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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

What Did I Learn in the School of Life This Year?


My seventy-sixth birthday is a matter of days away. Another year in the books. I'd like to think that I'm one step closer to cronehood, but that would be a stretch. I'm a recovering control freak. My mother taught me well and even though I've been a member of the not-for-profit CF Anonymous and have been a "counselor" at the Evanston facility, I am ashamed to say that I've relapsed and need to return to daily meetings until I am clean once again.

So, what happened this year that threw me for a loop? I'll tell you: it's my next-door neighbor who hates the new garden I've planted in front of our home and hates the tree branches that reach over our fence and have the gall to grace his yard. We live in "The City of Trees" for god's sake; he grew up here and should know better.

Said neighbor likes green grass but not green trees--or any color tree, for that matter. "I like grass," he said. Later, he told my husband that the "dirt patch" (my new perennial garden) out front was an eyesore and that it ruined his view every time he looked out his living room windows.

And while he was at it, he took a swing at the three lilac bushes that divided his property from ours. "They're on my property," he said. "I want them removed and replanted." Okay, he'd gone too far; it had become a property line war that he'd started and that I was going to finish.

I ran inside and searched for and found our plat of survey which clearly showed that the bushes were on our side and that many of the tree branches were as well.

That didn't seem to matter. He's one of those guys who is never wrong, whom I assume never apologizes for anything and certainly not for insisting that his property line extends at least a foot or two into our property.

Since the moment he informed me of his plans, I have worried and plotted and driven myself crazy. I dusted off our plat of survey to check the exact property line. I called the land surveying company to see if they would at least come to take a look. Sure, for $1000 they'd be delighted. I checked with the banks that hold our mortgage and home equity line of credit. Had we included an updated survey? No, we had not. I stopped talking to the tree-hater and his wife. For three weeks, I didn't utter a peep. But I had endless conversations with myself about what I could say and what I really wanted to say.

I spent a good hour scouring the city ordinances to see what rights I had. As it turned out, I had none. Here in my beloved "City of Trees" (I'm not kidding) neighbors are instructed to work out this stuff on their own. I thought of calling my alderperson to see what she could do, but I figured she'd been through this drill a zillion times and would rather risk losing my vote than weighing in.

At first, I garnered the support of my friends. They were incensed right along with me. Why didn't the guy buy gutter guards? Or what about an electric blower? (They have been outlawed in our fair city for now.) Okay, what about a broom and some elbow grease? Or maybe he might consider asking one of his three sons to clear the porch.

Well, my friends got sick of my complaints and attempts to control a situation over which I had absolutely no control. Damn them, anyway! The whole world was conspiring against me. As my mother used to say, "You can't win but for losing."

One friend encouraged me to consider what lesson I could take away from all of this. "Everything happens for a reason," he said. Okay, I thought, maybe I shouldn't plant trees so close to the property line. Or maybe I should be more forgiving and offer to rake the neighbor's leaves. Or maybe, just maybe, I should take a deep breath and stop trying to control the whole mess.

I let that last one roll around for a bit, but no go. I had to hold on until the eleventh hour. I planned on asking my husband to take photos of the before and after and then standing on my property line the day the tree cutters showed up. "I shall not be moved" became my mantra.

The tree guys haven't shown up yet. They are busy and will call two days in advance. I know that because I finally bumped into my neighbor and couldn't walk away without saying something. "So," I said, "where exactly is the property line?" "It's the fence," he said. "I think that's what I told you weeks ago," I said.

I listened to a podcast with Stacey Abrams, the organizer, author, politician--woman extraordinaire. Among many words of wisdom, she said that none of us is perfect and will never be. And, she said, there are lessons that we'll never fully learn. She must have been talking to me. I felt like she'd given me permission to give myself some slack and not let this control business make me feel like I'd taken a dive into the abyss.

Kudos to you, Stacey. And kudos to me as I am about to begin my 76th year. I'm healthy (well, most of the time), creative, and engaged in life and the lives of others. Sure, I still try to control some of those others, but what the hell. When I run into that proverbial brick wall, I'll pick myself up and put myself back together again--a regular Humpty Dumpty.



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