Mr. Meany
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“Mr. Meany,” Ensign, Mar. 1991, 21–22

“Mr. Meany”

A few years ago, my wife, children, and I moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where we purchased a home in a quiet suburban neighborhood. Living in an area where there were few Latter-day Saint members, we were anxious to be good neighbors and to set an example of what the Church means in our lives.

As spring approached, I saw my retired neighbor working in his yard. I went over to introduce myself, with my hand extended and a smile on my face. Unfortunately, I soon realized that my neighbor cared little about making my acquaintance. His gruff opening remarks informed me of where my property line was, of his dislike for young children (we had four), and of his and his wife’s desire to be left alone.

We soon discovered, by talking with other neighbors, that almost everyone with children in the neighborhood had had, at one time or another, an unpleasant experience with Mr. Reilly—or “Mr. Meany” as our children, and later I, came to call him.

Soon it was summer, and our relationship with Mr. Meany deteriorated to the point that the children were afraid to play outside for fear of Mr. Meany yelling at them. Our family felt like prisoners, afraid that anything we did might upset Mr. Meany.

By midsummer, my patience was wearing thin. For the first time in my life, I exchanged harsh words with a neighbor. I came into the house fuming. The following day, I contacted an attorney to see what could be done to let my neighbor know I would no longer tolerate his actions toward our children. I was also thinking about building a tall fence between our properties in an effort to isolate him from our family.

As we sat around the dinner table that night, I mulled over my conversation with the attorney. Still caught up with feelings of hostility, I was anxious to take the attorney’s advice. But my wife, Ellen, who had been silent so far on the matter, responded in her tranquil and even-tempered way, “Why don’t we try getting to know him better and go out of our way to be more friendly?”

I immediately felt guilty for the bad feelings I had. In the presence of the children, I acknowledged my error and agreed that we should extend greater love.

For the rest of the summer, we quit calling our neighbor by his nickname and made every effort to wave and say hello to Mr. Reilly whenever we saw him or his wife in their yard. We forbade the children to play on the side of the yard next to his house or to play too loudly.

For the first few months, Mr. Reilly refused to respond to our efforts, but by late fall we saw a change. One day I was shocked as I watched him nearly drive off the road as he tried to respond to my friendly wave.

Although I had not spoken to Mr. Reilly except to say hello, I was humbled during the next few months as I came home from work and found the snow on our sidewalks continually shoveled. Ellen had taken freshly baked bread to him on occasion and had developed a friendly relationship with Mrs. Reilly.

Come spring, I was in the middle of a project—building a swing set in the back yard for the children—when my neighbor called to me from his yard. To my surprise, his voice was no longer gruff. He asked if he could come over and help. Not being handy with tools, I welcomed his assistance. We spent the next several Saturdays side by side pouring cement, sawing lumber, and drilling holes. I was impressed at how concerned he was for the safety of the children. And his pride was apparent when we finished the project. This was only the first of many projects with which he volunteered to help me.

Over the months, as we spent more time together, I developed feelings of love and respect toward Mr. Reilly. I grew to admire him in many ways. Often, when I am with Mr. Reilly, I have thought about what I would have missed had I not heeded the advice of my wife and made the effort to get to know my neighbor better. I am thankful to Heavenly Father that this simple miracle taught our family the importance of loving our neighbors as ourselves.

  • Kevin Burnett is bishop of the North Olmsted Ward, Cleveland Ohio Stake.