Hi everyone. I'm feeling very much in shock right now, and I'd like to bring the problem out in the open so I can heal and hopefully get some advice about how to improve the situation and move on. If some of you think I'm making more out of it than I need to, I'd like to hear that, too.
We moved into our third-floor flat a year and a half ago (third floor in US terms; second floor in Europe). I'm from the US and this is my first experience living in a building with other people, and it's taken some time to adjust to not having my own outdoor space and not being able to do things like laundry or washing the dishes whenever I feel like due to the noise. Specifically, I grew up in the country and living in a city and around so many other people has been an eye-opener, both good and bad. Sometimes I'm shocked that thousands of people in close proximity can even manage to get along, and I find it admirable that humans are good-hearted and compassionate enough that we can adjust our behavior to make life pleasant for everyone.
Now, the specifics:
The people who owned this flat before us left behind several flower pots and hanging window boxes out on the fire escape. I've never been much of a gardener so I ignored these the first year; this spring, I decided to throw out the old dirt and plant some rhododendrons, an azalea, and some strawberries. When I dug up the flower boxes I found this massive collection of huge stones. Some of them were smaller and round, so I took them inside. The others (huge and oddly shaped) I just left on the floor of the fire escape. This is a very large fire escape on my floor of the building, by the way, due to it being a connection with a part of the building that doesn't have access to the regular fire escape route. It wraps around the building very much like a porch. Due to this, we have a corner and a nook that do not block access to the fire escape; this is where I have placed my plants.
Now. The other day I was sweeping up some dirt from planting and one of the rocks rolled right off the edge of the fire escape. I thought my heart was going to stop. I quickly checked that no one had been standing in the garden underneath (no one was), and then nearly died of shock. These are not tiny stones. Had anyone been underneath where that stone landed, they surely would have been killed or at least seriously injured. I don't know how I misses the roundness and size of that stone, because I had examined each one and took inside any that were roundish or small enough to fit under the railing. At any rate, after this incident, I brought all of the stones inside.
The neighbor who lives in the garden flat is understandably pissed, and suspicious now of my little fire escape garden. I don't blame her for this at all. I'm planning to invite her up to examine the set-up and will remove anything that looks unsafe (although I've already removed anything that isn't a flower pot, all of which are extremely heavy and too big to fit through the slats in the grating). Yesterday she told me that I shouldn't have anything at all up there; that my fire escape is not a garden; that she should report me to the fire marshall.
I'm torn up with guilt and shock at having almost killed or seriously injured someone. I don't know how to recover from this. The fact that it wasn't intentional but negligence on my part -- and worse, that I thought I had removed anything that was likely to roll off in the first place -- deeply troubles me. I feel hyper-aware now that freak accidents can happen anytime. One minute you're sitting in our garden, enjoying the beautiful weather and the next second -- BAM -- your happy little life is snuffed out. And the thought of being the cause of this... I don't know how to handle it. I've apologized profusely, I've rectified the situation, I'm going to invite her up to check it out herself, but I don't know how to ever live with the knowledge that I nearly caused such a terrible, terrible thing.
Also, I feel a deep sadness and loss. I was taking so much joy in my newfound love of gardening; I felt like my life had been opened up to something healing and profound and wholesome. I also felt like I was finally creating a way for me to enjoy living in this small flat, by being able to have a little bit of outside space. Now I feel like I can't take pleasure in that anymore, that I should get rid of my plants. Less rationally, I feel betrayed by the universe for turning my beautiful garden into something unpleasant and unwanted. And I feel jealous of those who do have gardens, and like I don't deserve to have one of my own.
This entire incident is stirring up deep-seated feelings of rejection and not belonging. I've been meditating on these emotions, inviting them in and trying to give them names. But they still linger... I need perspective from others, and advice on how to learn from and move past this. I worry it might seem trivial to some, but it's deeply affecting me, and I hope you will take that into account in your replies.
Deep breath. You never ever intended to hurt anyone and you have corrected the situation. The fact that you care so much just shows that you never would have intentionally caused harm.
FYI....I'm guessing the stones were in the bottoms of the pots for drainage and to make them heavy enough to never blow off. I'd put them right back where I found them.
exactly. You will NEVER make that mistake again and you were lucky enough to make it without someone getting hurt. A valuable lesson learned and yes I imagine the rocks were for better drainage and holding the pots down if they were light.
Now as far as the neighbor lady goes. I would ignore her. If she did call the fire marshall and they came to inspect the set up, as long as the plants are not blocking the exit AT ALL, I can't imagine they would care. Now if the pots were blocking anything that would be a different story. I would ignore the woman frankly, if she complained to me I would just ignore her or nod and move on. Then again I'm not so polite to entertain busy bodies.
