Wednesday, September 9, 2009

afternoon interruptus

It was a humid summer day and husband and I agreed that we would do some "clean up" yard work and then later in the afternoon retire to our patio down by the brooke with a glass of wine.  It had been a long week and we were looking forward to time alone and time together.  Tomorrow all our children were coming for Sunday lunch and supper.  Today would be our day.

As I dressed in my outside work clothes, I noticed from my window that there was a woman sitting on the stone pedastels of our bridge that led onto the street (pictured above).  She seemed to have books and papers spread out around her and looked like a teacher marking papers . . . or something.  She looked very settled in, and I found it curious that someone would look like they were prepared to spend the afternoon at the end of our driveway.

As I came around with the wheel barrow, I gave her a friendly wave and proceeded with my work.  My husband was pruning branches off of trees, and I was the clean up part of the crew, picking up the branches and other debris that had fallen due to the winds the night before.

Once I waved the woman jumped up and ran toward me as if she had something of great import to tell me.  She was an attractive, well-spoken, middle-aged woman and introduced herself as "Gloria", and began to exclaim about the beauty of the land.  We are used to this, and I pointed out certain features and told her about how our neighbour had built the bridges and stone walls that lined the brooke himself.  I thought this would be a brief, friendly encounter as they usually are with strangers who admire the property.

After chatting for a while, I slowly began to resume my work hoping she would get the hint that I did not have all day to chat.  She followed me as I raked the grass of debris.  I started to have an uncomfortable feeling - like my boundaries were being invaded, but I continued to answer her questions in a friendly but more abbreviated manner. 

Suddenly she asked if she could help me do my work.  I thanked her for her offer and declined.  She persisted.  I persisted in refusing her kind gesture.  She was like a pup that grabs the edge of your pants and won't let go.  I began to laugh and said no I was not in the habit of having people walk in off the street and do my work for me.  She would not let up.  We must have gone back and forth 6 or 7 times - her insisting, and me refusing.  Finally out of frustration, I relented and said if she insisted she could walk around and pick up small branches that had been blown down by the wind.

She tucked the edges of her skirt up in her bathing suit (which was under her clothes) and proceeded to walk about the property picking up branches.  I showed her that she could put them in the fire pits (below) we have here and there for that purpose.  She worked industriously, and at a distance from me, for about  45 minutes.  She then approached me, and I thanked her profusely and tried to walk her to the driveway and back to her books and papers on the bridge. 


Of course, I should have known it would not end there. "Oh, Bonnie", she said, as if we had known each other for years, "would you mind if I sat down on your patio and continued my writing for a while?" I hesitated, because that was where my husband and I wanted to spend our afternoon. But we still had work to do, so there was time for her to sit a while and enjoy the brooke. How could I say no after she had done all that work? So I said yes, assuming that she would respect the limits of a stranger's generosity.

So she gather up her books and papers and settled in down on the little patio by the brooke (see below).  I moved to work away from the patio, so that I would not be sidetracked with her need to talk.   She seemed to be a compulsive talker.  Maybe she lives alone I thought, and is starved for a bit of conversation.  I then went in the house to make a bite of lunch for my husband.  I can not see the patio from the house, and assumed after an hour or so down by the brooke that she must have packed up and gone.

My husband came in from pruning branches and I told him about our visitor, Gloria and the help she had insisted on giving and the reward she had claimed.  He grinned and said, how do you get yourself in these situations?  I don't know - just a knack I have, I replied.

After lunch he went back outside to finish his work, but now he was perched on a long, sliding ladder wielding his long pruning pole - balancing precariously several feet above the ground.

I changed into some fresh clothes, opened a bottle of wine and looked out the window to see if he had come down off of his ladder.  No he was still up in the trees, but looking down and occasionally nodding his head.  OMG she was still there, and now she was chatting up DB who was a captive audience (up a tree) for her.  I saw that he was not giving her much positive reinforcement (no smiles, few nods, little eye contact) hoping she would get the hint that he was busy and in a very precarious position.  Again, I projected my sensibilities on to her and assumed she would clue in and cut the conversation short and finally after over 2 hours here with us, be on her way.

