Prayer for a Stranger

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

August 27th, 2016 • Travel Dance HealPrint Print

A couple of months before I left Seattle, and the reason I left the lovely house and neighborhood where I was living, the neighbor to my east (the one who had done four months of heavy construction tearing up the street in front of my house, to fix his sewage, and refusing to let me know specifics about loud machinery, so I could protect myself) struck again. When I woke up that Shabbat morning, it smelled like a cow farm. I opened my front door and got hit by an overwhelming noxious odor of manure. Why did it always come down to shit with that neighbor?

Despite it being a hot day, I left all the windows shut. It still reeked, though not as bad as when anything was open. Within an hour, I had an intense headache and realized that there must have been toxic chemicals used in fertilizer, most likely by the neighbor to the east. As soon as I was able to get myself together, I left for the day, to get away from the stench and toxins. That evening, I emailed the neighbor – sharing my experience in a polite, matter-of-fact way, asking if perhaps they had used fertilizer and if it might have had toxins in it, and requesting that in the future, if they plan on using such products, to kindly give me a heads-up, so that I could leave in advance.

I received a snarky and overtly hostile email in reply, saying it seems I have lots of health issues, that he’s “so sorry” about that, and that maybe I should move to some remote location, far far away from other people (ie him), where I could have the serenity I need and where I could play my constant loud music and do my constant band practice (we’d been broken up for two months from then, ie, zero band practice) and my constant singing. He further advised me that using fertilizer is totally normal and that therefore it’s intrusive for me to attempt to involve myself in what he’s doing and that he will not under any circumstances notify me about that or any other matter, now or down the line, and that in the future, I should direct all correspondence to my landlady, not to him.

Back when I moved in, I went to all my neighbors and asked if it was ok with them – I actually asked for “permission” from this neighbor to the east – to practice with my band in my garage. Everyone, including this neighbor, was fine with it. I said if they changed their minds, once they heard the music – ha – they should let me know. The neighbor to the west requested that we practice in the early evening, sometime after 5 pm and before 8:30 pm, so that we avoided the napping and sleeping time of her daughter. We subsequently practiced from 6-8 pm, once a week, and avoided Sundays, because that’s when neighbors liked to be in their backyards, barbequing or whatnot.

This neighbor to the east never communicated with me that the band rehearsal or singing or general music I played (none of which were “constant”) were in any way disturbing to him. I doubt they actually were. I think he was miffed that I had asked him to be courteous and communicative with me about the construction issue and that he went off on some major power struggle. It’s a whole big mess of a traumatic story, which I don’t feel like getting into here, and which I wrote a bit about previously. Suffice it to say, I actually had been mindful of my music and singing – checking volume outside my windows, closing my windows, and/or leaving one window open a crack for air, but in the kitchen, when I was practicing in the living room. In other words, I demonstrated care, actually to the point that it irritated me, given that this jackass didn’t give a shit about his impact on my health.

The long and short of it was that being hated on for creating music – for singing from my heart, in particular – adversely impacted me. Ironically, because I actually do care, I became anxious about irritating people when I played music or sang, as if making music was a bad thing.

Fast forward to the magical apartment I scored in Kauai, with the ocean to one side and the mountains to the other, and a grand piano in the middle. I promptly began creating music on the piano, which is one of the manifestations of my soul, and singing in accompaniment. It was glorious and powerfully healing. Meanwhile, I had constant background anxiety about whether I was annoying the neighbor next door, outside the window near the piano.

About a week into my stay at this apartment, I bought a djembe and started drumming on the beach just down the street from me. One day, when I walked toward one of the shady spots on the beach, I saw a young woman sitting right next to where I had planned to drum. I asked if she would mind it if I drummed. “I would love it!” she replied enthusiastically. Before I began drumming, I looked at the ocean and said a prayer that the drum rhythm would be healing to her, in whatever way she needed healing. I then began to drum.

As I continued drumming, I had anxiety about whether I was drumming “too loud,” and I was anxious about singing in addition to drumming, not wanting to annoy this person. I thought about moving to a different part of the beach but decided to stay. The woman was writing in a notebook, and at some point, I asked if she was journaling. She said yes and shared that she initially had been unsure what to write, feeling kind of bored, but that as soon as I started drumming, she felt the rhythm throughout in her spine. Suddenly she felt inspired, and all this stuff came gushing out, into her journal.


“It just takes a pinprick of focus,” she then said, “to open a world of magical possibilities.”

Again, wow. It was like my prayer had come back to me, guiding me. Right around that period, I’d started thinking about focus – namely, that by focusing on healing naturally from cancer, I can make it happen. Her words were affirming to me.

We kept chatting, then asked each other where we lived. Turns out this woman was the very neighbor right outside the window near the piano! I laughed and laughed and laughed with my head thrown back. I told her that I’d been traumatized about playing music, that I had resultant anxiety about irritating other people when I created music, and that I was nervous about annoying the neighbor next door when I played and sang. “And that neighbor is you, who said you’d love to hear me drum!” She laughed heartily too, and we agreed the serendipity was all very magical and healing.

This woman additionally told me that she heard singing from both my side and the other side, because the other neighbor is a singer too, and that she had liked it, that it had a kind of eerie vibe (she said it in a positive way, like “haunting”), because it got carried in the wind – which is very strong from the ocean, where we live – in such a way that she never knew where it was coming from.

I subsequently shared with her the prayer I had said before starting to drum, and she said, “It’s so beautiful that you would say a prayer for a stranger.” Yes, well, that’s how I roll.



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