I was stunned to hear this from a cheerful, outgoing woman I'll call Ginny. We were winding up a community HOA board meeting here the other day when she brought up an issue she found troubling: a dear friend and neighbor of hers is putting her house on the market because her next door neighbors have made life unbearable.
Her friend has severe asthma, Ginny told us, and all kinds of smoke can trigger an attack. Her neighbors have not only started a Cigar Club, whose 20+ members meet and smoke in the back yard more evenings than not, but also her neighbors have a wood-fueled fire pit that burns and smokes for hours every evening, even summer evenings where the temperatures linger in the triple digits well after dark. This woman cannot enjoy her own patio any longer and is finding the smoke seeping into her home. For her health, she needs to flee the premises.
The manager for our developer (our community is still being built) looked puzzled. "Can't she just talk reasonably with her neighbors?" he asked. "So often, these disputes can be worked out if the two parties sit down and talk."
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Obviously, that has been tried and it hasn't worked," she said. "Because her neighbors are selfish assholes who think that their rights to do anything they wish trumps another's right to breathe and to enjoy her own home. I never cease to be amazed. You'd think that people would get kinder, mellower, more considerate with age. But some people...." She trailed off, disconsolately.
It's true. As you age, you become more of what you were before.
Like any community, we have our share of jerks who ooze obnoxiousness and probably always have:
The grizzled guy who guzzles coffee daily at the community center while hitting on the young women at the Fitness Desk as if he were doing them a giant favor.
The bombast who holds forth daily in the community center lobby. His idol is Rush and his political philosophies, loudly voiced, veer sharply toward conspiracies of all varieties.
The bully who amused himself by terrorizing a female neighbor, living alone, who was grieving the unexpected end of a long marriage, fighting overwhelming depression and, for a time, had a very short temper fuse. He loved stirring things up, upsetting her to the screaming point and then calling the police to report that he was living across the street from a crazy lady.
The gossip who has nothing good to say about anybody and who considers herself to be the world's expert on all matters.
It isn't just the easily identifiable jerks who threaten to become pains in old age. The rest of us have our moments.
There's a little of the jerk and the bore in all of us. One of the challenges in this stage of life is to tame the jerk and let one's best qualities shine through. We do have a choice.
It's a choice we can make on a daily, hourly, minute-to-minute basis
Just for today....
I promise not to tell anyone more than they really want to know about medical concerns, about work details, about my own struggles.
I promise not to get mired in my own troubles and concerns. When I have low moments and look around, I'm ashamed as I consider possible confidantes: Mary, whose beloved husband is disappearing further into dementia and who has vowed that every day he has left will be at home in her care; my friend Phyllis, who is receiving both chemotherapy for late stage colon cancer and thrice weekly dialysis for kidney failure; my friend Jeanne who has been battling health challenges for some time and who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. I don't think so. I have my health. Everything else is small stuff.
I promise to listen, without judgment, when someone tells me a very different life story or who has opinions that differ considerably from mine.
I promise not to grouse about texting when I get a text -- and just answer it.
I promise not to keep score of how often I hear from loved ones and simply celebrate when I do get an email, a call or a visit.
I promise to tackle projects and just do what I planned to do -- instead of boring those close to me by obsessing about the details, over and over, in advance.
I promise to put down my work, the newspaper, the latest book and smile and reach out to those I love at regular intervals today.
I promise to throw away or give away at least one unused or unwanted item.
I promise to walk by the kitten and cat adoption center at Pet Smart without wondering aloud if adding another abandoned feline to our brood would be reasonable. It's not reasonable. Five cats would be total insanity. Our four cats are wonderful both with us and together. I won't mess with that.
I promise to stifle the urge to accumulate altogether too many cat pictures on my new iPhone.
I promise not to fall into rosy remembering of how life used to be when we were young, when I was slender and pain-free, when people actually wrote letters, when people said "You're welcome!" instead of "No problem." Life then had its tough challenges. And life today has so many joys.
I promise to think more of others, less of myself; to reach out, even when it's uncomfortable or inconvenient.
I promise to be kind in any way possible.
Just for today.