My husband and I once had a neighbor who would turn her radio up, and share her loud tunes with us each morning. Since we had paper-thin walls, we were used to hearing noise from our neighbor, and didn't think much of it. Until one day, when James said to me, "I think she turns up her music each time we shower." Sure enough, we started to see a correlation between our showering, and an increase in her music volume. A few days later, we had house guests. After the fourth shower of the day, the music coming through the walls was VERY loud and seemed angry.
My husband decided to go next door and see if there was a problem that we could work through. Well, he didn't get a word in edge-wise as our neighbor cursed him up and down, and accused him of turning on our bathroom fan to deliberately irritate her. She said that it sounded like a freight train running through her bedroom each time we turned it on. And she ended the wonderful encounter by slamming the door in his face.
At first I was very angry. How dare she? As if we would turn on our bathroom fan to irritate her?! Granted, our bathroom fan was louder than the average bathroom fan, but I slept approximately three steps from the bathroom, and had no trouble sleeping through the fan noise. Since our condos were mirror images of each other, she probably slept approximately four steps from our bathroom. We decided that she must have trained herself to hear the bathroom fan because she had convinced herself that we were making this terrible noise specifically to disturb her.
Later, as I thought more about the whole situation, I realized that I, too, listened for "bathroom fans". Whether because of experiences I had had, or situations I was in, or because I had trained myself to hear them, there were things that I was taking offense at, when no offense was intended. I realized that in doing this, I was cheating myself out of peace and happiness; I was placing unnecessary barriers between myself and the supposed offender and thereby robbing myself of potential meaningful relationships.
I was reminded of this instance recently, when a friend shared with me an experience she had had. My friend moved to a new home several months ago, and soon after received a three page single-spaced type-written letter from her former next-door neighbor. The letter was filled with harsh words and accusations. The main complaint this former neighbor expressed was against the "selfishness" that my friend had exhibited by not chopping down a tree in their yard that had shaded this neighbor's pool. They had lived next door to each other for many years. It was obvious from the letter that this woman had obsessed over this situation for years, and had seen in it a "bathroom fan". She was certain that my friend was refusing to cut down her tree, simply to make this woman's whole life miserable. She mentioned in the letter that her friends had stopped coming over, a fact that she attributed to the tree not being chopped down.
It is sad to me that this woman wasted YEARS fuming over a situation that my friend had NO idea was bothering her. But, the absolutely saddest part of this is that this woman missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime. She lived next door to two of the most wonderful, unselfish, giving, kind people on the face of the earth, and instead of allowing herself the blessing of their easy friendship, she withdrew into an offended, angry shadow. Yes, Ms. Former Neighbor, I would venture to guess that it was not so much the shadow of the "offending" tree that kept your friends away, as it was the shadow of your offended anger. May we all realize the "bathroom fans" that we are allowing to rob us of happiness, peace, and friendship, and may we "turn them off", so to speak, and move forward, embracing all that life has to offer us.
Join us November 4 for a day devoted to releasing conflict in our lives.