A friend once observed that hardly anything bothers me, but when something does bother me, it REALLY bothers me. What bothers me about living in South Florida? Cockroaches.
Cockroaches are my arch-nemesis. (I’m not sure if that is grammatically correct, but my elderly Toshiba keeps saying, “Warning: A problem with the cooling system has been detected. Please turn off the computer immediately, and return it for service,” so I’m not sure I have time to find out. I did spend a minute on Urban Dictionary though: “Arch-nemesis are friends from a long time ago that have more or less equivalent powers, but also have op[p]osing ideologies. They are therefore always fighting with each other.”
I’m not sure if I was ever friends with a cockroach, but I once heard that “shrimp are the cockroaches of the sea,” and I like to eat shrimp, so maybe that’s it.
I couldn’t find out the purpose that cockroaches serve on this planet. I’m sure they are here for a reason, but one I can’t figure out.
Lots of insects don’t bother me. Ants live in my house, and that’s okay. Ants are pretty cool. They get together with all of their other little ant friends and carry heavy things and build cool houses. They are basically like architects who also do all of their own manual labor. Props.
Sometimes I think of butterflies as a sign from God.
Then there are cockroaches. I once imagined an army of cockroaches climbing on my face at night and eating food off of my toothbrush and climbing into the ice maker and eating my un-refrigerated cereal and hiding in my soup, so after that my ideology became extermination.
That was a problem because I don’t like to kill anything, not even bugs, because I saw A Bug’s Life when I was little, and I really felt for them and their struggle. Also when you spray a cockroach with Raid, he runs around a lot and seems like he is in pain, but no matter how many times I apologize, it’s too late, and he’s already dead.
Okay, I only tried that once, and I still feel bad.
It’s a good thing that there are exterminators who get the job done much more effectively. I have only seen three cockroaches since our exterminator sprayed my house several weeks ago, and they were all already dead.
Let me get to my point.
I moved to a church ministry house about a month and a half ago. I was excited to live further south, closer to my clients, and in an agricultural area, something I had never done before. I was also excited to make new friends and connections in a place where I still haven’t felt a strong sense of community beyond work, church, and volunteering. At GMF training, they advised us to “grow your circle wider.” That felt a lot easier in DC than it does here, for some reason.
Anyways, I moved into this ministry house, and the first thing I see: black mold in the shower and a toilet that had obviously not been cleaned in recent history.
I did the best thing I knew how to do (and what had always worked for me before in the past): I texted my new housemates to see if we could meet up and talk about logistics, like cleaning. I think it’s helpful to make an initial connection and open up the dialogue to prevent future problems down the line. I also didn’t want to be the new person moving in and controlling everything. That wouldn’t be good for anyone. No one had helped me move in, so I didn’t really get a chance to talk to them then. I thought we should meet in once place, maybe share a meal together, and talk about some of the things that can happen while living in community. I was sure we all had different expectations, and I thought that it might be helpful if we worked together to set ground rules that everyone would be happy with. No one seemed to want to meet. (Actually 3/4 indicated they did not want to meet.)
Fine. I let that go.
Long story short, I soon found myself living in a house where the bathtub was not draining, the toilet paper roll wasn’t getting changed, dishes were not being washed within several days to a week (and by washed, I mean put in the dishwasher), the house reeked of trash, etc. Each time, I attempted to bring these issues up, in the hope that we could reach a solution that didn’t involve me repeatedly having to clean the drain, scrub the bathtub and toilet, buy toilet paper, wash the dishes, take out the trash, etc. all by myself. In other words, I figured that if no one was willing to talk about it in a semi-formal meeting, maybe we could at least reach some mutual understanding that we are adults living in a church house together, so maybe we should each have an equitable amount of responsibility in keeping it clean. (Or maybe not. But who would know if we never actually talked about it?)
What bothered me the most was that the exterminator noted that the dirty dishes were likely attracting the cockroaches in the first place. Again, when something bothers me–like cockroaches–it really bothers me.
I like things to be organized, and I don’t like cockroaches. I own that. I would have liked to talk about that–how I’m wired, who I am, even why I am, if anyone cared to ask–when I first moved in. Then I would have known how everyone else felt about cleaning and cockroaches and probably a million other things that they find annoying but I don’t.
Here’s why, in a text conversation with one of my housemates (still not a lot of in-person communication or hanging out in common spaces together going on). I was torn about sharing this, but I think it is sufficiently anonymous considering my typical audience, and it provides a good example of my dilemma:
Me: Hi–hope you are having a great Sunday! I went ahead and cleaned up the dirty dishes that were in the sink, since some of them have been there for several days. I would love it if we could all try to clean up our dirty dishes within 24 hours at most. What do you think? Thanks!
Housemante: Can you stop being a mom please. Lol I’m sorry, but this is getting really annoying.
Me: I’m sorry. I’m not your mom, and I’m not trying to be. I’m sorry if my text came across that way. I really don’t like cockroaches, and I would appreciate it if we could try to keep the kitchen clean. I think it’s important that we respect each other and our shared space.
