June 3, 2011

My neighbor killed my tree. What should I do?

Buddhists retreat. Right?

You know, like in India, with the Muslims. In Tibet, with the Chinese.

But when it comes to Boulder, in my backyard, I’m not so sure. I think it might be time for different sort of Buddhism, one with backbone—with a notion of ahimsa that’s tough-minded.

Time is our most precious commodity: life is short, and we’ve much good work to do.

I find that among we good people, who consider “honor” (doing the right thing) before “happiness”…well, when we encounter immoral people (who tend to be litigious), we retreat. It’s the smart thing to do, really: it’s not worth it, whatever “it” is.

Three years ago, a landlord ripped off myself and two other tenants. No one sued, taught him a lesson, or helped get the word out there that this man was bad news. My friend Dave encouraged me to take him to court, but I declined, paying up $2,000 I didn’t owe instead. I was too busy to deal with a jerk. My other two tenants also suffered financially, and time-wise.

Two years ago, a nice older lady I didn’t know at all asked if she could bring her son to my New Year’s Eve party, at my house. Of course, I said. I dedicated a room for children to play, valuing the inclusion of children in appropriate adult celebrations—my mom, after all, had brought me everywhere when I was a child, and I have many precious memories because of her willingness to include me in her life. The next morning, I noticed that the 1904 historically designed window glass upstairs in that children’s room had been cracked, broken. I asked around, and a young man said another boy had done it. I message the mother—the woman who’d asked if she could bring her son. I asked her to replace the window. At first she agreed to, then put me in touch with her lawyer.

Six months ago, one of the college girls who live next door to my house backed her SUV into my tree, bending a metal fence pole in half and killing the tree. No one took responsibility, so I asked my neighbors (their SUVs all back onto a shared alley that abuts said tree). I wasn’t upset at all, though I had wished they’d have come forward or left a note. They said “ah, XX did it, we’ll ask her to talk to you.” She did so, coming over to my house and assuring she’d get me a new tree. Approx six months later, nothing. So I asked her about it. Two times. Both times she said she’d take care of it. Then, nothing. One of her roommates, who’d interned for elephant, put me in touch with her rather than acting as mediator, and I texted her. She asked me to stop harassing her, told me I had no proof, and that she didn’t have the money to pay for it ’cause she didn’t have a job. She put me in touch with her father, who threatened me (twice, now) with a criminal suit for harassing a minor. Needless to say, he’s just trying to bully me—I never harassed her and have no interest in doing so—rather the opposite: my assumption was that she’d pay for a new tree and it’d be a time hassle but that’s that, we’d be nice neighbors and citizens and it was no biggie. I just wanted a tree replaced, even if it would take my time to arrange, get a new one, cut down the old one, plant the new (way smaller) one. I’d asked for $100, which doesn’t begin to cover my time.

It was only after months of no communication that I started getting a funny feeling…that she had no intention of paying. My friends of facebook, who I asked for advice (having never gone to court, before), are split: sue her! Teach her a lesson! Save others from suffering similar fate at her hands down the line! (I don’t have a lawyer, or any savings or time at all, so this presents a hassle). The other half: have a tree-planting party, move on, it’s not worth it!

What do you think?

I think life is trying to teach me a lesson. I need to be able to protect my home. Half the world is immoral, selfish, afraid, stuck in poverty mentality. The other half of the world, we’re doing our damnedest to do the right thing, even at the expense of (short-term) happiness. Honor. It’s a special word, and one worth teaching our children. Rather, this father of my next door neighbor is teaching her that it’s okay to lie, to get litigious, that it’s not necessary to do the right thing. That’s one way to live, for sure. But I wouldn’t trade my interior compass and exterior dead tree for her small world and big car any ol’day.

Here’s how I feel:

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