Love thy neighbor.

My neighbors have not always been kind to me. I’ve been kind to them anyway. Being kind doesn’t mean that you take abusive behavior and walk away or accept it. There is a time and a place to stand your ground and not allow someone to be unkind to you. Most of the time, even when someone is unkind to me, I am just kind back. I think because I am a good person. I want to be kind. I have recently learned that having a voice does not necessarily mean you are being unkind.  Sometimes finding your voice happens suddenly. Sometimes it comes in small spurts. Sometimes it happens in anger. Finding your voice does not mean you are not kind. It just means you don’t want to be silent any longer.Finding my voice has helped me to stand up to bullies and allowed me to recognize the voices that were not used when they should have been to help me long ago in that neighborhood on the lake.

Our neighborhood, that I live in now,  was split down the middle 10 years ago over one couple. I chose the underdog couple because that is what I have always done. I hate to see someone being bullied and they undoubtedly were being bullied. After choosing their side, over half of the neighbors didn’t speak to me anymore. Even those that I cared for and had helped in the past. They had chosen their side which for some reason meant they could no longer associate with the enemy, aka the couple, or the enemies supporters, aka me. So all of a sudden walking my dogs in my wheelchair in the roadway became unacceptable. One neighbor said that wheelchairs should not be in the roadway and therefore I should not be able to leave my driveway. We live way back away from a city down a long road in the far back of a neighborhood. A car passes by my house only a few times a day. Our roads are private and there are no actual laws about these roads except that if they break our neighborhood has to fix them. Me in my wheelchair on the edge of the road was no more in the way than the woman pushing her baby in a stroller walking her dog or the family all on bikes with two 3 year olds swerving all over the road. I had eyes rolled at me, backs turned on me, words spoken under breath that I could hear that were hurtful. But I was still kind. When one neighbor’s dog passed away I sent a card. I knew she didn’t speak to me anymore but once she did care and I knew how hurt she would be over her dog. So I sent a card because I was still kind. When the neighbor, against me using my wheelchair to walk my dogs,started driving as close to me as possible to scare me I finally called the police. They came and spoke to him. The next time I was out with my daughter in my wheelchair, her on her skates, he came out of his house and cussed me out. I stayed silent. I was always silent. That bully totally silenced me. I used another person’s voice, the police, to help protect me, but I still never said a word.

I have been silenced out of fear for most of my life. Having someone cuss at me sent me right into silence. Until I decided I don’t want to be silent anymore. A new neighbor moved in behind us. Everyone has spent months complaining about him. He has many dogs and he constantly screams at them. This grating on your every nerve nails down a chalk board screaming incessantly. One day I heard him screaming and I heard his dog cry. And cry. And my fear somehow turned. It turned into anger. It turned into justice. It turned into a voice. I got into my wheelchair, and to get to his house I had to go about a half a mile, because he lives behind me but I had to drive to the end of my road to get to his.That was about ten minutes of electric wheelchair driving anger building up over him hurting his dog. I went right up to his door and knocked on it. And I was not unkind. I just was not silent. I told him that I heard his dog cry and a lot of yelling. He made a lot of claims of his dogs fighting and him being bitten blah blah all lies. I don’t know what kind of man he is. I don’t know if he is a kind person or not. But loving my neighbor does not mean I sit idly by and let him hurt his dog if that is what he was doing. My friend laughed when I told her because she said I must have been sooo intimidating in my wheelchair confronting the “yeller”.

You can love your neighbor. You can even be kind to your neighbor. But you do not have to allow yourself to be silenced in fear because of your neighbor. When I say neighbor I mean your friend, family, or actual neighbor. I have found, in my experience, that bullies love company. It would have taken maybe just a few people in my neighborhood to stand up to the bullies for me and they would have stopped. A pack of bullies can do a world of hurt. Mostly because they will do what the other is doing without even questioning if it is right or wrong. My neighborhood had some bullies who have mostly burned themselves out. I mean how long can someone bully a girl in a wheelchair really!?! But I am 44 years old. There are kids in school and at home who are facing the same thing and they are just children. Those who are bullying them grow up to be the ones who bully me. Bullying doesn’t stop just because you grow up. Fear doesn’t stop just because you grow up. Facing the enemy does not get easier just because you grow up. But we as individuals can choose to do the right thing always. Not just when it is easy or when everyone else is doing it. We have to choose to do the right thing when no one else is. We have to find our voice. And if all else fails and you can’t yet find yours, then allow someone else to be the voice for you.

My neighbor behind me started yelling at his dogs again. So I decided to “kill him with kindness” and so every time he yelled I would loudly sing Phantom of the Opera songs. And every time he stopped yelling at his dogs. We hadn’t heard too much from him in the last few weeks. After my dog Jessy passed away I was sitting in the front yard and I heard the neighbor screaming again. Something just snapped. I guess this is the unsilenced finally with no boundaries moment. I started yelling, ” SHUT UP!!!!” He did. It wasn’t kind of me. But that is the thing about being unsilenced… it is hard to go back. But again, I am not perfect. None of us are. It really is not the end of the world that I yelled for him to shut up as I was grieving my dog and he was yet again scraping his nails down a chalk board for the 5 thousandth time. I tried the kindness, I tried the confrontation, and now I just yelled back. And guess what. He still yells at his dogs. We ALL have THOSE neighbors. I tried though. I find him a bully. He is a bully to his dogs. I see it as an injustice and where there is an injustice or bullying I have now found my voice.

I watched the movie Spotlight this week. There was a line in it that said “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.” This really hit home with me on so many profound levels. The people that lived on my lake neighborhood protected the man who abused me. It took a village to abuse me. Because ALL it would have taken was ONE person to not fall in line with the crowd. Not fall in with the neighborhood who chose sides, not fall in line with the gossipers who hate the screaming neighbor but say nothing to him, not follow those who are so busy trying to love one neighbor that they forget that JUSTICE is equally important. Love thy neighbor does not mean let him molest your daughter. Love thy neighbor does not mean let him be victorious in his defeat of a child’s spirit. Love thy neighbor does not mean protect him at the expense of a little girl or little boy. For all of us who lost our voice due to fear and abuse there  are others who could and should step in and speak up. Choosing a side may mean that there will be people who won’t speak to you again. Choosing a side may mean you lose those you love and you thought loved you. But ALWAYS choose the side of what is right and ALWAYS stand up for the innocent when they cannot stand up for themselves. You can love your neighbor and pray for those who persecute you. I do. I do every day. That in no way means allowing that neighbor, or father, or brother, or uncle, or friend, to hurt an innocent being. Love, but fight for justice, and find your voice.I yelled at my neighbor to shut up. I wish there were someone who yelled for me when I was a little girl. I wish there were people in this neighborhood now that yelled at the man who tried to run me off the road with his car while in my wheelchair. People are so busy loving, or choosing sides, they forget about the ones who have not found their voices yet. Be the voice for someone who has none. Be part of the village who protects the child not one who just turns their back like everyone else. There is a child somewhere right now praying someone finally speaks for them.


6 thoughts on “Love thy neighbor.

  1. Risking having a voice can be traumatic. When we get pushed back into silence, it can be hard to try again. I think it is always easier to defend someone else than it is ourselves. Maybe this is what helps us to risk finding our voice again. Good for you Bethany to speak up and try the best you can to do the right thing. It is hard to not feel frightened or “guilty” when you try to exist. But you are right, we must keep trying!


  2. Pingback: GOOD FENCES MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS | Patricia J Grace

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