My impulse was to go out and tell her this was not the best time to engage someone in a conversation.  He was fifteen feet, at least, in the air with a wobbly long pole he was trying to balance.  I, was also, afraid that she would then again trap me in a conversation and weasle herself into our interlude with a glass of wine.  She had confided to me earlier that she was wearing her bathing suit under her clothes, because she had another friend she had met while just walking by her house, who allowed her to swim in her pool.  It seemed she was experienced at this sort of instant relationship thing.

My husband told me later while we were having our glass of wine, that she was sharing with him, while he was balancing on the ladder, all the details she was including in a memoir she was writing for her grandchildren.   Heeellllooooo!

Finally I decided enough was enough and I went out to save my husband's life and what remained of our day together!  I did not want to insult her or hurt her, but I felt that we had been generous and patient enough.

As I got outside, I saw that she was finally walking down the driveway, and out of our afternoon.  Phew.  I had begun to wonder if she would end up staying the night!  Goodbye Gloria.  As she walked off, I was pretty sure she was on her way to her other "friend" to swim in her pool.  Glory be.

This incident got me to thinking about  the difference between the values we espouse and the values we actually put into practice.  I claim to be open, kind, generous, caring - and yet, as this story clearly illustrates I did not feel particularly open, overly generous, or very kindly toward this woman.  She was a lonely soul, seeking company and yet I could not wait for her to leave.  Yes, I do have other values such as respecting boundaries, and this woman clearly had no idea what boundaries are. 

Yet, I often think about this seemingly funny incident - not so much about Gloria, but about my reaction to her.  As you can see, I am still wondering about what the whole thing says about me.  I still do not have clarity on this, as there are many values that collided in this situation.  I thought you might get a laugh out of it, and at the same time have the opportunity to think about Espoused Values vs. Values in Action.

Have you ever thought about whether there is a disparity between what you say you value, and what your actions actually demonstrate you value?  It is humbling to catch oneself behaving in a way that does not coincide with one's espoused values.


  1. A very thoughtful story! As I sit watching the heron on her perch, think of how I feel the fishermen invade my space when they fish off of our dock. I say something. I cannot resist. I try to teach people how to treat me. You are so polite!

  2. Hi Jenn:

    You are so right. We do teach people how to treat us - when we show them what we will put up with.

    Although she was a stranger to me - she was probably a neighbor in this small community. I was polite, with my words, but I'm not so sure about my body language or the vibe I was giving off.

    I really felt caught between my need to be kind to a needy soul, and my desire for privacy.

    I would NOT like it either if people decided to fish off of MY dock! And yet, at the same time we are teaching our children and grandchildren to share . . . go figure.

  3. I actually think you were friendly and open. You didn't order her off your property, you interacted with her and you allowed her time to acknowledge boundaries and leave. Which she eventually did, just not as soon as she should have. Being friendly and open does not mean giving over your desire and right for privacy at your own home. I think you managed a very good balance.

  4. Reading this, I had an incredible sense of déjà vu. A colleague of mine (briefly, thank god) was like that. Actually could be her geographically speaking. Don't ever let her come back or she'll eat you alive.

    I value my privacy. A lot. And I hate when people are incapable of reading straightforward body language (or refuse to).

    I think there is, to a certain extent, a difference between what we practice and what we preach. I figure I just have so much time to myself and when I'm in me time, unless there is a crisis brewing, I don't want to be imposed upon. End of story.

  5. oh bonnie ~ that was a great read! and i could feel your awkwardness through it all ... i felt fidgety actually ... as i have done the same thing in different circumstances of course ... BUT, she was pretty bold wasn't she!
    just a few weeks ago we had a strange truck drive into our yard ~ some might say we are in the middle of nowhere, btw ~ my sons were home but were inside preoccupied and didn't even know this vehicle came in ...
    it was a young couple with a baby out looking for rural property to rent or buy ... but they were also very interested in the vehicles in our yard (their truck wasn't in the best shape) ... and my sons' quad, etc, etc ~ a little too inquisitive ...
    i was polite, but wary as our country community has experienced a number of break-ins this summer, so i was 'on guard' and was careful about what i said ... i wanted to believe that they were there for what they were saying, but a little voice was also saying they could be 'casing' the joint ...
    afterwards when i relayed the whole thing to my husband, i had to say ... "you know, if i truly believe there is good in everyone, then i have to 'act' that way ... be genuine to my belief" ...
    i think you did well to share what you did ... (and in my mind i am thinking ... are you afraid she may come back? grin.)
    your yard and garden btw is astonishingly beautiful ~ paradise!

