Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Soft Answer

I have this adorable little 76-year-old neighbor whom I call Ms. Julie.  She's a real doll with loads of personality, but I confess she can be wearisome at times.  She's needy.  An expert Worrier. And mostly...alone.  She's a retired school teacher who never married, so she relies on old friends, distant relatives and, of course…NEIGHBORS...to look out for her. 

For the most part, I look forward to my encounters with Ms. Julie…I even seek her out.  We share a love of books and music and culture, and she tells fascinating stories about her life and the people she loves.  She has a baby grand piano IN HER APARTMENT, and often on my way out the door in the mornings I hear her playing classic tunes from Broadway or The American Songbook.  It's delightful  really.  But she has this one little habit that simply drives me out of my head. 

Once or twice a week she shows up on my doorstep early in the morning and rings my bell.  Not so bad, I suppose.  Except...my doorbell?  Well, it's not exactly a doorBELL.  No ring.  No ding.  No chime.  It's more of a buzzer really.  Imagine how an old-fashioned buzzer on a quaint New York City brownstone might sound…and then fuhgedda-bout-it.  It's not like that at all.   It's much more like a basketball scoreboard buzzer…confined within 600 square feet…and  situated, generally speaking, RIGHT NEXT TO MY HEAD.  And, like a scoreboard buzzer, it continues to buzz as long as you depress the button.  There's nothing frail about Ms. Julie's 76-year-old fingers. 

Today was one of those mornings when she decided to drop by.  I wasn't immediately able to answer the door and so she continued to buzz.  And buzzzzz.  And buzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  By the time I *could* have answered, I was so hot under the collar that I ignored her.  I pretended not to be home.  But she didn't give up easily.  She returned 5 minutes later and started all over.  I decided this has been happening way too often and it was high time I gave her a piece of my mind.  After all, I regularly and happily help her with chores and simple maintenance…I cook for her and calm her when she's anxious.  I will demand that she respect my boundaries and stop using my buzzer, not only in the early morning, but always.  NO. MORE. BUZZER. EVER.

On my way out the door to go to work, I stopped at her place to give her some much-deserved "what for."  I'll show her!

When Ms. Julie opened her door, she was genuinely delighted to see me.  I put my hands on my hips and towered over her shrunken 4-foot form with my best scowl and scolding tone: "Julie Clark!  Was that YOU ringing my buzzer this morning?!"  

"Oh, yes!" She very proudly took responsibility.  "We're getting a NEW NEIGHBOR…on Thursday!  I wanted you to know!"  Seriously?!?  That's IT?  All of that drama over a NEW NEIGHBOR?

Still indignant: "Next time you ring my bell like that somebody better be dead or dying, Julie!  Please don't  ring my bell ever again…you can KNOCK, but..."  

"Oh, I'm sorry…IT'S A MAN!  He's young…and a graduate…and he's moving in this week!" 

So much enthusiasm.  I obviously wasn't getting through.  Defeated, I replied flatly, "I KNOW, JULIE.  I met his parents.  He's 23."  It's just another neighbor…SO WHAT?

"There will be 2 men now!  I'm so glad.  Oh…23?  That's YOUNG.  I hope he doesn't have wild parties."  

"He's a computer geek who doesn't smoke or drink and is very quiet…it will be fine," I assured her.  Against my wishes, I felt my indignation evaporating.  That blasted incessant joy of hers refused to be doused by my sour-faced lecture. 

All told, those 15 minutes with Ms. Julie changed the tenor of my day and reinforced lessons I've probably "learned" multiple times before:

Lesson 1: 
Joy triumphs…even in the face of determined negativity

Lesson 2: 
People matter…even more than my ease and convenience

Lesson 3: 
Rejoice…even in simple gifts like new neighbors

Lesson 4:  
A soft answer really DOES turn away wrath.  Go figure.

So, thanks, Ms. Julie.  You may be retired, but you're still teaching!

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