Sunday, February 04, 2018

A Little Story About Slamming

We got a new neighbor in our apartment building lately. It's a one-bedroom unit with beautiful hardwood floors, which the owner paid who knows how much to have redone before this young woman—a bitcoin consultant—the only kind of person who can afford to rent an apartment in this neighborhood now—moved in. Pets are prohibited in the building as of many years ago. When I moved in, cats were allowed, but at this point, only I and the building manager have one. (And Tom has a python, which the manager pretends not to notice.) The building manager sent an email the other day to everyone but the new tenant saying that after she moved in, she mentioned that she has a service animal! Specifically, an emotional support dog.

There is starting to be a backlash against everyone carrying some sort of animal everywhere, but at this moment, in San Francisco a landlord cannot legally forbid you to have an actual service animal, nor even an emotional support animal. Given that, I suppose it technically doesn't make any difference whether she mentioned it before she moved in or after, but it did not sit at all well with the building manager, nor with me. (I suspect others were startled and displeased, as well, but I haven't discussed it with anyone other than the building manager. Oh, also Tom, who said that maybe she has good qualities, as well, which was a very unsatisfactory response, perfectly characteristic of Tom in its generosity and kindness.)

I found myself feeling viciously judgmental, thinking of horrible things to say to this new neighbor. I planned to work "ethics-impaired" into it somewhere, during my lecture on how if she refrained from telling whopping lies of omission, she might have better relationships with other people and thus less anxiety; with less anxiety, she might not need to carry a little dog everywhere.

I tried to figure out why this pushed my buttons so much. Was it just the Enneagram One reacting to something that seemed clearly wrong? After a couple of days of stewing, I remembered how Carlos used to say, "If you knew someone's whole story, you would understand why they act the way they do." Maybe this is indeed a self-entitled rich millennial who does whatever it takes to get what she wants, but maybe she is genuinely a victim of some sort of trauma. I thought of a line from the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book that might apply, something like, "This is a sick person. How can I be helpful to her?"

Matters were slightly complicated by the fact that this woman, who lives on my floor, slams her door every time she goes in or out. (If your hand is no longer in contact with the doorknob when the door actually closes, you have probably just annoyed someone somewhere.) I moved on to drafting the very direct note I planned to leave on her door, anonymously, of course.

And then I remembered one of the weekly emails I'd recently gotten announcing Howie's sitting group. They always have a quote at the top, many of which are gems. This one said, "If we cannot be happy in spite of our difficulties, what is the good of our spiritual practice?"  ~Maha Ghosananda

OK, right, right, right. There are people starving to death, immigrants being hounded and terrorized, people in Cape Town about to run out of water. Today I read a dreadful thing online about a woman whose dog escaped from her house. Someone taped its feet together and threw it out the window of a car on the freeway, where it was immediately killed. Hearing an annoying sound is about the least problematic problem you can have, with the possible exception of someone I haven't even met telling a lie which does not directly affect me to someone other than myself.

I decided to work with this for a month, and if I still feel like asking her to close her door more quietly, then I will. By that time, it will be a much friendlier request than it would be right now. What was happening was that I would hear the door slam and a whole wave of angry thoughts would begin. Now I hear the door slam and notice it as a sound, and observe what happens in my body, which is a little frisson of fear. And then it's over. The whole thing takes two seconds if it doesn't become a story.

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