"It is easy enough to be friendly to one's friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business."
A couple of weeks ago I was in the kitchen making dinner when I heard a terrible racket outside. It was a combination of squeals and barks and yowls that could only mean one thing: cats vs. dogs.
I ran outside to see what was going on because our cat, despite his advanced age and size deficit, has been known to attack dogs much bigger than himself.
What I saw when I looked in our back yard - two little dogs belonging to our immediate next-door neighbors chasing our cat in a whirlwind that looked like something out of Tom and Jerry - was a shock for a number of reasons.
The most potent one being: We have not spoken to these neighbors in more than seven years.
More accurately, they have not spoken to us. I know this because the last time the lady of the house spoke to me was the day I brought my now seven-year-old son home from the hospital.
She said she was going to come over and see him the following week, after she got over her cold. She never spoke to me again.
At first I almost didn't notice it. I convinced myself she didn't see me or was in a hurry, but after awhile (and a few times when she passed me on the street and looked right past me) it was impossible to excuse - she wasn't speaking to us any longer.
We had no idea what had happened - what we had done - to warrant this reaction.
Was it that we hadn't brought the baby to see her? Was it that we had taken dinner to the new neighbors, the ones who had bought the house that blocked their view? Was it the fence we had put up the previous summer, even though my husband had worked harder than a Diplomat to a hostile country to meet their demands for the portion that fronted their yard? (This despite the fact that we had not asked them to contribute to the fence and they had not offered...)
We tried ignoring it, but soon that became impossible.
One day I was in the grocery store with my young sons; the younger one still in the Baby Bjorn, the older one screaming down the isles with his little yellow shopping cart full of canned goods and a pumpkin.
Of course the inevitable happened and he crashed and burned. Cans and pumpkin flew out of the cart and littered the isle.
As I bent down to pick everything up, here comes our neighbor down the isle with her kids in tow.
She takes one look at us, turns to her kids and says, "Let's go around these people."
I was livid. "You mean YOUR NEIGHBORS?!" I practically screamed at her.
"Oh, yes. Yeah," she stammered, before doing an about-face and marching her kids in the opposite direction.
That day changed things for me.
I was no longer curious, I was furious.
Every time I saw her I screamed obscenities at her, or flipped her off, in my head. I resisted the urge to really do it, but just barely.
Once I started to work on my anger and do my spiritual work, I began to wonder what to do about the neighbors.
I even asked a psychic friend of mine what was the appropriate response to this situation and she said, "Count your blessings. No contact is better than the alternative with these people."
So I made peace with it and moved on.
I still said, "Hello," to her husband and kids when I saw them and after awhile he began to say, "Hello," back. Her daughter always looked at me with a confused look on her face as if to say, "I don't understand why you are being so nice to me, I thought you were evil incarnate."
So to go out and find their dogs attacking my elderly cat (he's 17) was shocking not just because it was an attack, but because it was contact.
It didn't take long for them to realize something was going on.
The daughter - now 13 or so - was the first to enter our yard.
"What's going on?" she asked.
"Your dogs are attacking my cat!" I screamed as I attempted to chase them away.
The lady of the house followed and they each grabbed up one pup as my cat hightailed it into the house.
I followed, slamming the door behind me.
The boys and I looked around for kitty and finally found him hunched under the dining room table, his heart beating like crazy, but no visible injuries.
We sat with him for a few minutes and then there was a knock on the door.
It was her. After more than seven years, finally come for a visit.
To her credit she asked about our cat, "How was he?"
"Scared, but fine," I said.
"I don't know how our gate got left open, sometimes your boys leave it open when they come into our yard to get a ball," she followed.
(We do "sneak" over there sometimes to retrieve a lost ball. I thought we were getting away with it, but obviously I was wrong. Nevertheless it had been many weeks since the boys were outside playing ball.)
I was impressed that she came knocking and I wanted to take the high road.
"It doesn't matter how it happened," I said, "What matters is that everyone is okay and that we will both be more careful about leaving our gates open from now on."
We exchanged a few more pleasantries and then parted ways, but the interaction has haunted me ever since.
What does it mean?
Is it an invitation to heal this relationship and to, as the quote says, "...[B]efriend the one who regards himself as your enemy...?" Or is it a reminder that cats and dogs just don't mix?
I feel like this quote (which appeared on my Wisdom of the East Mini Day-to-Day Calendar a few days later) may be pointing to the former, but I'm just not sure I am ready for that.
In the meantime, our paths have not crossed again since this incident, but I am interested to see what The Universe brings next.
[This one is for my friend Tom B who requested more like this one.]