Ten years ago Craig and I bought a run down four-plex two streets over from the part of town know as “the hood”. It was a hop skip and a jump from where we had seen the aftermath of a pretty major drug bust and we quite frequently saw people with addiction issues wandering along the cracked sidewalks.
We were pretty stinking excited! We were landlords and we had a vision. Our four little homes would be a clean and pretty place for low income people to live. That would solve so many problems in this neighborhood of ours. We could make a shiny place and love on the folks that lived there.
We understood nothing about the inner issues we would face. Both our tenants and our own.
Some of our tenants had health issues and really had a hard time keeping their apartment clean. Others were affected with FAS and had some pretty big emotional wounds that we were not equipped to handle.
Craig and I would often be shocked and frustrated when the cable bill or cigarettes took priority in their budget over paying the rent.
It was disheartening when we went out on a limb for someone and let them rent a place from us, only to be patching holes in the walls a few months later when they had moved out without notice.
It’s hard when you’re helping someone clean their apartment and the toilets are black and you’ve just discovered a jar of moldy phlegm on the counter.
It’s hard when the 60 year old woman in her see through night gown, who lives upstairs is flirting with your husband.
I mean I totally knew that there was no way in hell she would ever entice him. But it’s these situations that go against your core. Everything in me said make sure the people are safe and burn the place to the ground.
I did not understand how these people could be so ungrateful to us for what we were trying to do for them! Couldn’t they see the sacrifices we were making as a young family to make sure they had a good place to live? I’m embarrassed to say I approached our project through the lens of being the savior of the street. I was often the jerk telling the tenants to get their shit together. I was failing at kindness and love.
Thankfully there is a Craig in this marriage and in this story. While he was not immune to the stress and disappointment of the situation. In fact he was the guy who handled most of it because nobody wanted to talk to me anymore. I was too unwilling to listen and too quick to offer a ready solution. (Which was generally some form of get your shit together).
Craig would get down in the trenches. Even from far away he would be on the phone trying to arrange to have needs met for the people who lived in the four-plex. He genuinely cared.
Last week we sold that building. It was the end of an era. I thought we would be thrilled to be rid of that place. Truly it is good to have the stress gone, but it has also been a week of serious reflection.
Looking back at my intentions when we first started out in this rental business and how they have changed is bittersweet.
I’ve learned that love and kindness need to be given without an agenda. They need to be offered as a gift and it is then out of your control whether or not the recipient says thank you or turns around and tosses your gift into the trash.
There can be no expectations attached to your generosity. When you give your time, your energy, your finances and there is no reciprocation, that needs to be well with your soul.
This is so simple and so frigging hard at the same time. It is hard to hand over something of value to you and leave with the feeling that the other person had an attitude of entitlement to that thing. It is hard to do a job that is thankless.
Sometimes we just don’t see the appreciation. Thanking someone is humbling and being humble is vulnerable. When a human has lived in a world that is harsh and unkind, maybe they just don’t have the skills or the emotional capacity to work up the courage to even utter the words thank you.
The love you give still matters. When you can’t see an outer change, don’t doubt that there is quite possibly an inner one. It takes a lot of fanning to coax a spark into a flame.
Again it’s frigging hard!
We showed up anyway because nobody else was going to. Because our hope is to love our neighbor the best we can and our lesson was love is not always pretty.
Love can not be useful if it is hoarded. Keep showing up. It must be spread to multiply.