My Enemy Next Door

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My Enemy Next Door

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It is strange that I would think of Mark (his name has been changed for privacy reasons) while reviewing what I'm thankful for. He was a mean old man who paced my front walk for years with a frown, a mug of coffee and a cigarette dangling from his mouth. All the neighbors knew him to be an odd, old, nosy sort who had nothing better to do than to polish his cars or sit in his 1950 Blue Chevy pick-up listening to country-western eight-track tapes.

Over the 30 years my family lived near Mark, he was always a cantankerous neighbor, known for his variety of complaints, police visits and letters threatening to go before this commission or that commission. His complaints included: "Your fence is too low (or too high)," "Your plants are stealing the water from my yard," or "Your dog is barking!"

The final straw for me was the day an animal control officer knocked on my door after Mark had turned in another complaint. I asked the officer to be a witness and accompany me to Mark's door. The officer watched as I confronted him for this final blow.

"Mark, I'm not sure why you're so unhappy, but I've done everything to appease and comply with you," I started. "I tore out 15 bush cherry trees, relandscaped our borders, put a bark collar on my dog and even shared my flowers and fruit. This harassment has to stop!" It was left to me to deliver this threat stemming from seven years of his unreasonable complaints. For the next two years, we avoided eye contact.
"I Didn't Know How to Love Someone I Hated"

In Luke 6:27-28 God tells us to love our enemies. "But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you."

While I know this is true, when you are really mad at someone, that is hard to do. But nothing I did was working; and believing God's way works, I relented. I had no other option. I began to pray for him and for my attitude and animosity—because I didn't know how to love someone I hated.

One Sabbath afternoon I saw Mark walking toward me. "Oh no, not again!" I thought. I asked a friend to stay nearby and be a witness. What came from his lips was the last thing I ever expected to hear.

"Carol, would you forgive me for treating you the way I have?" he said. "I had no call to act the way I did." My resentment melted away, and though we were separated by a short picket fence, I threw up my arms inviting a hug and said, "In a second, Mark. I'll forgive you in a second!" We both cried.

During those two years of silence between us, his son had committed suicide. He told me his wife was bedridden and that his other son and he had been estranged for 20 years. He began to share with me his regrets—that he had a granddaughter he'd never seen—and about his abusive, alcoholic father.

We became wonderful friends. He'd leave camellia flowers on my porch and even invited me to meet his daughter. The three of us sat on the porch and drank wine and laughed, although I'd never met his wife until I received a phone call from her early in the spring.

Something had happened to Mark, and he had driven himself to the hospital. She had fallen and broken her arm a week before and had no one to check on her. She was distraught and had no way to get to Mark. My neighbor and I helped her to the car and to the hospital and wheeled her through the corridors to find Mark strapped to his bed.

We left, planning to give them time alone when a tall man with strawberry-blonde hair passed us and walked into the room. As we walked down the hall, I heard wails and cries of a mother being reunited with a long-lost son. Amazingly, he turned out to be an employee at the hospital.

Mark never came home. He died that week. But the sun is shining again next door. His wife is walking and driving herself to appointments and to the store. She has a little granddaughter with beautiful red hair who plays in the yard as her son works to brings life back to the home that had been dark for so long. There are happy sounds coming from over the fence. A healing miraculously came, I believe, after a little prayer for my enemy.

I love Mark, and I miss him. He is one of the people I am very grateful to have known. UN