Heart and head; heart and head. My heart said, “Help him” and my head said, “Are you CRAZY? Who is this guy??” There did not seem to be any way to resolve the dilemma of this stranger at my door. He wanted a place to shelter for the night; I wanted him to be anywhere else but on my doorstep.
When Bill Parker arrived, he conjured up a lot of conflicting emotion; emotions I could not resolve. Finally, in exasperation, I told him to wait until I consulted with my husband. As it turned out, he had already asked my better half if he could stay the night, and had been told that he would have to get clearance from me. This was beginning to feel like a game of “pass-the buck” ping-pong.
Regardless, I tromped down to the barn, conferred with my husband and in the end, we let him stay for the night. Smuk (my hubbie’s nickname) felt that this stranger was harmless. Granted, Bill’s mannerisms and conversation were odd, but Smuk did not think these were reason enough to deny the poor fellow shelter. So, despite the warnings in my head, we gave him dinner and set him up in the garage. To be honest, if it were solely my decision, I would not have let Bill stay. Ultimately, the anxiety I felt would have outweighed any charitable inclinations I might have had, and I would have turfed the guy out into the sweltering heat and rain. So much for “innocent before proven guilty.”
Bill was gone in the morning before we got up. With a fair degree of relief, I surveyed the empty garage and was grateful that everything had turned out just as my husband had predicted. Bill was just a man, down on his luck, who needed a place to rest and a bit of food to eat. He was definitely an odd character, but that should not have been enough to condemn him to my suspicion. If he had been a pleasant, well-mannered young man who reminded me of my son, I admit I would have been much more welcoming. Instead, Bill came across as someone more reminiscent of a homeless person than an adventurous, cross-Canada biker; a person, who by virtue of his crippled conversation, engendered fear and with that, a reluctance to help.
So, this whole episode raises questions in my mind. Is charity reserved for those I deem “acceptable”? When destitution and need arrive unexpectedly at my doorstep should they be sent away because they are nervous about asking for help, or speak with a jitteriness that reflects their anxiety? If I am only going to help people who are nice-looking and well-spoken, then monsters like Paul Bernardo will be the recipients of my charity and the Bill Parkers of the world will only get a door slammed in their faces. Concern for personal safety unquestionably trumps charitable action but when that fear is built on false assumptions based on appearance or speech, it needs to be re-examined.
Fear can strangle the heart out of any act of kindness; unwarranted suspicion can erode the generosity that should be extended to those who need it most. Will I react differently the next time a stranger like Bill Parker arrives at my door? I don’t know. All I do know is his appearance raised my awareness about the dual damnation of unconscious perception and unfair condemnation. Can I overcome these effects? Maybe – stranger things have happened.