This past month, I have been busy. I have been so busy doing all of those things society has told me are important that I have not done any of the things that my inner self has taught me matter more.
It’s like I have been embodying a different set of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Pay mortgage. Try to sell house. Struggle against loud neighbor. Work. Take panic pills to relieve the anxiety caused by sleepless nights from living above a loud neighbor.
Once I accomplish these goals, then I will be happy.
Struggle. Work. Suffer. Struggle. Work. Suffer.
I know that some Buddhists say that life is suffering. I think the existentialists might agree, and the nihilists would say that there is no point to anything ever, period, but this is just ridiculous.
So, after finishing a second round of edits on a student dissertation this afternoon, I decided to revisit one of the pastimes that I have learned from practice will bring calm and, dare I say it, joy.
To be completely honest, the walk was not my idea. While sitting on the couch editing for hours upon end this morning and early afternoon, I had also been engaging in another unhealthy habit, namely, texting my husband regular updates regarding the every movement and sound from our downstairs neighbor.
My texting was a symptom of a stress that has been building since I joined my husband at the apartment he had found and rented this past fall. Within days (or was it hours?), it had become clear that we were living above a party girl. Not only did she enjoy all of those extroverted activities that my husband and I simply could not understand from our introvert perch on the top floor, but she enjoyed them at a sonic level that reverberated into our top floor apartment, keeping us up until the early morning hours at least one but usually two times each week when she would invite other extroverts to join her for the evening.
My husband and I did what we had learned from life and having been raised to be respectful and cognizant of others. We kindly asked if she might end her parties by 10:30pm. We used nonviolent communication techniques and left nice notes accompanied by homemade desserts and chocolate. We switched the timer hall light on after 10pm to gently remind her that we wished to go to sleep.
As the months passed by, our interactions began to escalate. Terrified to the point of extreme panic over confrontation and conflict, I begged my husband to go down and ask her if she and her boisterous companions might be more quiet. Bless his heart, my husband did just this while I cowered (literally) under the covers and tried not to vomit from fear.
Things really came to a head after our neighbor returned from two weeks of vacation, during which time we had experienced blissful, unending quiet. Unfortunately, we had also become sensitized once more to her thrashing and crashing around. In fact, over the months we had come to refer to her as “hippo.” Yes, she’s a voluptuous woman, and I recognize that our choice of nicknames could be misconstrued for it’s possible double entendre; however, the name held because it fit her movements so very well.
Every day, we knew the second she returned to the vicinity by the slamming of the door at the ground floor entrance to the house. I would hold my breath as I listened to the pounding of her footsteps on the stairs and felt the familiar wave of enmity surge up inside.
I detested this woman. As a child, I was often told by my father that “hate” was a strong word to be used sparingly in one’s life. Well, I hated this woman. I hated her loud moving around and slamming of doors, drawers, and any and everything else she touched.
At some point, I attempted to refrain from referring to her as hippo. For one, I quite like hippos, and it was causing me to cringe whenever I saw a photo or video of this creature. Hippos simply did not deserve this. Additionally, I thought that perhaps if I referred to her as our neighbor or even (gasp) by her name, I might feel ever so slightly more endeared to her.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. The night she returned from vacation, she had people over. Two nights later, she has people over again. We knew from previous conversations with her that she found our request to be able to go to sleep at a reasonable hour embêtant (annoying). The nerve of our asking her to have her guests be quiet or even (deeper gasp) leave at 10pm on a weeknight?! It was beyond comprehension for our neighbor, who seemed to live in a world that was not inhabited by people outside of her small circle of extroverted friends and family.
“She’s doing this on purpose,” I would snap at my husband as we lay awake at night, listening to the booming voice of our neighbor’s brother as it floated up through the floor so that it seemed like he was sitting beside us at the foot of the bed.
A few days earlier, I had gone down to ask if she and her guests might keep it down. Yes, it was only 9:30pm when I made my first of two failed forays in a mission for quiet. She yelled this at me and explained that she was visiting with her family and they were just eating dinner. Just. Her brother boomed at me and said they would call the police for harassment.
Let me pause here for a moment to explain why I find flaw in his argument. Since you, my devoted readers, have predominantly gotten to know me through the written word, you may not realize the absurdity of this claim. For one, I barely reach above 5′ in stature. While I do possess wild and voluminous curly hair with a mind of its own, i think my face, which is quite youthful in appearance, lends a non-threatening air to my overall being. Yes, on occasion I have inspired tears from very small children during my time as a uniformed park ranger, but generally I do not seem to command all that much authority, at least in my own subjective opinion.
