Villains and Victims: Is There More to The Story?

Villains

The young man sat in his truck in my neighbor’s driveway, laying on the horn. No one came outside, so he kept beeping. Five minutes of this and I’d had enough. I stepped out my front door and made a knocking fist sign to the kid in the drive.

He rolled down his passenger window, leaned toward me, and said, “I’m trying to get my friend to come out.”

I sighed and frowned. “Could you try knocking — or texting, maybe?” I was mad.

Just then my husband’s car arrived in the cul-de-sac and we greeted one another in the garage.
He said, “What was that about?”

I explained my frustration at the teenager’s obnoxious horn. Later, as we made dinner, he chided me, suggesting I pick my battles more carefully. He was right. A beeping horn in the middle of the day was the least of our trouble.

When the new family moved in next door, a mom and two teenagers, it was like watching a bad movie. Especially at night.

A variety of humans and vehicles passed below our bedroom window. Trying to ignore the nighttime disruptions, Scott and I turned up the volume on our Netflix and resisted spying through the blinds.

Victims

Two years ago, when these neighbors moved in, they were hard to miss. Their house angles in like the rest of the homes on our circle and their driveway slants close to our second-story bedroom window. Scott and I and the nearest families welcomed them and introduced ourselves to the lady of the household. I’ll call her “Cathy.” We had high hopes for this new relationship. She was friendly at first but distracted. Though we learned her name, she didn’t absorb ours.

Backstory: We have lived in this home for 22 years. The previous people were terrible to live beside: barking dogs penned up between our houses, dogs let loose at 5 AM to terrorize morning joggers, decaying vehicles in the driveway, etc. The final insult was the ranting man blaming us for the sheriff’s department depositing their belongings on their front yard. After years of reaching out to that family, we were glad to see them go.

Certainly, the new owners could only be an improvement.

In the weeks following their arrival, “Cathy” shared with us a part of her traumatic and tragic story. We connected and commiserated. Over the next few months, our interactions became intermittent, a mix of positive and negative. As their first year stretched into the next, she and the kids averted their gazes when we sought a natural hello across the yard or out at the mailboxes.

These small disconnections weren’t the worst of it. Many bizarre middle-of-the-night and early morning shenanigans aroused a lot of anger and sleeplessness for Scott and me, causing us to consider moving away for the first time ever.

More to the Story

more to the story villains and victims

Now, in a good movie, the trailer sets up a predictable plot without revealing its twists. For example, the preview for Phantom Thread tells a believable tale: a quirky older man taking advantage of a young, naïve woman. But this dressmaker’s story unfolded to reveal complicated histories and relationships motivating the characters. A triangle of adults using and abusing their separate and shared dysfunctions.

As in life, the personalities in the film are multidimensional. On the surface, the dress designer discovers a beautiful creature to display his amazing creations; the young waitress in the country restaurant discovers a man who will display her on his arm; the spinster sister who runs his business displays her domineering jealousy. Their deeper designs, unknown even to themselves, appear for the audience first.

It’s Complicated

In this way, the developing story among the man, the woman, and his sister exposed a mixture of not-so-simple ingredients that led to a complex tale: (Spoiler Alert here, if you haven’t seen the movie)

  1. The artisan dressmaker wasn’t just a selfish man using a woman for his ends. He was also a conflicted, mother-afflicted soul who had given much of his emotional and personal power to the whims of his older, competent sister.
  2. The sister wasn’t just a jealous and controlling woman who waited to get this young woman out of the home and their disrupted lives. She was a woman with a history of loss and learning to live with an eccentric, unpredictable, selfish artist who was also her brother.
  3. The young woman was much more than a naïve, attention-seeking natural beauty. She discovered and wielded her own power in the game of who-needs-who. Her warp and woof surprised me most in the materials she used to get what she wanted from the man.

All were villains and victims. I related to them and found compassion for each.

Which brings me back to “Cathy.”

Finding Grace for Neighbors

By judging others, we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

A glimpse of the woman next-door triggers annoyance. And judgment.

Oops. There I go again, making her life about how it affects me. I notice her garbage, her friends, and a thin slice of her lifestyle. What I do not see and sadly forget, is her history, her heartache, her humanity.

Like a character in a bad movie, “Cathy” remains one-dimensional to me — until I let the story unfold.

more to the story villains and victims

A first glance tempts me to frown and shake my head. A second look reminds me there’s always more to the drama. If I search for the third lesson, I see that I am a villain and victim in my own story. My humanity and heartache inform my relationship with the woman living beside me. My garbage may be well-hidden, but it’s there and has a smell of its own.

Someone more famous than Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that I shouldn’t judge unless I wanted to be judged in the same way.

