to knock on the door and had no way of letting them know how loud it was other than to hit on the ceiling.
To give you an idea of how all of that looked, my lungs can only get about four words out each breath right now… so I was obviously laboring to a degree just to tell her that much.
She told me again that she has been sick, too, and to get off my pity party.
I honestly barely remember how it ended… I knew I was seconds away from crying from the sting of the words. I was very upset, but calm. I told them the way they were talking to me was totally ridiculous, I was sorry if they were offended and that they needed to leave my hallway. I closed the door and locked it behind them. Part of me ended it so quickly for my own safety, and part of me did it for the little three year old who had followed his mom down the hallway and was witnessing it all.
Now, here’s the part where I get to why I’m telling you about it. After I sat down, rather stunned, and tried to process what went wrong and how that could have been so completely out of control, a couple of things became very clear to me. The sister had come to my door, very angry with preconceived ideas about me and my life. A sister that I’ve never seen or met before. My neighbor doesn’t know me… she could deduce that I don’t leave the house, that I’m not out and about, that I walk with a walker and am sick. But she doesn’t know me.
From her words, they assumed I was a bitter person trying to make them miserable. My neighbor created her own story about me in her mind, simply because my life looks different. A woman with a disease of her own glanced into my life, assumed I was an angry victim who believed the world owed me something and was totally prepared to put me in my place. I didn’t get a benefit of the doubt. I didn’t even get to speak. I got the full force of whatever anger and resentment had built up in her life.
I was the instigator that night by not ignoring the noise. I’m sure it did seem aggressive with the bang on the ceiling. But the family had to have talked about me, made decisions about me, made judgments about my life long before that 30 second walk to knock on my door and tell me that me being a sick and bitter person was all they saw.
They were so wrong. And later I wondered how many millions of times in my life I’ve done the exact same thing. I can obviously say I would never treat anyone the way they treated me. It boggles my mind. But I can’t say my mind has never made stupid snap judgments. What did I think about people I used to see in the mall? How did I make judgments about their appearance or the way they spoke to their kids? Did I think someone was lazy for driving their car two blocks away rather than walking, without even knowing if they were able? Did I think someone was a rude person because they didn’t have a smile on their face, not knowing what had happened in their lives that day? Did I get so wrapped up in my own world that it made me feel better to judge their worlds, which I knew nothing about?
That night, I was a complete and total mess until I stopped and looked at it from an outside perspective. Until I looked at it from the angry sister’s perspective. Until I considered that I have no idea what is happening in her life that makes vicious words a soothing feeling to her. As cruel as she was, a part of me is so sad that a person can live with that much anger inside.
I’ve lived through enough to know that I don’t like or need drama in my life. I have wonderful friends in the building who I could call if anything like this happens again, but I’m honestly hoping the confrontation left with the sister. There will be no more ugly words, because I won’t participate. But I will take this lesson from it: the next time I make a decision about someone I will be basing it on who they are, not who I think they are.
As someone who has apparently been judged for awhile now without realizing it, I can tell you the difference can be immense.