In stark contrast to the dark wood of my front door, the little yellow note taped to it seemed out of place and was entirely too hard to miss. A small note with a big impact, hanging right next to a winter’s wreath, as if to distract away from the season’s cheer.
I will admit, in my deliriously tired optimism – it was Friday evening after the first full week of my new job. I was just thrilled to have survived it and be on my way home to rest and revel in my accomplishment – my first thought was that this tiny, mysterious memo was probably holiday well-wishing from thoughtful neighbors seized by seasonal spirits.
Approaching my door, I felt hopeful naïveté drain from my body, replaced by red-hot embarrassment. The heat of shame spiked to the center of my cheeks, rimming my eyes with warm tears – that I held back with impressive strength comparable to a river’s dam.
The careless scribble scrawled on legal pad was not to share happy thoughts, but to inform me that I had been disturbing the peace of my neighbors with my inappropriately timed “loud conversations and sobbing fits.” They asked that this stop immediately.
Even through the hazy fog of disbelief that anyone could be so calculatingly cold, so publicly, too, I understood my neighbor’s reason – and legal right – to raise a complaint. I didn’t agree with their chosen approach to resolve the matter.
The fact of the matter is that my week was tough. My strength and determination – mentally and physically speaking – was tested, once again. I was starting a new job, the shift in routine and increase in the natural anxiety of wanting to do well, exhausting and distracting me all in one blow.
The difficulty is, the physical strength it takes to care for myself and live independently is not small. I am not complaining, simply recognizing that living with a disability brings enormous challenges – that I proudly learn to overcome with my strength of body and mind.
But no matter my personal powers – mostly sheer will to do as much as I can for myself – there are times I slip and fall, figuratively and literally, or find myself in a precarious situation that I cannot get out of on my own.
This week brought on two of those distressing situations. Without boring details, I was forced to call 911 in the early morning hours, pleading for help and assistance. (Don’t worry, I am completely fine, with nothing more than a sore body and a severely bruised ego).
I have no doubt that my neighbors heard extra, undoubtedly disturbing, noise each night that I nearly fell getting in and out of bed. What they heard were the terrified sobs of a woman in painful distress, not a girl over-emotionally reacting to a controlled circumstance.
I knew it was late and I was being loud, but I was hardly in enough control to do anything about it. I was overcome with fear and frustration; reactions to those mental states are often relentlessly raw and unrestrained.
Being human means sometimes being helpless. There is no more debilitating feeling than not knowing what to do for yourself other than scream for help.
The loud conversations referenced in the note were those between myself and the paramedics, assessing me and the situation. Sidebar: I am so thankful for first responders, heroes in the night and real-life superheroes. If you are one, or you know one, consider this a big thank you from me. Such selflessness protects my life and many more.
Now, new safeguards have been put in place and practiced. I am set and determined to continue on as I always have, doing the best I can.
That’s all any one of us can do, isn’t it?
I know that my neighbors are also doing the best that they can, with the knowledge and understanding that they have. But that doesn’t mean I’m not disappointed in their course of action. I had half a mind to take a photo of their very public and blatant shaming and paste the note here in an immature attempt at shaming them back.
But what would stooping to my neighbor’s reactionary level actually accomplish?
Besides adding to my shame and embarrassment. I’m not doing that.
Instead, I am going to exercise my top strength, empathy, and put myself in my neighbor’s shoes, slippers, sandals – doesn’t matter the footwear – what does matter is that I take steps to try and see his perspective. I know this guy is a student. Maybe he had a really big, important final before the holiday break. It’s possible that he had an early meeting, requiring him to be rested and ready.
I’m sure being woken up at 2 o’clock in the morning by a woman’s cries was not on his to-do list. Being hurt and scared in the middle of the night wasn’t on my list of things to endure, either.
Please hear this cry: We can never be entirely sure of another person’s reality. What we see or hear from the people around us is merely a carefully manipulated mirage of what is really there. Behind the focus and determination to get up and face the daily grind is usually a silent struggle or a challenge that nobody wants to chat about.
Being human is a really hard assignment and we’re all just doing the best we can to ace the test. We’d all get through it a lot easier if we made the choice to help each other succeed. We’d all be better off understanding that we are all just living, with the skills and abilities we’ve been given.
The next time you feel inclined to judge a person for their behavior, even if it is disrupting your routine, please keep top of mind the fact that you have no idea what someone else is thinking, feeling or experiencing.
But you do know that life is hard. Have compassion and concern for that common thread throughout the design of all humanity.
Before you think, say or do anything in reaction to the actions of another, promise to remember that. Whenever possible, please respond to all life with patience and compassion.
Words have incredible power, but actions are stronger. Speak and do thoughtfully and with kindness. Please, as much as you are able, respond with a helpful mindset and not a judgmental attitude.
Be good; do good; say good and think good.
I promise, it’ll help you feel good.