The Enemy Next Door

What’s it like to love my neighbor when my neighbor is hard to love?

The police arrived at 9:40 p.m. in response to a 10-16, neighbor dispute. The officer first took a statement from my husband Eric, then walked through the adjoining lawns to our neighbor’s house. He came back to let us know that our neighbor (I’ll call him Rayden) denied everything.

This wasn’t our first issue with Rayden. Months before, he claimed a pine tree of ours was hanging over his driveway, dripping paint-stripping sap onto his car. Technically, the branches on his side of the property line were his responsibility, but as a peacekeeping measure, we paid to have the offending tree chopped down. Tonight’s situation, though, came after Rayden threatened numerous times to “do in” my “loser husband” but refused to say why.

Rayden threatened numerous times to “do in” my “loser husband” but refused to say why.

During our latest homeowners’ association meeting, other neighbors shared their experiences with the wrath of Rayden. He lashed out a profanity-laced tirade at Ida and Stan for having too many dogs (a slow-moving, 20-year-old chubster they’d had for 20 years, plus one they were dog-sitting for their grandkids over the weekend); chased down a bicyclist with his SUV for slowing down too close to his mailbox; and yelled anti-Asian nastiness at our second-generation Korean friends.

Rayden hasn’t always been antagonistic. We purchased our home the last week of October several years ago, when ditches were filled with magnolia leaves and football team flags sprang up like daylilies. The day we moved in, Ray came over and introduced himself, asking if he could assist with the move. The following week, he used a leaf blower to clear off our driveway and carport.

“No problem.” he shrugged, “I used to do it for Eleanor before she passed. Couldn’t keep the house up by herself.”

Another time, Ray and I were on our respective decks, our faces hidden in the opacity of a crescent moon night. He appeared sober and lucid when he greeted me from the edge of the property line and said he’d like to apologize for his actions and attitude over the past few years. Stunned, I hesitated, waiting to see if Dr. Jekyll’s Mr. Hyde would make an appearance. When he didn’t, I told him I’d be happy to start over, while we small-talked of pets, the cooling weather, and home improvement ideas. But in a couple of months, the quarrelsome Rayden returned.


I continued to address him with a cheery hello, even as I got monosyllabic answers or no response at all. Once I asked him about the few things I knew of him:

“How are your cats? They haven’t come around lately.”

“Coyotes got ‘em.”

I told him how sorry I was. He ignored the sentiment and went inside.

Inside my own house, I screamed at unsuspecting Eric, “What’s wrong with him? Or what’s wrong with me? I can’t try any harder!” In a valiant attempt to fix all that bothers me, Eric asked, “Do you want to move?”

That evening at our small group Bible study, we were challenged to show love to someone we didn’t like. My forehead warmed and flushed. I felt an uncomfortable stickiness, like walking through a cobweb in the yard. Doubtless—it had to be Ray. “Oh, please no,” I grumbled under my breath. One could only wonder why God planted introverted Eric and me in a community with ice cream socials, shared gardens, original owners, and the neighborhood bully.

I told him how sorry I was. He ignored the sentiment and went inside.

Maybe he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He’s old enough to have served in the military. Maybe something fairly recent, like the war in Afghanistan. Perhaps he’s bipolar like my brother was and refuses to take his meds. It’s frustrating—I know so little. I’ve never seen anybody visit him, and he doesn’t attend the subdivision meetings or walk the neighborhood or participate in the quarterly get-togethers. I rarely know if he’s home unless I hear the drone of a lawnmower or smell the acrid tones of his back porch cigars. He has a girlfriend living with him so maybe they’re having relationship issues. I certainly wouldn’t know about her though. Six years of next-door-neighborness and I have yet to hear her voice.

After a considerable amount of waffling, I decided on a donation to the local no-kill shelter in memory of Ray’s two kitties. The shelter, in turn, would send an in memoriam card to the bereaved. It’s no surprise that the sympathy card was never acknowledged, but I recognized that wasn’t the point. The offering was the thing. In Matthew 18:22, Jesus commands me to forgive my brother 77 times—or seven x 70 times—depending on the translation. Either way, that would give Rayden somewhere between 76 and 489 more Get Out of Jail Free cards. If love is both a commandment and an action verb, my duty is to give it to all my brothers and sisters, not just the ones who reciprocate. But what if he’s combative? Delusional? Raging? How do I “love my neighbor” without compromising my personal safety? All that separates us is an open carport and a patch of grass.

“Just ignore him,” says my man of few words. “He’s a jerk.”   

My friend Michelle retorts, “Jesus only gave people three years to get to know Him. Why would you waste twice that much time on some guy you don’t even like?” which makes me laugh and ponder simultaneously.

Common responses for a not uncommon problem. I think, Doesn’t everybody have a Rayden in their lives? He’s like the holly bushes you don’t see until your pricked fingertip trickles. Not drawing much blood, though—just enough to annoy. He’s my “sandpaper person,” a term for those whose mere existence rubs you raw. But referring to him as my sandpaper makes it easier for me to toss him into the nuisance category and ignore him. When I consider doing that, I can’t help but remember that some of the worst atrocities in history began with belittlement plus rationalization. So I choose to continue to be kind to Ray even when it makes me feel like an imposter posing as a Christ-follower. I can correct Eric when he refers to him by something other than his name. I can find biblical examples—and there are many—of people who did what I should be doing. I can pray for him, sincerely, and ask my small group to do the same. And ultimately, I can leave this one in God’s hands because only He knows what to do.

Related Topics:  Love

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