What do we chose to build?
May nobody be punished because of me.
This line from the Jewish Bedtime Prayer for Forgiveness, when read aloud by Rabbi Kaya, brought a moan from my lips. Although I hadn’t fully realized it, I have been silently and elaborately plotting a secret punishment.
My neighbor, Jimmy, has been away from his house for nearly a year, a quiet and serene year for us. Because of some structural damage to the house, he and his family, along with his two relentlessly barking Pit Bulls, have had to live elsewhere. Jimmy is a perfectly good guy, a helpful neighbor, willing to pull my car out of a snowy ditch, willing to offer all kinds of support when our house was broken into, along with other forms of support over the years. Yet Jimmy is a beyond-sloppy kind of guy. His boy-toys, defying season, dot the yard: a snow blower big enough to tackle the Grand Canyon, a huge tractor, ice-fishing paraphernalia, assorted and random tools from his projects-du’-jour, several hand-crafted pig roasters, the skeleton of a former lawn chair, and so on. And on. And on. The life purpose of his two dogs’ has been to stand at our fence line and bark at our house, with deep commitment, purposefully and continuously. These past four seasons without them has been—quiet godsend.
By the way, I trust that Jimmy does not read this blog.
Now, with the support of insurance money, Jimmy had demolished his house (see authentic photo above, friends–ugh). A pre-fab awaits. All of this is good news, yet our silence will be vanished, not just by the digging and constructing of the house, but by the living of Jim and his family.
Because of state conservation guidelines (we abut officially designated wetlands) and bizarrely rigorous zoning guidelines from our funny and tiny town, demolition and building are mazelike processes. When asked, Jimmy happily assured us that he had secured the proper permits. Yet Sue, another neighbor and member of the zoning commission of our town, just happened to tell us Jimmy had never applied for zoning approval. The plot thickens.
The idea of an anonymous call to Town Hall, from a pay phone booth somewhere—are there pay phone booths anywhere these days?—had been flitting through my mind. Could this buy us another spring, perhaps even summer, free of construction, barking, and actively alive neighbors? Thinking about doing this as an anonymous action was stirred my energy. Until Rabbi Kaya. The fun has ended for me as the inquiry begins.
Why would this secretive response be more seductive to me that a simple and honest talk with Jimmy? “Hey, Jim, I’m wondering if…….”? Or, “Hey, Jim, could you please…..”? Why does a face-to-face conversation with requests seem too hard to do? What is up with me?
Rabbi Kaya, you blew my denial. Maybe that’s one function of an alive spiritual perspective—to see through one’s habitual responses to things?
Jimmy is not the only one who is building something in that empty lot. What am I choosing to build? Would I really want to rebuild relationship with this man on the platform of deception and probably guilt? Can I imagine crafting a foundation of honesty and mutuality with him? Well, yes and no. More will be revealed, yet the gig is up. Now that I recognize this in myself, I must lean toward truth- telling.
What about you guys out there in Blog-Land? What do you think? Have you found yourself practicing secretive punishments? Did they ever “work out”? How does this situation land for you?