Here’s the latest (and for now final) update on the back-and-forth with my neighbor about the humongous tree on their property that is at-risk of falling on our house.
After a Saturday morning walk with a wise friend who gave me good advice and a shot in the arm of courage, I call over to my neighbor’s house and “Bob” answers.
Elaine (as friendly-sounding as possible): Bob? Hi! This is Elaine, your neighbor.
Bob (in an unenthused monotone): Hello.
Elaine: Bob, are you and “Sally” free tomorrow morning around 11? I was wondering if you could come over for coffee so we can talk about the tree.
Bob: Are we around tomorrow morning around 11 am? (I hesitate because I don’t know why he’s repeating back my question. Then I realize he’s repeating it so his wife Sally – who must be close by – can hear the question and indicate her response to him.)
Bob: Yes, we’re around tomorrow morning.
Pause. I wonder was that an acceptance of the invitation for coffee or not. Clearly, I’m going to have to work harder to nail this down.
Elaine: So, does that mean you and Sally can come over for coffee at 11 am?
Bob: Can we go over for coffee? (Now, I’m on to the fact that Bob does not have a disorder that causes him to repeat things; he just needs Sally’s sign-off.)
Pause. I remain quiet. Pause continues. Finally …
Bob: Yes, we can come over.
Elaine: Great! (said with great animation and none of the frustration/anger I feel at this point.) See you tomorrow!
I go find my husband who’s watching some movie on cable for the zillionth time. I ask him to mute the TV and then, once there is silence, start crying. I sniffle and snort about the neighbors’ lack of responsiveness and apparent unwillingness to deal with this tree issue. “Clearly, our neighbors are a**holes who don’t care that their damn tree is going to kill my kids.” I conclude it’s a lost cause even before we have the conversation.
Coffee with the Neighbors
It’s 11:01 am on Sunday morning and Sally and Bob knock on the front door. (I had already figured out that I would give them until 11:30 before calling to remind them about coffee. I also worked up Plans C, D, and E for other non-cooperative behavior they might display.)
I pour coffee and bring out a plate of bagels. We start chatting about our respective lawns. After five minutes of small talk, Sally brings up the tree.
And … we end up having the nicest, most civilized neighborly conversation. Turns out that tree is one of Sally’s favorites, and she hopes there might be options for saving it. She wants to call another arborist for a second opinion. Bob wonders whether, if the tree must be removed, others could remove it for less than the quoted price of $4,000. All good questions to explore, I think. Then, Sally says the magic words that melt my resentment away: “Of course, safety is paramount. I couldn’t live with myself if that tree fell on to your kids’ bedrooms.”
I learned that Bob always speaks in a monotone, even when talking about his favorite football team. He’s just that type of guy.
I learned (or, was reminded) that 99% of life’s drama results NOT from actual conversations, but from the imagined conversations I have in my head.
I learned that, if something’s important to me, I have to chill out when others do not share that priority and just accept that it’s up to me to take steps to make something happen.
I learned that it’s not good fences, but good communication that makes good neighbors.