  6. Sandra:

    I thought so too - in general. But some people seem to have the knack, in spite of their inappropriate behaviors, of making you feel like the bad guy when you set limits.

  7. Hi Jazz:

    Seems like there are a lot of these types out there!

    I think you're right - privacy and my time are high values for me and based on this story would seem to be higher on my hierarchy of values than kindness and generosity.

  8. This experience with Gloria really gives me the creeps!

  9. Prairie Girl:

    Oooh that's tricky isn't it? You feel bad feeling suspicious or guarded when there is a woman and baby in the car. I had a woman with a little boy come to the door and say they were authorized (by who?) to conduct a survey. The questions were invasive and I challenged her (knowing she was "casing the joint") saying I would not answer any questions and that she should leave.

    Oh, Gloria did come back 2 more times. Both times I refused to engage with her - was friendly but pointed - saying I had no time to chat. She finally got the message.

  10. Linda Sue:

    Thanks for dropping by. Yes, it was weird and creepy.

    She had revealed she was originally from South America - and I wondered if her latin nature just made her way friendlier than we cooler of nature descendents of Brits. I wondered, too, if that was the custom or way of doing things where she came from - while not the norm here.

  11. I guess there's always that fine line to every situation...that may cause us doubt and make us qiestion ourselves!

  12. What an interesting story Bonnie - and what a lot of questions it poses. I think you were both remarkably patient. Yet - if the question was put to me - what would I do - I dare say I would say I would be welcoming and patient - but would I if it really happened to me, I doubt it.

  13. An interesting and thought provoking story, Bonnie. I remind myself over and over that my particular ways aren't necessarily the ways of others. But I need to go with my comfort level. The one thing I know for sure: everybody has a story.

  14. Wanda:

    Yes, and I think it is worthwhile to question our own behaviors at times. By so doing, I discovered that I value my time, my privacy, my loved one, more than I value my qualities of openness and kindness.

  15. Weaver:

    That's the value of observing our own behaviors. What we claim we value and what we see in our behaviors in action can be different things. That is not necessarily bad. At the least it demonstrates to us how the list falls in our personal hierarchy of values.

    Thanks for your honesty.

  16. Cathy:

    So true. I was trying hard to remember that as I faced my annoyance with her lingering presence.

  17. Bonnie,
    First, your yard is spectacular! Wow. I would relish my privacy there, too. I think you're being too hard on yourself. You were quite generous with your space and to have gone further would have only encouraged this person who didn't have "no" in her hearing vocabulary.

    I think as women, we all have a hard time saying, I deserve this, or this is my space, or simply, no. Because we're the nurturers. And that's all fine and good, but it's just as important to protect ourselves and our families when someone (like Gloria) could be "off." I think you handled it beautifully.

  18. Barbara:

    Good point. We often stand up for our families, where we don't for ourselves.

    Thanks re the land. It is beautiful - and it has occurred to me that I feel more like a custodian than an owner - and feel like people should be allowed to see it (it goes on and on and our incredible views include our neighbors property - there are no fences). So if people show an interest, I make time, if possible, to show them around. She was the one rare one, who did not recognize when it was time to leave.

    Thanks again for your cogent comments Barbara.

  19. What an interesting story. It reminded me of a children's book called, Stone Soup. A very heartfelt story, much like you shared.

  20. Reminds me of an incidence I had last year, with a woman who sounds like Gloria's twin, who came into my shop, and offered to help. Like you, I finally relented.
    This led to several months of me trying to help this woman, who was bipolar, and who ended up costing me a lot of money, some sanity, and lots of lost sleep.
    My boundaries wavered for that short time, and she took advantage.
    I found out later, from her mother, that she does this often, and burns her bridges every time.
    I don't think there was anything wrong with what you did, and I think we all need to have good boundaries, no matter what.
    enjoyed the post.....
    Good reminder.

