“Solidarity: No Man (or Woman) is an Island

According to John Paul II’s definition, solidarity is a commitment to an objective standard called the common good. The common good isn’t the sum of individual interests, as though the greatest number of students getting their way were the greatest good for the classroom; it’s the greatest good for society as a whole, the sum total of social conditions allowing all people to reach fulfillment. Although it doesn’t bow to individual interests, the common good is thus very much concerned with the flourishing of individuals: “the good of all and of each” (Sister Dominic Mary Heath, OP, in Plough Quarterly, Autumn 2020).

I have been upset for months now since a new neighbor moved into the apartment above me. She ushers her two small yipping and barking dogs out onto the balcony at least four times a day for 20 or 30 minutes at a time. And they bark bark constantly. She has a couple of bird feeders (not allowed in the apartment complex) and at least daily sweeps herdeck. Seeds, shells, and other detritus go through the cracks in the decking and onto my patio chairs, table and floor.

I am increasingly annoyed, and have often lost my peace of mind. Back and forth I go:

This isn’t fair! Those constantly barking dogs are bothering everyone in these apartments. Dogs shouldn’t even be kept on the balcony.

I shouldn’t get so upset about barking dogs. I’ve already complained to the manager. There’s nothing more I can do. Just keep the door and windows shut and ignore it.

Why does she keep sweeping these seeds and shells onto my patio? Doesn’t she see the spaces between the decking? Where does she think her mess ends up?

Karen, it won’t hurt you to sweep your patio everyday. (Well, actually it does hurt my back to sweep, but . . .).

She’s been told to get rid of the birdfeeders. I put mine away, the neighbor next door put several away. What makes her special?

All this frustration is ridiculous, Karen. Stop with the aggravation and calm down. She’s obviously doesn’t see any need to change.

That loud, aggressive barking that erupts from these two dogs startles anyone who comes up the walkway to my front door . . . and when those visitors come in the house, they track seeds everywhere. It isn’t fair!

. . . . . .

Today, I read about solidarity, about the common good leading to the flourishing of individuals – which means, I suppose that the common “ungood” leads to the diminishing of individuals. I am convicted.

And then I read my favorite writer, Frederick Buechner, who puts it all in place: “The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place and time my touch will be felt. Our lives are linked together. No man is an island.” Now I am mortified.

My caustic remarks about this woman to another neighbor come back to me. I think about her attempts to stop the dogs from barking because she knows they bother me. I cringe over the “gossipy” comments I have shared with her about the dogs and the seeds and the woman’s lack of neighborliness. And I realize that with every complaint I think and/or share, the chance for flourishing (in myself and in each of these neighbors) ends. I am SO guilty.

So how do I touch my neighbor for good when in my soul I am torching her for ill? How can the “common good” be reached among just these three people when I share the ill will that festers in my mind? Can I ignore the barking or loud music from upstairs? Can I sweep the seeds and leaves off the patio without complaining? How can I hope for solidarity between races or political parties, or religious groups when I can’t create it with an unknown neighbor I have never seen or spoken to?

I know the answer, of course. It takes listening to the Holy Spirit. It takes loving my neighbor as I love myself. It takes spiritual discipline. It takes willingness to grow solidarity in the world and recognizing that it must start with my upstairs neighbor. I commit to working toward the “common good.”

And it starts right now . . . she just let the dogs out on the porch, and, of course, they are barking.

About four hours after I wrote this, the neighbor upstairs upended a large, full child’s swimming pool over the deck raining . . . onto my deck. I lost it! I opened the door and stepped out and yelled, “Why did you do that? You drowned my plants. And I have furniture out here.”

No response. I went back inside and then out again. “Lady,” I yelled (I don’t know her name) “Why did you do that?

She responded,” You don’t seem to like anything I do.” That is partly accurate because I know nothing about her except what she does on her deck.

“I could have been out here (and with a guest)!

She said, “You neve go outside!”cand went inside. I was astonished. I went back in and stewed and then the irony of my attack after writing about solidarity hit me and I felt “convicted” and “mortified” and “guilty” for the second time today. Now what?

Stay tuned

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