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In September of 2010, around the same time medical marijuana dispensaries first arrived in earnest in Colorado, my husband and I moved into downtown Colorado Springs. We were newlyweds, and we believed in the potential of our dilapidated HUD-repossessed house, purchased for a song.
But when we tried to meet our next-door neighbor a few weeks after settling in, we found her elusive. Another neighbor told us her name was Mary. We noticed her three rat terriers, who paraded through her yard in sweater vests, screeching at anyone who walked past. The only time we glimpsed Mary was during her walk from her car to her front door, as she stepped through her yard, littered with trash, Hindu stone statutes and tumbleweeds.
Months passed without a proper meeting. Then we caught sight of a man accompanying her on her walk. The man was lanky, with straight white hair to his shoulders: my husband called him “Creepy Gandalf.” We debated who he was: Mary’s brother? Boyfriend? Nurse? We would watch him through our windows as he hauled Mary’s grocery bags into the house, and then we watched as he opened her car door and held her hand as she made the trek to her house. We decided we liked him.
Then Mary and Creepy Gandalf started smoking weed on their porch during the day. Coming home from work in the evenings, we would have to walk through plumes of the spicy smoke, while Gandalf sat on Mary’s porch, hunched and puffing in the winter air.
Marijuana was becoming a familiar smell in our neighborhood. We noticed the green crosses of the MMJ dispensaries on every corner downtown, which tempted many people to drum up a reason to get an ounce from a dispensary. I heard somewhere that back pain and a bad case of PMS were the favorite excuses. Any healthy person could ask around and find an accommodating doctor to write a prescription and, voila, grass in hand.
All this rankled me.
I grew up in the manicured suburbs, full of rich white people, and I had been a goody two-shoes, straight-As, church-going Christian since I was young. I did not start drinking alcohol until I actually turned 21. I had been so thoroughly convinced by the anti-smoking ads, with their pictures of elderly people who had traded Adam’s apples for tracheotomy tubes, that I did not take a puff from a cigar until college, and even then it made me sick to my stomach.
Also, I almost never swear. Are you rolling your eyes at me yet?
So I turned my nose up at my weed-smoking neighbors. I described them to friends as “old hippies,” I rolled my eyes at them, and I wondered, “Do they even have jobs? What do they do all day?”
I even tried to root my feelings in my Christian faith. But Christianity has this sneaky core tenant about loving your neighbors, even the ones you don’t like. I actually believe that Jesus died for people who hated him, so I could not escape the pang in my gut that told me I was straight-up wrong in feeling so great about myself and feeling resentful toward them — I could not escape it, that is, unless I simply chose to ignore it.
That’s what I did: I ignored this gnawing expertly, just magnificently, until the day I actually met my neighbors.
This essay was originally published in March 2014 at OnFaith.