Mormon Heretic’s post on forgiveness from a few weeks ago touched me deeply, but I needed time to get my thoughts together about it before I could respond.
I once had the neighbor from hell. I use the expression with theological intent.
Smart and relentlessly treacherous, he was somewhere on the spectrum from malignant narcissist to full-fledged sociopath, and I had no desire to observe closely enough to find out where. I do not know what horror had befallen him — if anything more significant than a stray cosmic ray hitting the genome at the wrong time — but he seemed to be without sincere empathy toward anyone. Worse, he seemed to have grown to love cruelty as the only thing giving meaning to his life. He was Jack Nicholson as the Joker: “So many people to hurt, so little time!” If he was not planning or executing some plot against one person, it was because he was busy with a more hated target.
Our family’s first hostile contact with this guy arose innocently enough. His daughter had a cat. When his daughter was living with her mother — he was, of course, in the middle of a messy divorce — he left it outside in the cold and wet and the hot and dry. My wife, not wanting the cat to suffer, began putting out a bowl of water on our porch in the heat, and a little food and a towel for the cat to shelter under in the cold. Polite suggestions to him that leaving the cat outside wasn’t a good idea led to several conflicted stories about why it was all right, but a clear acknowledgement that the cat was, indeed, his responsibility.
And then, after this had gone on for several months, a middle-aged oriental woman, not speaking English very well, appeared at our door one evening. She asked us if the cat then lurking behind our front bushes belonged to our neighbor, and my wife innocently and honestly answered yes.
And with that simple act, we moved unexpectedly from peace to a full-scale personal war in which our spiritual and emotional health and livelihood was directly threatened.
The woman had purchased the property from a military doctor and his wife when they transferred out of state to a new assignment. She had invested her savings to make the buy, and then rented the property to our neighbor through an agency. Home prices in our county had been exploding, and she hoped to make a good profit from her investment. Instead, she found a nightmare.
In the year he’d been there, he’d managed to find some loophole each month to avoid paying a cent of rent. County codes here are built more to protect immigrant tenants from slumlords; they really were not designed with what an immoral tenant could do to an immigrant landlord in mind. Heating and cooling systems or plumbing would continually “break” — there were sometimes different heating companies called to the home for repairs on the same day, especially when the first arrivals found the systems to be working properly. He would call for repairs to be made, then deny access to the repairmen. On one occasion, I saw him demand reseeding of grass in his front yard for drainage, and then slip out to the yard that weekend and destroy the new turf. On another, I saw him inspect a damaged fence, and then, rather than report it, hide the fact from the landlady until another month’s rent was due.
Now, burning through her savings for mortgage payments and repairs with no end in sight, being harassed by the man by telephone and intimidated by him to the point she was afraid to come to the home without an escort, she saw a possible way to break the lease: it had a no-pet provision. And so she asked about the cat. We answered honestly — and then the neighbor came after us.
My wife had been supporting us by teaching individual piano students from our home for years, and had been the primary breadwinner since my heart attack. He filed complaints that what we were doing instead was a group studio in violation of zoning, and demanded we be shut down. He stole trash during the night and attempted to frame me for illegal dumping of medical waste. He attempted to intimidate parents from bringing children for lessons by rushing to the edge of our property and, without any explanation, taking pictures of the children, and then the license plates of their cars like they were drug dealers. Every night there was drilling into the walls between our homes or hammering on them, and we never knew if or how he was trying to sabotage our systems. We spent thousands in legal fees just to protect ourselves.
As I began to ask myself who was this guy, and why was he doing this, I found in public legal records that he had a long record of defiance to authority, with a couple of dozen violations, including jail time, for various disputes with neighbors seemingly everywhere he’d lived since adulthood. Simultaneously with his dispute with us and the landlady, he was on trial for phone harassment of his wife, and in a domestic violence dispute with a girlfriend he’d been with less than a month. He sought out potential violations by other witnesses in the neighborhood (such as expired license plates), and threatened to expose them if they testified. He went after the Home Owners Association President, an African-American, by making racial slurs in the presence of her daughter. He went after the county enforcement officials and tried to get their bosses to fire them; he went after the lawyers for conflicts of interest; he tried to get judges removed from his trials. You get the point.
The pressure on us grew more dispiriting, or perhaps I should say dark-spiriting, as months went by with no resolution. And we found ourselves increasingly turning to prayer for deliverance, as we felt imprisoned in our own home, never knowing what we would have to defend against tomorrow. And, as necessary, we were indeed delivered. In a couple of cases, traps laid for us were thwarted by unlikely coincidences. But the darkness, though warded off, was always present.
And then, in one of those deep prayer experiences, I heard in my mind my enemy’s soul cry out in an agony to God to be delivered from the darkness that enveloped him. I do not believe his physical form recognized what his own spirit was doing; he seemed to love the darkness and would cling to his cellphone (from which he harassed victims) like it was a totem of power he could not be without for even a moment. But I heard the Holy Spirit answer: “He is forbidden to remain as he is.” And the word “forbidden” carried all of the undeniable weight of a requirement to choose salvation or doom.
A few days later, entirely unbidden, while I was still trying to understand in my own mind the previous experience, I heard his soul cry out again that he would be lost. And equally unbidden, my own prayers suddenly changed.
Instead of praying that God would get this guy off my family’s back, I found myself praying that God would get that darkness off this guy’s back. Because I saw that there was truly a predator, and my neighbor was the unsuspecting prey. And I was weeping for him, and praying as hard and as intensely as I have ever prayed for anything in my life.
