"Your weeds are in violation of section 3A of our neighborhood covenant."
The letter was stuck in my friend's mailbox. She opened it late one night after returning home from visiting her husband who had taken a job out of state.
The husband had lost his job the previous year, and taking a position six hours away was a last resort in order to keep making the mortgage payments.
He had always done a great job of maintaining their lawn. In fact, theirs had been one of the prettier properties in the neighborhood, with perfectly edged flower beds and a golf course-looking yard that blended in to the rolling greens of the actual golf course that the neighborhood was built around.
But when he started working out of state, he had little time left for his yard. Apparently weeds in the flower beds were too much for the neighbors to bear, so the association sent them a form letter saying, "You have violated the covenant of maintaining the landscape in a manner consistent with the neighborhood" (Code for: straighten up redneck, you're reducing our property values).
And in bold type: You have 30 days to comply.
No, "Are there any circumstances that may be causing this?" or any indication that anyone cared about the family at all. Apparently all that mattered was the lawn.
Three years of maintaining a beautiful yard and the minute it starts to look shabby no one even pauses to think that perhaps the family might be having trouble.
Is this what it means to be a neighbor? To walk or drive by someone's house and give it the thumbs up or the thumbs down? To assess every situation through the filter of your property values?
Get a grip, people. Your property value has already tanked. The real value of your home is the joy you take in living there and the connections you have with the people around you.
I know that having a nice place to live makes us all feel better, and I'm not suggesting that you start growing corn in your front yard. But why is our first response to these types of things always so self absorbed and negative?
A coworker leaves work early with her cube in disarray, we wonder if we should report her.
A family member acts uncharacteristically rude or negative, we mutter. "He's got a burr under his saddle," or my grandmother's favorite, "She sure has a bee in her bonnet."
Maybe something is wrong. But shouldn't we ask them about the burr or the bee, or whatever else might be going on, rather than criticize them for responding to it?
Compare my friend's nasty form letter with how another friend responded to a similar situation. When the lawn of neighbor's house started to look out of control, a lawn that had previously always been well-manicured, he asked around to see if something was going on with the family.
He discovered that their child had been stricken with cancer, and that they were spending most of their days at the hospital dealing with chemo.
So he hopped on his lawnmower, rode down the street and cut their grass, leaving them a note in their mailbox.
"I hear you're going through a tough time," he wrote. "You don't know me well, but if it's OK with you, I'll cut your grass every week until things get better."
It was signed, "your neighbor."
Snellville resident Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of "Forget Perfect." Contact her at www.forgetperfect.com.