My neighbor is a public nuisance. It’s official, actually. She has been declared a nuisance which means the police are no longer obligated to respond to her phone calls. And she calls them a lot.
I first encountered Elizabeth a few years ago when I saw her propped up on crutches, trying to sweep several centimeters of snow off her very long driveway. I grabbed a shovel, cleared off her drive, and have been doing it ever since (see here). She is a fascinating woman who has lived in this neighborhood since before I was even born. She is well advanced in years and full of fascinating stories. But, sadly, she is losing her grip on reality. Through a long history of belligerent behavior and a shorter history of paranoia, she has alienated herself from every other neighbor. She has a reputation in this neighborhood and is the butt of many jokes. Most people just know to keep their distance.
Elizabeth recently called me over to her home to have me replace a lightbulb in her basement. While I was there, sorting through a box of many, many long-dead lightbulbs, she explained her most recent crisis. She had awoken from a nap just a few minutes earlier to find that someone had snuck into her house and varnished half of her coffee table while she slept. She was beside herself with concern and was planning to call the police. I looked around and saw every evidence that she had varnished half of her table, taken a nap, and, upon awaking, forgotten that she had ever begun. But I couldn’t exactly tell her that, could I? She called the police who opted not to respond.
This is just the most recent in a long series of similar incidents. Last year she accused local politicians of sneaking into her carport and dumping oil underneath her [very old] car as come kind of retaliation. She was upset and perplexed that the police didn’t believe her and refused to write up a report. Before that she accused local garden center workers of prowling her garden at night, splitting her hostas, and carrying away half of each plant. And before that she was convinced that the mayor had sent a team to break into her house and spray her furniture with a clear coat. Again, the police did not buy her story.
Our neighbors find this all hilarious, but I find it sad. It is sad to see her descending into paranoia and living on the edge of reality. She lives on her own, her sons have little to do with her, and she is steadily growing worse. But despite it all, she maintains her independence and walks to the grocery store just about every day, summer or winter, rain or snow. She tells me she is a medical test-case who has refused every medication doctors have offered her, and she just keeps going. Every Halloween she hands out grapes and bananas to the few children who will brave her driveway, every Christmas she brings my kids a little gift of hot chocolate, every summer she leaves her garden wild and untouched and considers it her pride and joy. And almost every week she finds another reason to call the police or to write another letter to the local newspaper. As eccentric as she is, I consider it a privilege to know her.
I have another neighbor who is quite a lot younger than Elizabeth. He is advanced and successful in his career. He makes lots of money and is quickly climbing the corporate ladder. He drives a nice car and speaks highly of himself and his accomplishments. He engages in banter with all the neighbors (except Elizabeth) and is well-known, well-liked and much admired. But he is also proudly atheistic, boldly denying the very existence of God.
Of these two neighbors, which is more to be pitied? Which of the two lives under the greater delusion? Is it the neighbor who can’t remember that she began to varnish her coffee table, or the neighbor who denies the very existence of his Creator? The Bible tells us “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’ (Psalm 14:1).” Romans 1 insists “[W]hat can be known about God is plain to [all humanity], because God has shown it to them (v. 19).” One of my neigbhors is succumbing to age and infirmity and living in a sad fantasy. The other is willfully blinding himself to the most obvious reality in the world—that he and all that he sees and experiences have been made and formed by the Creator. He, by far, is most to be pitied because he, by far, is in the most perilous condition.
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