I have lived in my current home for eight years, and the same guy has lived down the block from me the whole time. He kind of keeps to himself, but come to think of it, maybe I keep to myself, too. Anyway, I had never spoken to him until one morning about two or three years ago.
I had loaded the kids into the minivan for school. I drove down the block and as I was passing his house, he backed quickly out of his driveway right in front of me. I slammed on my brakes, immediately irritated. He stopped, too, our bumpers feet from each other. We sat for a second in a stalemate, then I turned sharply and made to go around him, and he simultaneously started to back up again, perhaps thinking that because I had stopped I was yielding to him. Instead, we went towards each other. I slammed on my brakes again and honked. He slammed on his brakes again. Then he put his car in park and got out to approach my door. I put down my window. “Look,” he began, “You don’t need to honk at me. We all have to live here as neighbors, and there’s no call for that.”
“I didn’t honk because I was mad,” I replied. “I honked because you were about to hit my bumper.” (That was about 75% truth. The other 25% was because I was mad.)
“Well, I’m sorry I pulled out in front of you, but there was really no call for that.”
“Well, I forgive you,” I said in an unforgiving tone.
He stared at me for a moment, then got back in his car and pulled into his driveway so I could pass him.
This is the only conversation I have ever had with this man. Ever since then, however, whenever I see him, in my head I think ‘Oh, there’s that guy, the one who got his feelings hurt because I honked at him. The one who was all offended even though I had the right of way. Jerk.’ And I avoided eye contact. He did the same, politely ignoring me as I drove by. For two or three years. Then, the other day, as I drove by his house, not making eye contact and thinking ‘Jerk’, the strangest thing happened. He looked straight at my minivan and gave a friendly wave.
Whaaa…? I thought. What am I supposed to so with that? Great. I had spent over two years investing in my anger towards this guy and then he waves at me? The nerve.
The voice of my whimsically wise friend Christy was in my head. She is always saying the most incredibly wise things at incredibly random times. This nugget from her truisms sprang forward: ‘Never judge anybody by their worst day. Everyone has a bad day now and then.’
The only thing I knew about the guy was that he had been in a hurry one morning, and so had I, and that we had been less than neighborly to each other. Ever since then in my head he had been ‘the jerk’. My entire perception of this man was based on one incident. It was all I knew of him. But then, our interaction was all he knew of me, too. And suddenly the incredibly vain part of me thought that he would like me if he just got to know me. I know, I know- I said it was vain, didn’t I?
Now I am not going to go down the block, ring the guy’s doorbell and have a heart to heart with him. But I am going to stop the internal dialogue that assigns him as a jerk. Maybe I can start loving my neighbor by not hating him in the first place. It is over. I have forgiven it, which is what I should have done in the first place. What a waste of emotional energy hating this guy had been, and what a classless thing for me to do.
So the question is this: who is it in your life that you hate for a no good reason? What grudge are you unwilling to give up? Is it worth it? Here’s a hint: it’s not. As obvious as this sounds, it is still true: we cannot love our neighbor if we hate him. Are you willing to give it up?
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”