My neighbor could tell herself stories about me based on a cursory glance out her front window. She does not know me, but if she gave me grace, she’d imagine I had suffered as she has. She might even walk across the lawn, offer a smile, and ask, “What’s your story?”

Please comment in the section below and let me know your tale of Finding Grace for Neighbors.

Read more about my perspective from the cul-de-sac in Happy With Your Lot In Life?

29 thoughts on “Villains and Victims: Is There More to The Story?”

  1. Well this certainly has given me a new “glance” at my very bad neighbor-
    OR- am I the very bad neighbor? I’d like to think not- miscommunication at its finest!!! I love this post! Thank you!!

    Reply
    • Deb, thanks for reading! Yes, I have wondered at the impression I give to people who just don’t realize how NICE I really am ( :

      Reply
    • We too live in a cul-de-sac. Although we have lived in this neighborhood for 20 years it has only been 5 in the circle. I’m retired and my wife works part-time at the neighborhood association. I believe I’ve always gone the extra mile and I also think that if you want to connect with neighbors you should reach out to them first even though they don’t necessarily initiate any reach. In the beginning I tried with giving my a small tin of my fresh-baked cookies during holiday. Didn’t seem to break the ice. We did however end up having a surface meet with each neighbor. Once I started to cut my immediate neighbor’s lawn for him because it was much longer than he typically let it go and I hadn’t seen is car outside for a few days. Well, that was a mistake. When he came home he scolded me for cutting it way too short and although I apologized vehemently and said I was just trying to help him, the relationship went cold from that day. I just couldn’t see why he would hold a grudge or be upset. After all it was just the perimeter and the grass leveled out in 2-3 days, but you would have thought I ran over his dog.

      Interestingly enough my wife had a totally different perspective. She told me that I would have had the same response if he had done that to me. I was now really perplexed thinking she was taking his side of the story. However, she explained that he probably considered my actions one of intrusion because I had acted without the facts, and that he most likely took it as disrespectful, that I came on his property so boldly without asking. The more I thought about it she was in all likelihood correct. It’s always better to have two sets of eyes on any situation—her’s and the Lord’s.. 😎👍🏼❤️

      Reply
      • Scott and I were talking about your situation and can totally relate. Sometimes my good intentions are mixed with pride in being a “good Christian,” which is not impressive to many people. Better to get to know them and ask what they need before imposing, I guess. A hard lesson for me to learn. Thanks for telling your story, Dave (:

        Reply
  2. Christine. Enjoyed this so much. While our annoyance isn’t ‘next door,’ it is, or more properly, they are, two doors to the north. Thanks for prompting me to stop…breath twice…and then begin my rethink.

    Reply
  3. Chris,

    Thanks for this. We live in a fairly isolated subdivision in Rutherford Co. Going to Church in Cool Springs makes it difficult to connect with our church family the way we wish we could so my wife and I have talked about in some way having a “parish” attitude for our subdivision and make it, especially the other believers in the neighborhood, our community in more ways than geographic (thinking about Rosario Butterfield as I write this). We have tried to make some inroads both with those we know who are Christians and those who appear not to have an interest in spiritual things. Our problem is that we are the “bad neighbor” in this scenario in that we are the recluses. It’s very hard to break out of that shell and I don’t know why. It’s something we definitely need to work on. Anyway, thanks again for bringing this need to my heart afresh.

    Craig

    Reply
  4. Thank you Christine, Wow it’s a like looking in a Mirror and getting a Cat-Scan reading Villains & Victims. It’s just what I needed. Thanks

    Reply
  5. Christine, I have been following Scott & you since the early Out of the Grey days — I still listen to those wonderful songs — so I know that nothing I am about to say is new to you, but if you truly have a burden for Cathy and her household, you will labor over her in prayer. As you do, God in His perfect timing will soften Scott and your hearts towards her and the annoyances will likely reduce in magnitude. A window of love & witness will be opened. This is not to judge you if you do not feel so burdened and choose not to labor over Cathy in prayer — only Scott & you in your advanced stages of spirituality can make that determination. God in His Providence chose Cathy and her household to be your neighbors for some reason. The journey will likely prove to be a blessing to Cathy as well as to Scott and you. I hope none of this sounds condescending. God’s best blessings ………..

