So, I’ve been incredibly frustrated with my Seminary experience for a number of reasons. I won’t go into that much more right at this moment, other than to say a lot of times I get frustrated by the hypocrisy of the community I’m a part of. If you are interested in the frustrations I have had, you can read my personal experience that I wrote last year about why I love Jesus but hate seminary.
I recognize that this is not everyone’s experience with Seminary but it has been by and large mine. I’m not going to apologize for it, but stand by the words I said there and leave it with the caveat that none of us are perfect, only Jesus is.
Moving on. I’ve lived in this community over two years now in Seminary owned apartment housing next door to the campus. I’ve been surrounded by neighbors who both attend Seminary and some who attend other schools in the region (or both, like me). This is a very very University dense city and cheap housing is of paramount importance for those of us going through the very expensive reality of graduate school. My husband and I live on a main road in a very urban, very population dense area. We live literally right on the border of an upper-middle-class to upper class neighborhood with beautiful giant homes and what you might call an “up and coming neighborhood” that has been undergoing some serious urban redevelopment and is molding into a place straddling the line between young families and hipsters moving in for the cheap housing and recent development, and the people who have lived here for years. It’s a really interesting place to be right now.
Over the summer not many apartments were occupied in our building that faces this main avenue. Parking was easier to find near the front, and the only people you had to really contend with for spaces were a few neighbors and people visiting those at the care center right across the street. It was glorious to just be able to pull up and go home, to not have to walk a block with groceries, and to have close street parking.
Come August and the little commune of apartment buildings are nearly at capacity. Finding parking close by is often like getting a golden egg or winning the lottery and, ya know, it’s also the city so we try to cram as many cars as possible (even mildly illegally) into a very limited amount of space.
Today my husband came back from a meeting on campus and handed me a note written on a piece of envelope that he had watched be placed on our car by our downstairs neighbors. This is that note:
Now, I could regale you with all my frustrations over this. I could say what I wish would have happened. I can probably tell you with some certainty that they wanted and expected to be anonymous, that they thought I would be embarrassed by my terrible parking and ignorance that I don’t know how to drive/park/live in a city and would just sheepishly accept their note and move on. And I was embarrassed, and I am embarrassed. I screwed up, and I’m not denying that I probably parked too close to their car. Most importantly, I’m not trying to embarrass my neighbors by exposing their behavior, but rather think about my own behavior and response.
When my husband handed me the note this afternoon with “I have some bad news” my first response was to get mad. I even posted a not-nice status on Facebook about it (that tends to be where I rant the most). I was mad about a lot of things, but especially that I had done something to someone else that had frustrated me on SO MANY OCCASIONS. Trying to get out of a space when the person behind you has parked really frickin’ close to the car, especially in traffic on a main avenue is no easy feat to accomplish. Having to do that makes me really annoyed, among a thousand other things about parking and driving. And I was hurt that someone who lived in this community that is supposed to practice better habits and be kinder to each other would leave a nasty note about it. Even if they weren’t a seminarian, surely they knew where they were living and who owned the building? I felt bad and sad and really frustrated. I was taking it personally. I was remembering all the other times I had been treated badly, really badly, by people in this community and who claimed to follow Christ. I was angry.
I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen while I shook with fury and told my husband, who was trying to talk some sense into me, to back off because I was sick of the hypocrisy. I was going to write a note back and put it under their door. I was going to make them feel as bad and stupid as they made me feel. I started three notes before I took a deep breath and got some serious perspective on the situation.