I did have a boyfriend in high school tell me that other adolescent girls were intimidated my me (to which I rolled my eyes in response), but that has been the extent of my intimidation factor. I certainly work hard to avoid conflict because it’s so uncomfortable to live with the emotional and physical repercussions that inhabit my being when I engage with the perceived enemy. At one point in my life, I accepted a job in Massachusetts to get as far as possible from a stressful work situation in Alaska. Enough said.
On this evening, however, I was as puffed up as a pissed off rooster, and so booming brother, despite the fact that he towered over me in the doorway of the apartment, did what any brother would do to protect his sibling. He told me where to go.
The question remained: Could it be possible that she was creating all of this racket just to take evil pleasure in pissing us off?
Two nights after my rooster interaction with hippo, booming brother, and co., she had come home at 12:30am with said boomer. They had carried on in loud voices until 2am.
It was at this point that my ever-grounded husband suggested that we give our notice and get the hell out of dodge. Sure, the cost of rent was much easier on our wallets than a house would be, but I already I had to take daily allergy medication to combat the mold that insisted on growing along the interior and exterior of several of our windows. Why not try for a quieter place that might also be easier on my sinuses?
My husband suggested that perhaps we consider the battle lost and move on to quieter pastures. He was right, of course, as he SO often is about these kinds of life situations. I has been preparing to go into battle, but I recognized the wisdom in this intention shift.
“I think she’s just oblivious,” my husband had responded to the dark room.
“Yeah. I’m sure you’re right,” I said back.
This afternoon, I texted my husband, “I wonder what it’s like to be the only person in the world?”
And then, moments later, “She’s bringing lawn chairs down from the attic and putting them out on her rooftop terrace. Run away!”
Ever the rational, wise, old owl to my squirrel, my husband responded with the suggestion, “Why don’t you go for a walk?”
A walk? You mean, leave the house and stop my needless suffering? What a novel idea. I waited for the loud one to come back down from the attic and slam her door and then quietly opened and closed my own door, turned the key in the lock, and hastened down the stairs, out the front door, and into a world outside of the confines of my own mind.
I walked to our favorite pond and looked for the coot babies we had been watching. I found the small family, engaging in about the same behavior as the last several times we had seen them. There were now two left of the original cohort of seven.
They were moving seamlessly through the water, dipping and bobbing their heads to find food, independent of mom and dad.
Typically, when I go for a walk, I find it very important to keep moving (see earlier comment about being part-squirrel). It’s imperative that I walk for at least an hour to ensure that I get sufficient exercise so that I do not gain weight (another unhealthy life lesson that has taken root over many decades of cultural and social brainwashing).
This afternoon, however, I just didn’t have it in me to walk beyond the pond. I desperately wanted to just sit and watch the coots live their seemingly simple lives. I know full well that the life of any wild creature is far from carefree. Certainly, a bird that has seven children in the hopes that one or two might grow to adulthood has no illusions that life is about anything other than primal survival.
I found a quiet spot beneath a tree at the edge of the pond, and I watched them. Sitting there on the outside looking in, I took several deep breathes in.
Sit. Breath. Listen. Breathe. Close my eyes. Open my eyes. Feel the deliciously soothing coolness of the wind.
I sat for a long time, so long that the bugs and spiders started thinking of me as just another object to climb over.
I know that there is much ease that I take for granted in my life. However, I wish I did not participate so readily in the world of worry that my kind have created over the centuries.
Two hours later, I stood up slowly and looked toward the coot family. Five tiny babies had appeared at the edge of the rushes, following the same mom and dad as the teenagers I had been watching for the better part of the afternoon.
Five more! My heart lifted and ached for these creatures, continuing to live with so many odds against them. Such tenuous, tiny beaks, opening to parents that had survived and brought them into a world of uncertainty, biology, and beauty.
I stood and watched the growing family for several minutes. The teenagers made strident, peeping calls. I didn’t blame them. They had already lost five brothers and sisters in their short life. Their younger siblings made gentle peeps from their hiding spot at the edge of the ridges.
I said a silent prayer for ease and continued life to the coots. Then, I began a slow walk out of one world and back into another.