    Reply
  6. Thank you for sharing. We (or I, I’ll explain) have a complicated relationship with our neighbors across the street. It started well, about twelve years ago, a husband and wife and two little girls. We bought the girls little gifts when we went on vacations, and offered to intercept their mail when they went away, all the nice little things well-meaning neighbors do. Well, to make a long story short, we had a few horrible interactions and my husband actually had a heated argument with the woman, after she and her guests drunkenly vandalized a third neighbor’s house on Cinco de Mayo. Their interactions with him for awhile had brought him to sobs of despair afterwards, only in front of me. Needless to say, our relationship with these neighbors was broken and we grumbled about hoping they’d move away. Then…in 2015 my husband got brain cancer, and two surgeries left him physically and mentally compromised. He wanted to say hello to her and apologize (I was horrified because I had ENOUGH ON MY PLATE at the moment and wasn’t ready to forgive) and she softened at his sudden overture that day almost a year after diagnosis (she knew of his plight) and apologized too. I smiled robotically while they spoke. A few months later he was in Heaven, and now for the past four years I’ve waved at my neighbors and we speak briefly in passing. I am glad that my husband was treated well by her when he offered peace, and their daughters are graduating from high school and college now…and I am working on being able to interact with her as I am with so many other things these days without having sad and unpleasant memories come to the surface. I know the correct thing to say is “I forgave her because as a Christian I am obligated” but I’m still working on that. Will it take further personal destruction for me to be as forgiving as my husband was…now that is the hard question. Christine, I’ve loved your and Scott’s music ever since your first album and I so appreciate your family’s talents. Thank you for sharing and letting me “type your ears off” on your blog. 🙂

    Reply
    • Wow, that is a TOUGH situation AND I am so sad you had to say goodbye to your husband. I hope you can find the stance with your neighbors that you–and they–need for thriving in this life. Thanks for being so honest. It helps me to keep me honest and to not pretend I am someone I’m not.

      Reply
  7. Beautiful insight Chris. There’s always another side yes and it’s so easy to paint ourselves as the victim. But lives are so complicated and multi-layered. I think back to my tumultuous childhood and how all the crazy must have looked to people on the outside. It helps me keep perspective when I encounter something similar in someone else and lets me extend them grace in the moment.

    Hope you are all well!

    Reply
    • Hey Michelle, yes, I have imagined how our family looked to the neighbors when I was a kid! Scary stuff.We got a lot of grace and great neighbors. Thanks for checking in–we are doing fine (:

      Reply
  8. yes, great post thanks! I too have to admit it is very hard to ‘backup’ with graciousness when it is continual rejection… but everyday is a NEW day, and we make new choices…
    BTW, movie names? I loved the typical Australian movie The Dressmaker, a few years old – but quirky and very “aussie”, you might like it.

    Reply
  9. Christine, how timely of you! My wife and I are retired, and have lived in our home just over two years. From the start, we had been, we thought,
    friends with our only next door neighbors. Then, recently first the wife, then soon after, the husband had fairly serious health problems. In our gentle reaching out by text to see if we could help in any way, they apparently felt violated somehow (they tend to stay somewhat to themselves), and became quite angry. We are gradually working through it, but it shocked us to receive this response. Thank you so much for, once again, sharing truth from your heart – it has encouraged mine! Still following since 1991. 😊

    Reply
    • Harry, yes, since 1991–you win! It’s amazing how our perspective can be so different from the neighbor’s we think we are serving. Thanks for weighing in 🙂

      Reply
  10. It’s so true that our “humanity and heartache” inform our relationships-whether it’s with an actual neighbor, or perhaps a co-worker, even a family member. I think of myself as a caring, compassionate person, but when someone hurts me in some way, I get testy. Many years ago, a co-worker talked smack about me behind my back. She denied it when I confronted her. Over time, I slowly unhooked the tentacles of resentment from my grasp and worked on forgiveness. She and I will never be BFF’s, but are in a peaceful place now. It’s an ongoing, ever evolving journey to live a Christian life. Christine, thank you for your insights. I have been a fan of Out of the Grey” since the beginning-I saw you in concert in the mid-90’s. “He Is Not Silent” still pierces me.

    Reply
    • Jennifer, thank you so much for weighing in with your experience. Sounds tough but you are in it for the long haul and the right reasons. thanks for hanging in there with us for all of these years!

      Reply
  11. This reminds me of a time when a couple and their children were staying in our home overnight. Their standards of modesty and cleanliness were both different from ours. At one point, the mom took off her toddler’s diaper and left him running around naked in our living room while she searched for another diaper.
    Internally, I was freaking out, thinking that this kid was going to whiz all over the carpet. Externally, I was standing there like a deer caught in the headlights.
    While I was making it all about me, my sister (who happened to be there and has the gift of helps), immediately and calmly turned to the Mom and offered to put a diaper on her son for her.
    That immediately humbled me.

    Reply
    • Yes, I hate to be humbled when I think I’ve done everything ‘right.’ I do like to be in control!

      Reply

Leave a Comment

Top