Dont put anything on the fire escape. If you are feeling nervous and guilty , that is the best route to take. Figure out how to hang your plants somwhere where there is no chance anyone will be walking underneath them. Your neighbor had the right to be upset, but she didnt have the right to be so mean to you about your plants. Honestly, Ive lived in many buildings with fire escapes and we have always used them as gardens. Living in the city is diffucult and learning to get along with people who are close to you is intergal. I think you shouldnt do something just to please this woman, but if you are worried about your new living situation Id play it safe and apologize again, moving your plants to a different location. (maybe out a window?)
Holly and David
Adaline (3/20/10), and Charlie (1/26/12- 4/10/12) and our identical twins Callie and Wendy (01/04/13)
If you've removed the rocks - plenty of other stuff like dirt, plants, plastic pots, probably most clay pots are not likely to injure someone in a fall.
If you are there, you would be able to help someone get cleaned up and/or yell 'watch out' too.
While your downstairs neighbor is upset, this incident isn't really such that you were throwing the stones off the balcony trying to hurt someone and I don't think it does either of you any good to feel accountable to her for your plants and their set-up. IMO you have really done what you can about the situation.
Now as for the drama of your memories - I personally end up doing that to myself over bad incidents as well. I've found that, when I end up dredging myself through a bad incident, that I picture the image exploding. I do it over and over again to help myself stop focusing on those bad feelings. I don't know whether that helps or would work for you, but finding something consistent to do when you're being too thoughtful of this incident would probably help you avoid so many other, irrational feelings over it (which you're kinda recognizing).
Thank you all for replying. It's so helpful to get these emotions off my chest, especially when I'm overanalyzing and starting to obsess. As my husband pointed out, what I was feeling was probably intensified by my daughter's illness over the weekend (she was throwing up every half hour for about 24 hours and was just miserable) and the fact that because of staying up all night caring for her, I hadn't gotten much sleep. So true, but neither here nor there. The most helpful thing towards resolving my feelings was having a friendly conversation with the neighbor lady. I feel like we're back to being friends again.
Mumkimum, I haven't tried visualizing my thoughts exploding -- it sounds like a good way to internalize the fact that I'm obsessing and that those thoughts aren't helpful/needed. I usually have good results just sitting with the thoughts and the feelings that come out of them. These particular thoughts drudged up a bunch of old stuff that I had forgotten about, so I can work on that next. Funny how these painful incidents become beneficial (and also learning experiences -- I won't be so careless with anything on my fire escape in the future!).
hugs to you! you sound like a really thoughtful and caring person. It can be hard to live near others who are not always so thoughtful or caring. I follow Deepak Chopra on Twitter and he had two thoughts on there today that I will pass to you that might help your thoughts about this. My computer is being awful about cut and paste and ot letting me do it easily so I have to do another reply for each quite
my computer is messing up all my posts. the other quote actually wasn't that relevant- I have been trying to type a response but it keeps erasing it so i will try to make it short- just that wow that must have been scary to have accidentally done something that could have seriously hurt someone. it wasn't your fault. accidents and things happen in life even if we are carefiul, you just hope to be okay. it sounds like it is bringing up a lot of stuff for you. it sucks that it is infrigning on your little peaceul garen garden I mean- if I try to erase or edit that word my entire post will erase. Living in a city environment can be so hard. I actually just moved today from a town apartment to a big lonely country house tho I lived many yrd prior in a country house- and no w I find it kind of isolating. but I also didnt like that I could hear my neighbors and they could hear me. anywa- just offering support. it sounds like your neighbor was mean to you. it really hurst my feelings when people are mean to me. obviously you didn; t mean to do anything dangerous. sometimes these situations of chaos and stirring up sadness are just behicles to the next stage of awareness- the rocky road to sa h I mean the rocky road to a higher place. best wishes to you
you didn't bring the rocks on to the fire escape. they were up there for *years*. the *could have* fallen out of the containers and hit someone below (ie, in a wind storm, etc.)
also, you didn't *almost* kill someone. you got away with it. God/the universe was *extremely good and generous* with you to let this happen at a moment when *no one* was below. how did your neighbor even find out that it happened? my definition of almost killing someone in this instance would be if there was a person below and you just missed them with the rock falling next to them.
i think there are plenty of people who put small plants out on the fire escape. obviously the previous tenant did. did the neighbor below also complain about that tenant?
sounds like you are in desperate need of some quiet, contemplative time in nature. can you rent a garden plot somewhere? do they have community gardens in the UK?
I like the idea of inviting the neighbour up to get her input. Probably she reacted like that because she's scared of something dropping on her head, not because she's crazy grouchy lady. You haven't had a lot of experience living in a high density situation. Let me tell you, there can be real jerks out there. People who don't, really don't, give a crap whether or not their rock falls on someone else. It's all about them. The neighbour doesn't know if you're a reasonable person or an inconsiderate jerk. Out of self-defense, she's putting you in the latter category. Your invitation to her will do a lot of alleviate her concerns. Unless she herself is one of those jerks, but I'm going on the assumption she's not.
I also second the recommendation to put the rocks back in the pots. Drainage and weight :)