  21. What an interesting story. Why was she there? Why did she need you? Your husband? Your attention? Why did you need her? What did she do for you? My curiosity is peaked, thanks for this intriguing story!

  22. Meg: What great questions! Why did I need her and what did she do for me? I will think on that - thank you.

  23. Oh yes, they often collide. Just the other day, I lost it with the neighbor, after espousing kindness, in all things. (Geeeeze) I'm a work in progress.

    This one is very hard. I don't like to have my boundaries crossed, and she was clearly doing that. However, I can see why you are questioning yourself. There was a lesson, albeit a hard one to discern. Hmmmm - good post.

  24. Meg: Have thought about your questions: Why did I need her and what did she do for me?

    I did not need her. I suppose I could say she made me reflect on my values and see that privacy and alone time with my loved ones is more important to me than openness with strangers.

    But those questions imply that we attract what we need into our life. I know that is true to a degree - but it can be a form of child-like, magical thinking to believe that way. I think time, circumstance, people's choices and will enter into things and situations happen. Then it is up to us to extract whatever we can learn from it.

    Think I will write a post on magical thinking soon.

  25. Nancy:

    We are all works in progress. Those who think they have arrived, are usually lost.

    The 'lesson' is more like an opportunity for values clarification. While I value kindness, friendliness, etc. - reflection upon this incident reveals that I value or treasure my private time with my loved ones more.

    There is nothing wrong with having those values shift position - as we age our values do shift and it is up to us to become aware.

    In your example, while you value kindness in all things, as you say, you clearly demonstrate that another value comes before that and it is the sanctity of all life. And when you saw someone being cavelier with life, you were justifiably horrified and angry. Good to know the heirarchy of our values, don't you think? I would say your priorities are bang on!

  26. Choices:

    I'll have to look up the children's book you mention. Thanks.

  27. Hilary:

    That sounds much more complicated when someone with no respect for boundaries invades your business. Sometimes they start to feel like bubble gum stuck on your shoe - you just can't get it off!

  28. Hopefully, this comment will come through ;)

    I think you handled the situation perfectly...nothing offensive to Gloria. How odd that she would be so persistent in doing the yard work and sitting on your property! Although after seeing your pictures, I can understand her reluctance to leave such a tranquil setting. We often times question our outward actions from those that we perceive we should be doing. I think it is an evolving role that changes with each situation.

  29. I think it's the people who assume the "instant familiarity" that makes our radar deem them suspicious? I would have had to question her motives as well, and wonder why she was not "getting" my subtle hints that we needed to spend some time alone together and get work done. It would have made me uncomfortable too Bonnie. And, it would have made me wonder what she was up to? I am sure she was harmless, but you have to wonder anymore about the motives of people who just show up and are suddenly your best friend. I think, for the situation, you handled it perfectly.

  30. Alicia:

    Your comment did come thru - thank you! From all the comments and further thinking on this, I agree with you that the value that drives us changes with each situation. In this situation I was definitely driven by wanting to protect my plans for time with my husband at our special spot down by the brooke. Gloria was upsetting those plans.

  31. Hi Bonnie

    You value your privacy, your boundaries, your need to feel safe and your ability to be clear and straightforward without being unkind...and your right to decide who you want to visit, when and for how long...

    I think you did very well. Some people have different concepts of personal space and privacy.

    Happy days

    Happy days

  32. Delwyn:

    So true. I did mention in a response to a comment that Gloria was originally from South America - so that really could have been what was happening - a clash of cultural norms and "different concepts of personal space and privacy". Thanks Delwyn.

  33. Jayne:

    Thanks for your feedback. I really did not sense any dark motives in her. I think she saw a beautiful place to spend an afternoon, is an inherently friendly person, loves to talk, and saw an opportunity. She just needs a lesson in respecting boundaries - and in the case of disturbing my husband at work up the tree, I would have to question her judgment. There was also a sort of sad, desperate need to talk about herself.

    Anyway, after 2 more very brief appearances, she has not come back and she now makes for one of two good stories about benign property invasions.

