Friends who know me remember how I have always used stories in my over four decades of teaching as well as in other spheres of my life. It didn’t surprise them that I would use similar tactics in retirement.
However, it surprised and shocked me, though, to find my lovely retirement condo embroiled in struggles which involved bullying by a number of seniors directed at my family and several others who were trying to get our complex to comply with the law.
I had moved here to be near my son and his partner since being a caregiver for my disabled husband had worn me down a bit, and I knew there would be times I would need their help,.
Among the seniors who showed blind loyalty to resisting change was a lady who really valued her friendships with the snowbirds who had been returning for many years to this lovely spot near the coast.
On January 3, 2014 she opened her apartment door and started toward the stairs. Her neighbor (and my son), a younger man on crutches, was struggling his way up the stairs.
He needed a couple of minutes to make it to the top. She stood at the top and remarked, “Don’t worry. I won’t knock you down the stairs.” Well, that wasn’t exactly a threat, but it wasn’t exactly friendly either.
Then she went on to the meeting, complaining to me that he wasn’t friendly to her on the stairs. I wondered, but gently reminded her it took a bit of concentration to make it up the stairs on crutches.
Meanwhile, since our family was being bullied, we had started a buddy system to help curtail the opportunities for harassment. This was based on the idea that abusive behaviors occur more easily with privacy. So I was determined to shine the light on any places where a victim could be caught alone. That meant my being there whenever humanly possible!
A week or so later my son and son-in-law were in the laundry room, following the plan of avoiding being alone to reduce the bullying. This same lady walked up and said, shaking her finger pointedly, “I like you. I don’t like you. I really don’t like you.” As she barked out angry words, she pointed at my sister-in-law, my son-in-law, then at my son.
About then I returned from the restroom, right in the middle of shocked expressions. As I opened the door I was a few inches from her angry face. She seemed surprised to see me and stopped mid-sentence for a second.
I had been clued in by phone on my way down the hall, so I knew what had happened. I looked around, then said to the woman, “I think it’s time for us (me and her) to go on.” I was relieved as she headed upstairs to her apartment.
A couple of weeks later I spotted her alone in the parking lot. I knew this as my chance!
After a friendly greeting I asked her if she went to church. She answered, “Not often enough, but I’m very religious!” Here was my opening.
I said, “I’ve been thinking about something Jesus said. His words went kinda like, “If you do it unto these my children, you’ve done it unto me.” At that point I held my heart and my voice quavered with real heartfelt emotion.
She recognized the near-quote from the teachings of Christ. I reiterated, “You see, when you do something to my son or members of my family, you’ve done it to me . . .” She could feel my motherly emotions through my voice and piercing yet sincere eye contact.
I added, “You’re a mother — you know, don’t you?” Then she reached out to pat me on the shoulder and we both teared up a bit.
She has not bothered us since that day. About once a week I see her and give her a firm yet caring look. My aim is to cement our agreement while showing respect.
I’m aware that this peace is tenuous, yet it is far preferable to the previous state of bullying. Too bad the other senior bullies involved aren’t open to words of peace. She still stands on the side of being loyal to those who vehemently resist change here in our complex, even when it means supporting illegal activities. Yet so far we have a mother’s arrangement.
Perhaps peace is a thin thread which must be nurtured to keep from breaking.
P.S. Unfortunately, with her associating daily with her friends who have a pattern of constant bullying of us, she eventually lapsed back into the hateful behavior. (A neighbor across the hall witnessed her calling her gay neighbor “A–hole” which was one of many similar actions which are continuing.)
Copyright 2014 by Hildra Tague. Obtain permission for uses online or in print.