For those of you who have been following along, we have had two ongoing sagas. I was inclined to call them basketball-gate and neighbour-gate, but there probably isn’t enough scandal to warrant a “gate”. I also shouldn’t bother trying to give them a trendy name seeing as they both seem to be coming to a close.
First the good stuff. As you know, our basketball team wasn’t doing very well. I wouldn’t go so far as to say we weren’t a good team, but the competition we were up against just wasn’t “intermediate”, as advertised. With the inability to field three different leagues of varying competitiveness, they kept promoting them as such, but inevitably were always going to collapse themselves into one league. One league of highly competitive players, the Avengers team we played in the first week, and us.
The result was some pretty resounding losses for us. Usually by halftime we were down 30 or 40. But then, a modicum of hope. In our penultimate game, at half we were just about even with the other team. We had figured some things out and we could see a light.
Unfortunately, we started the second half with four point guard-sized players for some inexplicable reason. With all of us on the team being coequal and captainless, no one was willing to tell some of the smaller players to get off the court to give us a chance. We gave up a 12-0 run. I called a timeout hoping that they would get the picture. I said we can’t use that rotation because we have no size – we break from the huddle aaaand, the exact same five players walk back onto the court. I storm off and knock over a garbage can. We give up another 10-0 run and the game is effectively over. The light turned out to be at the end of a tunnel.
So why the hope? Well, despite my criticising of the team’s positive outlook after the first game, this time I could really see an opening. If we could just keep our rotation tight, play great defence, and master the 2-3 zone, we might have a chance at an actual win. I, of course, didn’t think we could do any of these things, but at least I saw a hypothetical path.
The next game was our last of the season. We were playing a team that had just been knocked out of the playoffs, and to make matters worse, we were very undermanned. They had 11 guys, we had 6. They were going to run us into the ground. Our saving grace was that most of the guys who didn’t show up were the ones who were struggling with the things I was most worried about. There would be no way we would have enough energy given how long their bench was, but at least everyone was big, and 4/6 were reasonably athletic.
Same as the previous week, we had a great start. We weren’t just close at half, we were winning most of the first 22 minutes. Our defense was tight. And even I, the Kristaps Porzingis of our team, stepped outside and knocked down a big three. My toe was on the line and they did call it a two, but in my heart, a big three. In the last few minutes we were still up. They trapped, doubled, pressured, and attacked the basket, and we didn’t crumble. I even insisted (why?) on doing all the inbounding so if the ball got thrown away I could only be mad at myself.
They were down one with less than 10 seconds and they forced up an ill-advised three pointer. Not even close. Big Tom for the rebound, game over. An inexplicable Flint Tropics win. The two sweetest parts of the victory were calling my wife after the game to tell her we got a win, and then secondly, the fact that one of our best and most committed players wasn’t there because he had to work late. Calling him was even better.
So how did we parlay this win into future success? Did we decide this was the catalyst that would make it worth it to get the band back together for another run, full of hope and promise? No, I asked who wanted to play again and got one-and-a-half positive responses. No one else even bothered to answer. So, we can close the basketball saga.
Neighbour-gate. Turns out I couldn’t help calling it that. This is one that you never can tell if it’s over, but things have turned towards an encouraging peace. To recap, we have had screaming, stomping, door-banging, complaint-filing, and police-calling. The worst was when she was slamming doors and yelling at my family members as they filed in for a housewarming party, if I had to pick one thing.
So how did we turn it around? Firstly I would credit prayer: the whole church was on this one. Then the other half is quite surprising. We tried being very kind, we tried respectfully and thoroughly answering the concerns she had brought up to the landlord, and of course we bought her a $4 cupcake. But none of these made much of a dent. I will say that it is hard to rage against someone who doesn’t offer any resistance, so that may have pacified her, but I don’t think that’s what clinched it.
It was eating crow. One day we had a leak coming through our ceiling, just right of the bathroom, streaming down gently through a kitchen pot light.
I called the landlord. “Hey, we have a leak coming through the ceiling. It’s been raining a little today, so I’m not sure if it’s coming from outside or upstairs.”
“No problem, I’ll come have a look.”
One minute later and it sounded like Andre the Giant was running down the stairs to escape a blazing house fire. Only Andre didn’t go outside. *Bang, Bang, Bang* Apparently the Hall of Famer was at my door.
“Hi neighbour, ho-”
“I’m not leaking anything from upstairs!”
“Ok, that’s fine.”
“The landlord said I’m leaking something into your apartment.”
I could tell that she wanted to accuse me of accusing her of being the source of the leak, but apparently our landlord hadn’t let on that I called him, so she was stuck blaming him.