I don’t have a picture of my note, but I typed it up before hand-writing it so this is what I ended up sliding under their door:
You don’t know me, but my husband saw you leave the note on our car. We live in a community here, and I’m sorry that I parked you in. That must have been really really frustrating. What you don’t know is that I was very very tired and I just wanted to get home at 11pm last night. Had you asked me to move the car today, I gladly would have. There is really no need to leave nasty notes, a simple “Hey, you parked me in” would have sufficed. We all make mistakes, get tired, and on occasion do horrible parking jobs. I’ve had the same thing happen to me. I’m not sure if you attend the seminary or not, but if you do you are surely aware of the “golden rule” and the concept of forgiveness. Also apologies. I am sorry for parking you in and I will try my hardest not to do it in the future. If you do find my parking job unsatisfactory in the future (light blue minivan) my name is Darrah and I live just above you in apartment XXX. You can feel free to knock or call me at XXX-XXX-XXXX. I’m happy to fix the problem or do whatever I can to make the situation better. I sincerely hope you have a better day.
— Your Neighbor
Now, I hope they don’t find that condescending. I truly intended it with all the best humanity and love I could muster. My apology was sincere, as was my intention to fix the situation if it ever arises again. I really really do hope they have a better day than the one that caused them to write their neighbor a nasty note (I’m sure they recognized the car as we park there all the time). I did my best to cop to the mistake and genuinely intend to do a better job, even if there is no streetlight toward the back of the street and it’s not the easiest to see. Even if I am really tired and frustrated and just want to go home after a long night. Even if I am trying to squeeze in on the end because I don’t want to walk a block away from my car late at night in an area that isn’t always the safest (there have been muggings and hold-ups right on that very corner). Just because I want something, doesn’t mean I should compromise another person to get it, to feel safer, or to be a little lazier.
After I started two notes that were angry and full of all the frustration and rage and hurt I have felt at the hands of people and the kind of community I feel the seminary perpetuates, I remembered something my mom told me from the days I had to deal with some not-very-serious 2nd grade meanies: Kill It With Kindness. Show them love and compassion and humility and maybe they will show that back one day to someone else.
My mom’s lesson on some hurtful words said by my classmates are really the concept of everything that Jesus ever did. Sure, he called out the Pharisees on their bad behavior but, at the end of the day, didn’t take back their salvation or say they were worthless because they were really really rude to him. He loved them too. And, when he was dying on the cross in all that pain and suffering and betrayal, Jesus begged for the forgiveness of those who had put him there. Whether I think my neighbors are entirely rude or not doesn’t change the fact that they are beloved children of God. Whether or not they have a bad day and leave a nasty note shouldn’t change whether I love them and care for them as a part of this incredible kingdom.
The truth is, when I was angry and yelling and writing those first notes dripping with sarcasm, I was doing the exact same thing that I have railed against in this community: claiming to be a follower of Christ, a perpetuator of peace and love and understanding and then turning around and judging, accusing, and pretty much being a jerk. That’s not who or what I want to be.
Even now, a few hours later after the incident, I might change a few things I said in that final note back to them. I might have given my reaction just a few more hours to evaporate into calm and left out a few things. I might have just kept in that note “I’m sorry” and “If this ever happens again please let me know and I will do my best to fix it”. I might even leave out the part about having been tired and it being late at night. But it is what it is now. I am human too, and everything I do is far from perfect. I’m at peace with my actions, and I have no idea what is going to happen or if they will even read it or respond or just sit on their hands. The reality is, we all have to treat each other a little better. We are all human and equally totally and completely capable of screwing up. That’s why Jesus showed up, and most importantly, suffered on that cross, to show us that we are loved anyway.
I hope in the future that my actions and retaliations are less anger driven and more love driven. I can’t say I won’t ever get angry because the reality is, I’m a passionate person. I forget my filter and sometimes I just get worked up. But the things I say and do shouldn’t be driven by that anger, I should remember those words my momma taught me and be a little gentler toward others. I should respond out of love, and not out of spite.
I should I should I should. I’m going to mess up again. I’m going to be affected by the hurt and pain and things that I experience. But if I really want to follow Christ, I’m going to have to turn the other cheek on occasion. And when I do the wrong thing, I’m going to have to say sorry. I’m going to have to try and make it right, and when I don’t, remember that I am still a beloved child of God. And I too, am forgiven.