  34. I have not read any of the comments above, so at the risk of repeating the remarks of others, let me say, that I would have seen the woman very much as an interloper after the first 30 minutes and seen her off sharpish.
    This sort of persistence would frighten me!

    As for your question: of course, I don't always act in the way I say I do or would. Does anybody? I am the kindest, sweetest, most patient, self-sacrificing, etc. etc. person I know, but only when I'm not asked to display any of the above qualities!

  35. Friko:

    You definitely say it "like it is" - but you can't hide how sweet and funny you are too!!

  36. "It is humbling to catch oneself behaving in a way that does not coincide with one's espoused values."

    Oh Bonnie, this is indeed our testing ground as "therapist." As I read your account of the day, I was reminded of the many times, when charting out "my day" running errands, etc, having a set plan, an agenda, a determination to "get things done" I would meet someone, so very much like your Gloria and be taken away from "my plan." And then, upon reflection, would look to God, and know there was indeed a greater plan I was to be responsive to. Blessings to you dear Bonnie. We are ever on the path of self discovery and enlightenment. Praise to you.

  37. As many people have pointed out, personal values are complicated things. They don't always mesh, they have a hierarchy, they aren't always universal but change depending on our mood and circumstances.

    I hope you enjoyed your glass of wine? You earned it.

  38. Rose Marie:

    You are a treasured guest here - always.

  39. Barry:

    Thank you we did! And we giggled the whole time about the funny situation and how we (I) handled (or didn't) it.

  40. This was a great post and most interesting story and situation. I think you not only handled it very well but i would say you were too generous with your hospitality and patience.
    She was a stranger on your property. I suspect that there might be something a little "off" with her and for all you know her pleasant although persisting ways could have turned ugly rather fast.
    No one should come on to your property uninvited, nonetheless set up for an afternoon and so I think you were above and beyond what should be expected of your hospitality.
    There are times when we must be firm and hold the line, put our foot down and say no. It makes you no less of a good and open person.
    I think what is difficult to deal with is that sometimes we need to be firm and hold the line because there are those out there that don't get it it or see it.
    Remember, being open and honest includes telling someone what you really feel and that would have been that after the second refusal for helping around the property you would ask her to leave.
    You were within your rights both as the property owner and a good human being.

  41. Gary:

    What sound reasoning. I wish you had been there whispering in my ear. Perhaps some of my residue angst was that I was bending over backwards to be kind - and I resented doing it - even resented myself for not speaking my mind. You are right on - I was not open, or I would have told her I thought her behavior was inapproprate, and asked her to leave.

    A great summary of what went down. Gary - could you make the final comment that summarizes everything and puts it all in perspective, for all my posts??? Please . . . :)

  42. People like Gloria have no idea of boundaries, nor do they wish to. They live life one day at a time with whatever comes their way. That she offered to help clean up and work with you says to me that she realizes she is taking something that she isn't "allowed" to but if she "pays" in some way then this is all right in her world.

    I think most of us have personal boundary issues which is a form of self protection and preservation.

    I once told a couple that they had to leave my house -- they had arrived for a party when everyone else was leaving, I was tired and my husband and I were going to bed. Did I like doing it? No because I felt I was the one being rude. But from that moment, when I spoke up for what I knew was right for me, it was a turning point. I was learning that I had rights, I could exercise them and not worry about the consequences.

  43. Dear Bonnie,
    Lovely, so many ideas and thoughts to read in the form of these comments...

    We live on land far out in the country - with a gorgeous view - [keywords] and so, it attracts people to drive up in their cars, as the road "appears" to be public, and park, walk dogs, leave dogs, leave garbage behind, light fires, I could go on and on but rarely is it very nice...sometimes, it surprises me they don't leave their kids to play while they go shopping!!!

    at first we tried to be nice, "oh, it's fine, you can stay and finish and then, Please Leave!"

    Finally, it dawned on us that being "nice" was only attracting their friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and more people who simply saw THEM! We now always ask them to leave immediately. Very few exceptions. Thank goodness they don't show up in our yard when we are working or otherwise, as that is a bit unsettling and often leads to drastic measures!

    It was fun to read this with photos taken to show the evidence! *grins*

    blessings to you for freedom from these usurpers!!! Unless you want visitors, of course.


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