It was the first time in my life that I truly loved my enemy. Not decided that someone wasn’t really my enemy (six months after he finally left the neighborhood, he came back to see if sabotage he’d previously prepared for the air conditioning unit had, in fact, caused the system to fail, leaving new renters he’d never even met sweltering in a summer heat wave for two days). Not just trying to treat my enemy with justice. Not simply restraining my self-defense. For once, I knew what it meant to love an enemy, even knowing he would remain my enemy, and that the existing situation was forbidden to continue.
But why was it only “for once”? What makes it so hard for me — for us — to stay in the loving attitude that the fate of the soul of my enemy (let alone the soul of a stranger or a friend) is of eternal significance even if I must oppose that enemy with all my might?
That seems to be something to spend some time contemplating as we remember this weekend a day of great violence.
Thank you for writing this. There is an ocean of forgiveness awaiting the events that we remember this weekend from 9/11. One is not always aware of the demarcation between the “dark spirit” and the one who is prey to it.
Appreciate the story and message.
I think forgiveness of our enemies can be one of the most difficult things to do, but the rewards are worth the price. as the saying goes, when we don’t forgive, it is as if we swallow poison and wait for the other person to die.
I always enjoy it when my posts inspire new posts. thanks.
You are an incredibly tolerant and Christ like person. I must say, I would have lost my temper with the first few incidents. Almost as frustrating as the behavior exhibited by this creature is the government social engineering in the rental process. If they would simply stay out of our business, creeps like this wouldn’t be able to pull these kinds of antics. Knowing they could be thrown out at the will of the Landlord such behavior wouldn’t last that long.
Again, thank you for your Chirst like example.
The lack of losing my temper wasn’t Christ-like; it was tactical self-discipline. He wanted reason to sue me; he drew power and satisfaction from provoking conflict. It was his drug of choice.
The experience of seeing him as prey of something darker than himself was, I believe, given me by God as grace and was certainly not my own doing. Patience will probably be the last fruit of the Spirit that I acquire, or the one that trips me up entirely.
As to the social engineering, I’m Home Owners Association president now. I’ve seen landlords in the “bad guy” role, too, and, for that matter, home owners who freeload off of the dues payers. So it’s up to individual integrity more than the system, IMO.
That was powerful.
Thank you for this post, I needed the reminder. I’ve seen an enemy of mine in this light, yet still struggle with a desire to see him continue to suffer under the darkness so I could be validated in the experiences I’ve gone through. I don’t REALLY want it, when it comes right down to it, but there is still a part of me that wants others to see what he is for what he is so I can know that what I went through was real. Part of me is afraid that if he stopped suffering, everything I went through would be a figment of my imagination.
So it can be really hard to pray for an enemy’s release, especially when you are still suffering.
I think the key comes when you love them as you depict in this post, and when you remit all debt they owe you for what they have done to Christ.
I appreciate how you describe protecting yourself while still forgiving and loving.
Loving-kindness meditations from the Buddhist tradition have helped me tremendously in my efforts to truly love my enemy. There are stories of Buddhist monks who have compassion for the people torturing them because they are so “misguided” in their path through life. They maintain love and compassion for them in spite of that.
For me, at least, actually practicing some of these meditations has been MUCH more powerful in my life than simply reading, “Love thy enemy” or “Turn the other cheek”.
What a gift to read this today. Thanks, Fire Tag.
Beautiful. Thank you.
It’s an unfortunate thing that the same people who recoil from horror from “stereotypes,” are all for stereotypes when it comes to pigeonholing the Oppressive Capitalist Class.
Loving your enemy is a critical part of protecting yourself from the Enemy; you avoid your soul becoming collateral damage. At the same time, a sufficiently ruthless small-E enemy can also put your spiritual welfare at risk. It takes an awful lot to be truly resigned to buffetings, in Buddhist or Christlike fashion. I’ve seen even deeply spiritual people brought down to do and say horrible things under economic and other stress (including a couple who are friends with me and my wife just this weekend). Sometimes, taking ourselves as we are, the better thing to do may be to nip things in the bud. If a loving God could drown the whole creation, I suppose I could rationalize my way to “loving” someone I was having tarred, feathered and run out of my apartment complex on a rail.
God only drowned the continental shelves. 😀
If people had taken the prophetic warnings seriously about what was coming and been willing to leave their fertile, relatively comfortable farm lands — be it the Black Sea or the Persian Gulf, they’d have been far better off.
The metaphorical symbolism remains valid regardless of literal content. When there is something in the dark — and there is — it is not safe to be at ease in Zion before Zion has actually been established.
Very powerful story. What happened in the end?
I am not sure what the “end” means in this case. I don’t think he gets another meaningful chance to repent until he actually recognizes the predator itself. I hope that happens before there is much more damage to surrounding people; the only promise I had was that he would repent or get much worse.
What happened in my part of “the end” was that he got so busy in one legal process related to his wife, that he missed a procedural deadline for resisting eviction by his landlady’s lawyer, and moved out after sabotaging the systems, as I mentioned in the OP. (Eviction laws here basically allow one to force a restart of the process, which is several months long, unless it does not rain, snow, or get cold on the pre-scheduled day when the hard-pressed sheriff’s deputies actually show up. Stall until fall and you’re in until next spring.)
His “new squeeze” got in a fight with him that led to the police coming. The last public records I saw had him living nearby with his mother.
That’s answers it — I just meant did he finally move, did you end up moving, or did you just end up shooting him and calling self defense 🙂