“I just told him that I had a leak, I didn’t -”
“Let me see it!”
She pushed to the edge of the door, but didn’t go so far as pushing me. She looked up at me impatiently.
I took a deep breath of assessment. “Ok, come on in.” I moved aside and extended my arm, gesturing down the hallway towards the kitchen with an open palm (think of a butler). She stomped down the hall faster than I cared to keep up with. She whipped her head around all over the kitchen trying to find the source. I made it to the kitchen and pointed to the spot.
“I don’t have any kitchen items with water over there. Everything is on the other side!”
“Ok, no problem.” I looked again and remembered from my moderate house building experience that almost all homes stacked bathrooms vertically for the sake of plumbing.
“Is your bathroom maybe right above here though?” I asked her.
“There’s nothing leaking from my bathroom.”
“Ok, I’m sure it’s from outside. Have a nice day.”
She made her way to the exit and I waited with a bucket under the problem for the landlord to come and inspect. Not three minutes had passed and here came another knock at the door. Totally unexpected this time on account of no Andre the Giant stomps and the mild mannered, almost polite knock. I opened the door and wouldn’t you know it, the same neighbour.
“So, my toilet was leaking,” she said with no hint of a yell.
Ah, what to do with this opportunity? The yelling, accusing, harassing, self-justifying neighbour has made a mistake that affects me negatively and is now in front of me, guilty and hat in hand. What to do?
“Don’t worry about it. It happens,” I said.
Then she even choked out the word “Sorry.”
I nodded, dismissing the transgression with a smile. “No big deal, it’s easy to fix.”
Since then, there hasn’t been a single word to me or the landlord. Now I have to admit, there also hasn’t been a smile; that would diminish the tough reputation she has carefully built. She even saw me walking 20 paces behind her towards the house the other day and still locked the door behind her when she walked in. So we haven’t arrived, but I find it so interesting and powerful that the thing that broke the animosity was unreturned revenge.
She knew I had every right and, given our history, expectation that I would rub her nose in it, or finally start yelling, or at least sneer. But I didn’t. I extended grace (def: an undeserved kindness). And that was the thing that began to turn it around.
I mentioned this in an earlier post, but this reflects so clearly from my faith. “Love your enemies,” is unique to the way Jesus taught people to see the world. “Forgive each other just as Jesus forgave you.” This principle is applied widely in the Bible. It is because we have first received an undeserved kindness that we can extend it to others. For no other reason and in no other order. I have been forgiven by Jesus this way.
I’ve also seen this work in the inverse. I once had a very wise mentor with more than a decade’s experience doing Christian work in Africa. He told me of a time when he was pulled over at a checkpoint in a rather contentious country. He and his young family were asked to present their passports. Only a moment’s glance by the rifle-wielding guard and he told them plainly that their passports were expired.
The missionary looked again at the passport. The problem: yyyy/mm/dd or yyyy/dd/mm – their countries disagreed on the standard of representing the information. They weren’t expired in Canadian recording, but appeared to be by his estimation. In a moment of wisdom, however, he decided that he wouldn’t disagree with the man. He had many options: inform the man of the national differences, use his fluent Swahili to let the guard know he was an insider, insist that Google or the consulate could easily settle the dispute. He said only to the man, “I apologize. What should we do?”
How is this the relevant inverse of my predicament? These are stories of how we relate to power. I refused to take and utilize mine; he gave his up willingly and put himself in someone else’s hands. My mentor’s act was firstly an act of faith; the understanding that it was most accurately God’s hands he we entrusting himself into. It was secondly an act of cultural understanding. For me it was a case of not returning force for force. It’s hard for only one person to have a tug-of-war. My neighbour was deliberately mean and abrasive so she could take a position of power in our relationship. I preferred the way of Jesus that chose to suffer force rather than wield it, and leave the power in the hands of God.
I find it stunning, and almost mystically stunning, that the answer to so many dilemmas and conflicts is to deliberately eschew the use of power, priviledge, advantage, and opportunity to best someone else. This often turns away wrath or the instinct of revenge in others. When this doesn’t happen, it at least does wonders for the soul.
One final word about why my posts have been a little sparse lately. I started this blog as a way to unburden myself of burning ideas. This, hopefully, would help me find the focus and inspiration to work on my larger book projects. Well, in some sense, when that works, I do this less often. I hope that’s ok with my four or five regular readers.
To that end, I feel I should tell you that I am indeed working on something else that is keeping me from doing this with the same frequency of a few months ago. I have been given the opportunity to submit a book I had written previously to two publishers. With this great encouragement comes rewrites, drafts, editing, and proposals. And so a new era begins: the pretentious, possibly published author era. I shall let you know when there is anything else to report.