The Rock Wall: Being Kind in the Face of Conflict

The Rock Wall

In Mount Shasta, the house we lived in had a lava rock wall in front of it, a defining feature of the property. It was difficult to mow around and there were more chipmunks per capita living in that rock wall than in all of Northern California, but it was beautiful. There were a lot of rocks; it took months to bring them from the lava fields to the property according to the people who helped to build the house.

The man who built our home there had built the house as a labor of love, and often I felt as if I was living in a museum rather than a home. Hardwood countertops, amazing tilework throughout, a homesteader’s dream garden. It was hard to leave, but seeing the repeated fires again this year, I’m reminded of the why we left.

Our neighbor approached us one day saying that the guy who built the house had promised her some of the lava rocks from the rock wall. I was a bit confused, this request coming out of left field. We had no indications of that when we moved in. But I said I’d check, and let her know. I said that I wouldn’t mind if she took a few rocks from the side of the house, but I wanted to keep the front wall intact as it was.

The oddity of the request required investigation, and we found no indication of any agreements. Then, we find out that she had been taking rocks for some time and building a garden with them in her backyard. I guess we never really noticed missing rocks here and there as she was progressively and surreptitiously taking rocks. That confused me… why ask now?

So, I felt that, since boundaries — quite literally — were being crossed, we should clear things up. I asked, “Why did you take rocks without asking us first?” She replied that there were only a few and then slammed her front door with a look of rage on her face. I suppose being found out was enraging to her.

The next morning, she mowed her yard at 6 AM, then threw two very large lava rocks into the driveway and yelled obscenities at me.

It didn’t set the tone for a very good day, and I have to admit that I did tell Max that it was okay for him to start playing Toby Turner music (I’m pretty sure it was Nugget in a Biscuit) as loudly and as repetitively as he wanted. Of course, he happily obliged as this new permission was quite different than previous requests to stop torturing ME with his music. Ask him now, and he’ll deny it.

The next day, we decided to energetically reclaim the driveway with some sidewalk chalk. I mean, it was Mount Shasta, land of the hippies and peaceniks. So, a little “Love is All That Is” and a poorly drawn peace sign was about all we could do. I take full credit for the poor drawings; Claire is definitely the artistic one in the family.

So, months go on and we avoid our neighbor as successfully as she avoids us.

Then a few months later, she disappears.

I ask around to see if she’s okay. I find out that she had moved down to the Bay Area for cancer treatment. That was shocking, to say the least. But it did shed some light on why she had been acting so erratically.

She had not found out that she was sick until well after “the incident” and it was not related, of course. I mean, if getting into conflict with me was a carcinogen, I’d happily put a warning label on my forehead! But if you’re like me, you know that serious illness like this often manifests in subtle ways before we realize we might have an illness. So she was likely sick when the incident happened, but maybe didn’t realize what was happening in the depths of her cells just yet.

A few weeks later, she passed away. She had a routine test done, and something happened during the test causing a hemorrhage, and she passed away.

There are some obvious lessons for me from this event.

No matter what is happening in a conflict with another person, there is always something else going on under the surface, something not quite visible to our awareness. Never assume that you know what is happening with someone when they bring conflict to your front door… or to your rock wall. They may be sick, they may have issues, they may have some battle they’re fighting that you cannot see. And, in fact, it might be a battle that they aren’t even yet aware that they’re fighting.

There’s that quote: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

It’s something I always try to remember, but it doesn’t always serve me well.

There are times where I attempt to empathize and the person I care about doesn’t want that care. I might be rebuffed or misunderstood, or even mischaracterized. I have to try to let that go, though, and do what is right for me. And what is always right for me: to be kind in all cases, at all times.

It’s coming up on the 8 year anniversary of what we call the Rock Wall Incident, and I recently found a couple of rocks, mementos I kept from the rock wall.

And it is the week where I remind myself again to be kind, to realize that when something isn’t quite right, to try to be kind.


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