They say that there's a Chinese curse that goes something like, “May you lead an interesting life”. I have to say that parts of my life have been very interesting indeed. I came of age in Atlanta during the Civil Rights era, when Martin Luther King was still alive. I saw him show the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance, and it's a lesson I've never forgotten—even if sometimes my Irish temper doesn't let me put it into action...
My first year at college was the year of Woodstock and of anti-war protests. Chants of “HELL NO! We won't go!” and “Hey, Hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?” provided the backdrop to classes for us. Unfortunately, that was the same year that the US National Guard opened fire on students at Kent State in Ohio. Another lesson I'll never forget: Force can win, but only in the short term. Ultimately, the images from that incident contributed to ending the war in Viet Nam.
Recently, my life has been interesting in more peaceful ways. We travel, we learn languages, we work. We live in a beautiful place.
This past weekend, however, things became very interesting—in the Chinese sense. We live in a new apartment building which is set in a beautiful park full of old trees. We have wonderful neighbors in our building, and in general our life is very quiet. However, on the other side of a very high hedge is a man who lives in his tract of 30 acres or so, but who is under the delusion that he has the right to cut his driveway through our park. (I know!) We have hired a lawyer, and we assumed that they would work it out in court.
Saturday morning, though, bright and early, this man cut down part of our beautiful hedge and began to dig his driveway through our park. I know!
As a newly-minted 60 year old with “HELL NO!” still running in my veins, I knew that I had to act. Once the driveway was done it would be much more difficult to un-do—the reason, I'm sure for this precipitous action on his part. Forgiveness is easier to get than permission, as we know. So I went out to where they were digging with a bulldozer and stepped politely in front of it, between the bulldozer and the bucket that was digging our earth, careful to stay on our side of the hedge.
The man next door came up with his lawyer (telling, eh? I mean, don't you always have your lawyer present early on Saturday when you're doing a little work around the house?) and shouted “Madame, this is private property!” “Yes, it is”, I replied, “and it's not yours!” I turned my back on him and his bulldozer to keep an eye on the bucket, which continued its work around me. I didn't move when it gouged out the earth beside me and in front of me. Then we began a little dance of defiance: the bucket moved right. I moved right. It moved left, I moved left. This dance continued for a while until finally it went over my head, dropping some dirt on me to show its disgust. And finally it stopped its work. (Disclosure: I may have showed my naughty finger once or twice...)
By this time my neighbors had gathered, and one of them (Therèse, seen here at a happier moment) stood next to me so that we effectively blocked the entire opening in the hedge. The police were called. After much shouting by the lawyer and gesticulating by my neighbors, showing papers and letters and legal documents, the police demonstrated that expressive Gallic shrug that can mean so many different things.
A policewoman approached us, her spotless uniform dirtied by the newly dug earth. “Mesdames”, she said, “I cannot allow you to put yourselves in danger”. “Madame”, I replied, “we are in our garden. What danger is there?” She indicated the bulldozer with its motor still running behind us. “Ah, oui. But it seems to me that if we are being threatened by our neighbor it's your job to put a stop to it, no? It's not up to us to leave our garden.” Another shrug. The police left, having decided that this was a civil matter and not a criminal one. They could do nothing. So we waited.
It was cold, I can tell you. I wasn't dressed for this. I had ruined my shoes. But we waited. In the end, someone found a judge who ordered the work to stop until it could go to court on Monday morning. By the time we climbed out of our dirty fortress, Therèse and I were both shivering.
We stopped them. For now. We're left with an ugly scar in our beautiful park.
But it's nothing like the scar I'm going to have if my mom reads this...
(I apologise for the quality of some of these photos. Most were taken with my iPhone. The ones of the bulldozer were taken in real time as it worked around us.)