Monday, February 27, 2006

Tending the Flock

I'm not the type to be rude to folks just because they knock on my door. It doesn't matter what they're selling... Vacuum cleaners, magazines, religion... it's all the same to me. It's a tough job, and I'm just glad I don't have to do it. I don't typically get many uninvited visitors, and most door-knockers have the sense not to ply their trade in the middle of February in the Midwest; it's just too cold. This year, however, the weather's been unusually warm through the central United States.

Today we hit 70 degrees. I was in the kitchen, dancing around with dish suds up to my elbows, singing at the top of my lungs to the Avenue Q soundtrack, when some one rapped on my door. On the porch was a mocha-skinned man in a knit vest the color of egg yolk and navy blue pants that broke above his ankles.

"Excuse me, ma'am, and please pardon the intrusion, but I'm Mr. Social Studies Teacher at Church of the Holy Somethin-or-Other parochial school two towns over. I was wondering if I couldn't take a moment of your time?" It was about this time I realized that the song pouring through the cocked screen door was "Every One's a Little Bit Racist", which is, of course, backed by hokey Sesame-street-esque music.

"We have a few students this semester that are having difficulty paying their tuition. We've never turned students away before, and although the school is prepared to operate at a loss, we're looking for support from our local community."

Now, I just happen to be blessed with the knowledge that this private school takes on "problem" youth and helps them get their lives turned around. It also received a write-up in the local paper a few years back (amazing what the mind will regurgitate) for being a Christian school with an outstandingly strong curriculum. I'd like to do my part to contribute, and I say so. "If you'll hold on for just a moment, I'll be right back."

I scrawl out a check for what I can spare and deliver it back to the porch. The man, awkward and appreciative, accepts the check with a heart-felt, "Thank you!" He walks down the steps in time with the music from "The Internet is for Porn", which is pouring through my open living room windows.

Halfway through his decent, he stops and turns, looking up at me. "Are you a counselor?" the man asks. "A teacher?"


"Mind if I ask about your interest in the school?" It's pretty obvious I'm not the church-going type.

"Education is important to me. Beyond that, I'm a student. I know how hard it can be to get together enough money for tuition. Everybody needs a little help now and then."

I'm reasonably sure that at some point during our interaction, the man noticed the lyrics to the songs in the background. I'm also reasonably certain he was surprised to find support in "a wretch like me". Sometimes, I guess, it's okay to let a stranger watch over the flock. Sometimes it's okay to shake the hand of a neighbor we don't necessarily like or understand. I don't know if he only accepted the money because the school is desperate. I don't know if, given a different set of circumstances, he would have judged me for the lifestyle I lead. I'd like to think he's the type of man who follows the word of the book to the letter when it says, "Love thy neighbor..."

Compassion is a beautiful thing.


Mal Has No Life said...

Wow, I can totally see you doing this. I hope it wasn't too much money, considering he might not have been who he said he was, but I guess that's just my paranoia talking. You're a nice person. I'm not worthy.

Mouth said...

I'm not so much worried about him not being who he said he was. I can't spare much, on my income, but the fact that he was in this neighborhood, carrying around a stack of celophaned books about the Rapture kinda clued me in that he was legit.

Anonymous said...

I can't help but be reminded of the quote at the top of this blog.

Yes, it's good that you knew about the school and knew that it was a good cause. But you're also kind to your stalker when he shows up at the door unannounced.

There are some people for whom compassion must be 'earned'; if the recipient isn't deemed worthy, all bets are off. At the risk of turning this comment thread into a 'let's all flatter the hell out of porce' festival, you're better than that.

Compassion is never so profound as when it's given to someone in spite of himself, and never so moving as when the recipient realizes the same thing.


Mouth said...

L says time and circumstance will beat that out of me... what I call "compassion" he calls "naivity".

I hope I never get to the point where I can't smile warmly at a stranger, and mean it.

Anonymous said...

I can't say I'm surprised L would say that. He's a good guy, but experience teaches some people that there is very little difference between 'showing compassion to someone who doesn't deserve it' and 'being taken advantage of'.

Granted, I consider myself a whacko lefty flake, and even I recognize that there are some circumstances where showing compassion and being taken advantage of can end up being the same thing. But the folks who tend to consider every act of compassion as a chance to be taken advantage of tend to be, for better or worse, people who have things in their lives that they feel they can't afford to be without. Fear of loss drives them inside themselves, and it's a rare person who can coax them back out again.

It's possible that L is right, and that time and life experience will make you less compassionate as you get older. I happen to think that just being aware of the possibility makes it less likely.

Whacko lefty quote of the day: "If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it's yours. If it doesn't, it never was."

(I'm sure L could provide a different and funnier version of this quote. *grin*)


Mouth said...

"Whacko lefty flake"... yeah, that about sums it up, doesn't it?

Good thing I like you anyway.


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