It was a miserably hot afternoon and intermittent drizzle teased the parched grass with speckles of rain. The clouds were low; the humidity was high. Movement of any kind resulted in puddles of sweat that oozed listlessly on your skin.
From my kitchen window I saw a scrawny, middle-aged stranger on a heavily laden bicycle standing in my driveway. Numerous bags, sacks and paraphernalia were strapped to the small metal frame, threatening to topple both man and bike. After struggling to set the bike onto its stand, he approached the door.
“My name is Bill Parker. From Edmonton, Alberta. I’m biking across Canada. I was wondering if I could sleep in your garage tonight?” His speech was peculiar – staccato and disjointed, almost as if someone had hit the “play” button” on a tape recorder that wasn’t working properly.
Surprised, curious, annoyed, sympathetic, scared…..I was taken aback and didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to turn the poor guy away but I didn’t know if I could trust a total stranger who just turned up at my door. A tug of war started up in my head. If this had been my son looking for shelter from strangers, I would hope that they would overcome their fears and offer him sanctuary from the weather. On the other hand, this fellow was really nervous and the abrupt head bob punctuating the end of every sentence emphasized his tension – and exaggerated mine. What did he have to be so nervous about?
“Nice place you have here” he noted as his eyes swept the house, the pool, the two-car garage and the barn. “What do you and your husband do?” Alarm bells started ringing in my head and my gut. Was this an awkward attempt at polite conversation, or was he sizing us up?
And so the conversation went; I seesawed between sympathy and skepticism. What could be simple social gestures from this stranger could be interpreted as pleasantries – or a potential assessment of assets. Perhaps this was simply a socially awkward man – or was he a criminal with unlawful intent? Every time I thought I could relent and tell him it was fine for him to stay, he would say or do something that would re-ignite my fear.
How would you have handled a stranger at your door, seeking shelter, and what would you have done? There is no hotel close to us that I could send him to, no hostel, no place of respite for miles. The weather was closing in and the heat was stifling. My gut was telling me to send him on his way; my heart was telling me to give him a place to stay. My head was warning me not to allow his dilemma to become my problem; my spirit was telling me that if someone needs help we should do what we can. I was as surprised at my hesitation to help this man, as I was disappointed in my lack of generosity.
There were two strangers at my door that afternoon – and one of them was me. Who would you be if a stranger knocked on your door?