For my post today, I want to pose a question in hopes of eliciting responses. Please feel free to comment directly on my blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter.
I had a situation with an elderly neighbor yesterday that still has me questioning the belief I have in myself as a compassionate human being.
Before I describe the situation, let me give you a little background on my life. My experiences with trusting neighbors have a long and sordid past. From the neighbors who kept all our toys when we were young if the toys flew into their yard to the twenty-something neighbor who tried to kiss me when I was thirteen while his pregnant wife was out shopping; these were at my mother’s house. At the house we owned after I got married, I befriended the neighbors whom I felt sorry for—a father and his two grown sons—even though my instincts told me to stay away from them. One day while I was cutting the lawn and my five-year-old daughter was playing on the swing-set, one of the forty-year-old sons stood outside, drunk and naked, masturbating while he watched me cut the lawn. Thankfully my daughter didn’t see him before I brought her inside. That one did a number on me. I couldn’t leave my house for a week, fearing his eyes on me.
After that horrible experience I swore I would trust my instincts from that day on. It has been a difficult learning process, but I feel I have a pretty good relationship with my instincts now.
Last year, an elderly couple moved in next door. I was friendly at first, until I heard yelling and things smashing next door. A few days later the man explained that he has breathing problems and he gets frustrated about it, so he throws things and furniture around when he gets angry. I’ve kept my distance ever since. For some reason, he reminds me of the creepy guy from Lovely Bones, but I’ve been known to have an over-active imagination.
Yesterday afternoon, in the middle of my workout, the elderly man, who was now more frail looking than the last time I saw him, knocked on my door. He said he got himself into trouble by locking himself out of his house. He was wondering if my garage key would open his garage door. “What the f—?” was my first thought. Who even thinks that’s a possibility? I don’t have a garage door key; I have an over-head door with a key pad, and I’m pretty sure that’s all he has too. Even if I did have a key for an actual door, why would my key fit his garage door? Our houses aren’t even made by the same builder.
I told him I didn’t think so, sorry. He had a cell phone in his hand. I asked if he were okay, health wise. Did he need me to call someone for him? He said, “I have a phone, but my wife won’t answer my call. I just don’t know what I’m going to do.” He looked inside my house, almost pleading to wait inside my home, it seemed. I did not want that man inside my house. Besides the fact that my inner voice was screaming, “DANGER,” I was home alone and in workout clothes.
I said, “Sorry,” and shut my door and then locked it. I watched him walk away. The compassionate side of my brain almost screamed out, “Wait” as I watched him do the old-man shuffle down the driveway.
I’ve had a horrible pit in my stomach ever since. On one hand, I feel guilty. What could that man have done to me? I’d like to believe I’m strong enough to fight a frail, old man, if needed. On the other hand, he could have been acting helpless, but still the man who knocked down his bookcase last year in a fit of rage.
My question to all of you is, “Did I do the right thing?” I reacted based on my past, but does that justify turning away an old man in need now?
If you think I should have helped him, please tell me what I could have done. My guilt is killing me.