It started off fine. Moving into our second marital home was exciting: we had a bath, a tumble dryer, and a lovely garden that had, in January, already become centre-stage for all the summer BBQs I was planning in my head.
I’m big into nesting, and by the third day in, we were unpacked and ready to go, err stay.
Then it started: slowly at first. Barking. One dog? No, two. Barking, again. At dinner; before we had even got up; at bedtime.
We noticed other things about the neighbours, too. Some very loud bodily functions. Loud, pumping music at odd times of the day. Angry yelling. A racist comment about the past tenants.
We went over when the dogs’ barking began to interrupt our days, when the natural response to loud incessant barking from two German shepherds was a kick of adrenaline that one just doesn’t need when chopping carrots or drifting off to sleep.
But they’re our neighbours.
They were polite and seemingly agreed: the noise was a problem, they were going to try to fix it. Special collars, alarms, training. We were to let them know if we needed them brought inside.
And they’re our neighbours.
So we did. A lot. And we were met with the same polite response until one Saturday morning, they had had enough. “They’re dogs, mate, they bark. Turn your *** radio up.”
The aggression tempered our interactions with them after that. Stares out the window, the dogs left out for longer.
But they’re our neighbours.
We were losing sleep at this stage. We avoided eating in the dining room because that was the dogs’ side. We couldn’t hang out in our room unless it was necessary, for the same reason… and there was no guarantee music wouldn’t come streaming through the walls, even then. My husband developed a health problem that was thought to be aggravated by the noise-induced stress. We endured being in our home office for the bare minimum amount of time possible, affecting our business. We stopped having people over.
I bought a sneaky alarm and stealthily placed it within the dogs’ reach so that it sent out a signal only they could hear when they barked. Worked for a while; then back to square one.
But they’re our neighbours. We should be able to make this work.
We haven’t. We asked to be let out of our rental contract and are moving next week. And part of me is really excited about sleep and peace and family time and restored health. I have realised that when home is a place of calm, it is nurturing of people and of relationships. And that’s important.
The other part of me is disappointed. In myself, I think, mostly. I spoke to friends about it. “If Mother Teresa lived in Calcutta, why can’t I live in an estate?!” We talk about “change in the community”, about transformative rhythms. We talk about how it’s not “us and them”, but just “us”. We talk about missional living.
And we just couldn’t do it.
So we’re leaving and I don’t have a glossy story of change for you. Heck, I’m barely stringing sentences together because the dogs were out again last night. I never thought dogs or noise or neighbours would be such a problem. I always thought people who had trouble with their neighbours were being overly dramatic. But these are the facts that mean that my idealism is being crushed by barks and beats. This is what it looks like to not know how to love your neighbour.