Courage for New Beginnings

I came home from work recently to find my neighbor’s house dark except for the soft glow of a camping lantern emanating from the living room window. I soon learned that my neighbor had intentionally left all utility bills unpaid to cause the utilities to be turned off in a final attempt to drive out a group of unruly and dangerous youths who had taken up residence in the home. This was the culmination of a series of heartbreaking events and poor choices, beginning with the death of his wife. Without her mother, the teenage daughter stumbled through a series of teen pregnancies and an abusive live-in boyfriend.open-gate-200x200 The father figure, my neighbor, seemed to lack the will, support, or insight he needed to change things. The house became a magnet for unsupervised youths with both time and plenty of destructive plans. Things spiraled out of control. The neighbors had intervened several times to support change in the house in a variety of ways and social services was involved. Despite many efforts to help turn things around, and many glimmers of hope that things had turned around, the momentum of self-destructive behavior seemed too much. Our neighbor, thinking there was no other option, was ready to abandon the house to escape a violent hell that he had enabled in the home. In a matter of days, the house was declared uninhabitable and all the residents were gone. There was a new padlock on the door, and the storm door swung open and shut in the breeze like an echo of the previous comings and goings of the house.

Despite all of the pain that had transpired and would likely continue to transpire for some in the house well beyond this living situation, the benefit of new beginnings did arise from this implosion. There were two dogs in the house that had been abandoned after all the people left. One of my neighbors, who has a soft spot for dogs, had them picked up and then actively followed up with the shelter to find out how they were doing and to advertise them for adoption. One dog moved into a new home with a new name. The shelter manager took the other more aggressive dog under her wing to help socialize her a bit so that her aggression might lessen. There were other gestures of kindness that arose throughout this process. Several neighbors volunteered their own homes as a temporary place to stay for the father figure away from the violence in the home. All of the neighbors were concerned and watchful of the babies in the house. We all bonded as a community as well. I know all of my neighbors much better now. And, we have regular block parties, the first of which was to show support to the struggling family next door. We now even help each other with home projects. A more supportive community blossomed from an unfortunate situation.

There is, generally speaking, a sense of finality in the neighborhood. We know that we have done what we could have done and that this situation had to fall apart in the way it did. After many attempts to heal things, this seemed like the only way forward. Now, many of the troubled teens seem to have moved their shenanigans elsewhere in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the father figure has reestablished some of the alliances that he sought to break. He drives by the house with one of the most abusive teens as a passenger. Though he won’t be moving back in, there is a sense that destructive patterns enabled by poor relationships may not be gone for good. It seems that things are teetering between a healthy new start and a return to the familiar. I truly hope that this new beginning brings less suffering to my neighbors.

As I watched things fall apart next door, I realized that this is at a macro level what happens in our lives all the time. We all struggle with problematic, habituated behaviors with complex histories. Many times we can’t even see that we are struggling or the harm we are doing. The good news is that the painful situations we mindlessly create, just like everything else, fall apart. When our misguided actions bring us and others to a painful point of raw vulnerability (and they will) there is a ground of spacious and open hearted wisdom that is available. Our own pain and mistakes open a gateway for insight and change. When our bad behaviors self destruct, we can either touch our wisdom and delight in the chance for new beginnings or rebuild our dark, unkempt houses of bad habits. How we choose will either propel us towards awakening or further suffering. Meditation helps us to see that we have a choice and to make the right one.

 by James Tripp