Obsession with the Absurd


During the current Covid-19 pandemic everyone is rather on edge and often little things become blown out of proportion.  In this environment, perspectives on what’s important sometimes get off as well. Here’s my story of what happened with a next door neighbor over a small planting bed in the front area between our two townhouses. To me, it’s an example of how one’s mind focuses on the absurd when it doesn’t have anything else more constructive to capture the attention.  

Late one Saturday night a few weeks ago, my next door neighbor, also a single older woman sent me an email asking me to trim my bush. Her request seemed really out of left field as it was spring time and my bush had been in the ground for 23 years without it bothering any of my prior neighbors having also resided in the same house next door. Why suddenly did she worry about this bush? In her email, again late at night, she stated that she was concerned that my bush would harm her plants newly placed in the “flower bed” between our two homes.

As a point of reference, I’ve always maintained this area 75% because I’ve lived there longest and have paid for whatever was necessary. A couple years ago, suddenly the tree died and as it was deemed “my tree” by the neighborhood I was required to pay for the removal and replanting of another tree which set me back $1000. Her predecessor neighbor disavowed any responsibility for the tree stating that the trunk of the tree was technically on my side of the planting area thus my problem. This was her view even though the tree was clearly providing beauty and shade for the two homes. I graciously accepted the responsibility and when the bed had to be redone I didn’t tell the gardener to stop at my half, I had the entire bed redone without expense to the neighbor. I felt like I was doing the right thing.

My late night response to this neighbor’s bush trimming request was that I’d take care of it in the fall. Receiving my email only made her more determined to stand up for what she wanted and I got more emails demanding action. I was really having a hard time taking her seriously. We were in the middle of the pandemic, I was going out once a week for food and for a daily walk, and really didn’t want to think about trimming a bush. To me, it seemed so ridiculous.

The emails began to fly back and forth with me stating that I’d take care of it and her stating that she’d take matters into her own hands. Really? It was a bush and 6 inches away from her plants. What could happen to them? At one point I even told her that she needed a new hobby, and pointed out for example that I was learning to make masks to donate to the Million Mask Challenge. Well, this only made her angrier and she assumed I was saying that she wasn’t doing anything to help with the pandemic. In response, she told me that her daughter was a nurse in NYC on the front lines of things. Great, what are you doing? But this is really not the point. I didn’t want any trouble. I was minding my own business and she was making an issue about a bush that grew an inch in a year or two suddenly creeping up on her plants.

As far as this new neighbor of about 1.5 years was concerned, learning about how the tree was planted held no interest for her. She proceeded to send me nasty emails about how awful I was and how I didn’t greet her properly when she moved in. I’m not sure what she expected, but in my neighborhood people move in and out without much fuss. I never did anything to hurt her and was cooperative when she had work done on her roof and her contractor needed access from my roof to do his work.

About two weeks after the email barrage, I asked a friend to come over with a chain saw and trimmer to take care of the bush, obviously sooner than the “fall” that I had promised her. When we went outside to begin the work, I bent down and realized that she’d already taken pruners and cut some of the branches out of the bush. I couldn’t believe it!!! Talk about obsessing over a bush. My friend and I took a huge amount off the bush figuring that we’d do a really good job. But our efforts were not rewarded. Within hours I got another email from the same neighbor asking to meet me in the morning regarding my plants close to the street. My response was a negative. I held my boundaries and ended communication not responding. She needed to find something else to obsess about because I realized it was her mind that was the problem; nothing I did would ever satisfy her.

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