Housemate: We all don’t like roaches, we all don’t like ants, we all don’t like spiders, but this house is old, roaches were here way before you have even moved in. There are roach traps and ant traps all over the house. I put them there. We clean up after ourselves. Don’t feel obligated to do our own chores. We all live here on our own time. If you’re really upset with ti, then do it yourself, but please, stop with the constant paragraphs acting and talking to us like we’re children. We’re busy, it happens. But please, chill out giving everyone updates on how great of a house mom you are. We don’t need it.
Now–let’s put this into context. At that point, I had texted her about four things:
- To ask if we could meet up and talk
- To let her know about the exterminator (which I was asked to do)
- To let her know that I baked brownies, and she was welcome to eat some
- To ask if it would be reasonable for us to clean up our dishes within 24 hours
Where I come from, everything I had said was reasonable. Until now, I have never lived with anyone who would have thought these were unreasonable things to communicate. That is my experience.
Where she comes from, apparently what I had communicated was unreasonable. I’m not sure why; I didn’t ask at the time because I didn’t want to seem condescending or as if I wasn’t listening to her feelings. If anyone else would care to shed light on the situation, please feel free to do so. I’m curious.
Here is how I felt/reacted internally: She effectively destroyed all future communication by attacking who I am as a person instead of considering my request, and I no longer had any desire for us to form a real relationship or to do any of the intentional community stuff that I had thought would be part of living in a ministry house with other Christians.
It doesn’t matter if you think one of us was right and one of us was wrong. That’s not the point at all. What should have mattered was the relationship and the mutual understanding that comes from communication. If she had known how much I was bothered by cockroaches, she likely would have been more understanding; if I had known that my futile attempts at communicating were driving her nuts, I would have backed off. Without being able to express our feelings up front, however, that never happened, and she and I will never be friends as a result. In fact, I don’t want to be her friend. I can’t think of an example when I felt that way about anyone else. I’m not proud of how I feel; I’m just being honest. Real reconciliation would have to happen for me to change my mind.
Again, I digress. My housing situation hasn’t really changed. There was no toilet paper in my bathroom for about a week, since I did not change the roll. At first, I thought carrying my toilet paper back and forth was too passive aggressive, but a pastor who I respect corrected me; I did try to talk about it, and I was ignored, so it wouldn’t be passive aggressive to stand up for myself and not enable the behavior. If it bothered them and they wanted to talk about it, then we could actually create a better system that would work for all of us.
My sink was full of ants the other day. I’m pretty tired, so I’ll just be blunt here: I feel disrespected when no one can seem to put the dishes in the dishwasher when I ran it and emptied it three times this week. We don’t have to follow my suggested 24-hour rule, but it would have been nice if we could have reached some sort of compromise that worked for everyone (although I still think putting dishes in the dishwasher within 24 hours of use is more than reasonable). I never understood how a person could put dirty dishes in her roommate’s bed (a friend’s horror story), until I actually moved in with people who 1) don’t want to talk about anything and 2) refuse to consider doing something that I’ve asked. Don’t worry; that’s not helpful, and I wouldn’t do that.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, I was shut down by one housemate in a way that I might consider inappropriate, but I was met by silence from everyone else. Silence really is a statement, a form of agreeing with what was said. I think a lot of church people are afraid to say what they think because they like the status quo and don’t want to offend anyone, but I personally think respectful disagreement is the key to progress and actual relationships. Can I really say we are friends if we always walk on egg shells and are never honest with one another?
Someone asked me what I’ve learned about myself so far. This is what I wrote:
I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is how to let go. The only thing I can control is my own behavior, reactions, feelings, etc. In life, some people are going to be intentionally difficult, hypocritical, mean-spirited, selfish, etc. I, too, am imperfect. If someone does something that upsets me, and I express to them calmly and clearly that I am upset by the behavior, I can let it go. I can forgive them. I can move on. I can treat them with kindness, even if they continue to engage in the same upsetting behavior.
In a way, I am a hypocrite.
And now we get to the point. Why did I really write this (aside from the fact that my affiliate asked for a blog post)?
I took a walk around my “neighborhood” today, and I had a small epiphany. While in Cuba, I met someone who drives a bus. He told me that he used to be a missionary, and that he likes to drive mission teams around because he sees it as an extension of his mission work and call from God.
Why, then, is it so hard for me to clean someone else’s dishes or buy enough toilet paper for everyone, etc. etc.? Why do I need us to talk about it so I don’t feel resentful? Why can’t I just choose to not feel resentful? Why can’t I choose to clean and do this act of service as an extension of my ministry?
Is it really kind to focus on the injustice and how unfair a situation feels to me? Have I really considered what the others may be going through or able to handle? (That would be hard without ever talking about it, but still possible.) No.
Okay, so I don’t really have a point; I’m not sure what this means or how to proceed or whether or not someone will be mad that I wrote this. (It’s not like I will be destroying our non-existent relationships, though, so I presume there is no harm; if it does harm, I ask for forgiveness in advance because that is not my intention.)
I’m expected to pretend and promote and smile a lot, but if I have to keep a blog, I want it to always be real, honest. I want to be able to look back on it and remember every experience, not just the easy ones.
And if I can’t share my thoughts and feelings in the one place where it would be helpful to me–my home–maybe this blog post could at least lead to a greater discussion about how we treat each other in the larger community in which we live–Earth.