compassion

An Open Letter to the Prowler At My Gate

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We were both surprised. Me—driving fast, fifteen minutes late for my yoga class. You– at my gate with your bag over your shoulder, expecting an empty house.

I have to hand it to you though. You were smooth. As I rolled down my window, preparing an icy, “May I help you?” you were ready with an offensive move.

“Excuse me, ma’am” in a voice as smooth as butter, “do you have a light?”

“No,” I spluttered, and drove off.

 

In the time it took to get to the end of the long driveway and drive back home, you were gone. My German shepherd was panting. My mini dachshund was barking frantically, his snout quivering over the side of the canyon, where you’d undoubtedly fled.

 

The sheriff told me you’d been casing the house, noting my schedule. He said crime was way up, mostly due to prisoners being released from the county jail because of over-crowding.

 

You didn’t look like a recently released prisoner, with your tidy dark clothes, your well-tended appearance.  Neither did you seem like a homeless person, not desperate, lost or despairing. In fact, you seemed to have it all together.

 

Which is what made me feel calm later. Surely such an intentional person would henceforth decide to leave my house alone—with its large German shepherd and gate. Surely it is my neighbors in this small canyon neighborhood, the ones without gates or dogs, who have the most to fear from you.

 

What I really want to say though is that our brief encounter brought me a gift. And I didn’t realize it until this morning, almost three weeks later.

 

I’ve been wondering why my heart is broken, why I can’t shake off the news. Why pictures of men, women and children herded up by Isis haunt my thoughts. Why photos of the exploded airplane in the Ukraine and the deadly rockets in Gaza settle like a gray fog in my chest. And this morning I realized why.

 

When you appeared outside my gate, my sense of security cracked. I felt vulnerable.  For the first time, I knew someone had been watching me as a predator observes it prey. You were waiting to take something from me.  And though I am well protected and realistically quite safe, I felt the anxiety of being the focus of another’s targeted desire.

 

And the ordinary people of the Middle East, the Ukraine, the Gaza strip– they are completely caught in the maelstrom of others’ violent desires. Unlike me, they have no defenses. Unlike me, they are not protected. They are not safe.  They are helpless as the ruthless advance their aims.

 

So your unwelcome appearance at my gate cracked me open to a deeper level of awareness, and I thank  you. I trust that you will not return.  I hope my deepened compassion abides.

 


 

 

Boyd, Iron Fence and Gate, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

Posted by admin in Current Events, spirituality, 2 comments

Walking the Streets

Campania,Casecta, Capua, Image274getty

 

I walked through the Tenderloin in San Francisco this week from 10:00 PM until midnight. I saw several drug deals. A variety of sex workers were on the streets. A scuffle erupted beside me. Something to do with an unpaid debt.  Yet I felt completely safe. I was in the company of Lyell, a night minister. I felt like I was walking with a beloved saint.

 

Lyell walks the streets of San Francisco from 10PM until 4AM wearing his clerical collar. He’s been doing this for ten years. He does not proselytize. He does not judge. He does not give away money. He walks, offering only a listening ear and an open heart. If asked, he’ll pray with someone. Mostly he smiles, nods, and banters. Often he gets into a lengthy encounter when someone pours out their troubles.

 

Seven of us from my church were in San Francisco for a week of service projects. We helped serve breakfast and cook lunch at Glide Memorial; we toured a teen homeless shelter and served a spaghetti dinner in Berkeley; we packed boxes at the Food Bank; we priced, sorted, and cleaned furniture at Habitat for Humanity’s Re-Store.  And we walked the streets with two night ministers: Lyell and Megan.  Lyell strolled through the Tenderloin; Megan walked through the Castro.

 

San Francisco Night Ministry was founded in 1964 as an ecumenical response to the tsunami of homeless teens who’d made their way to San Francisco seeking sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll but ended up destitute on the streets. For fifty years, without missing a single night, at least one minister has strolled the streets of San Francisco, offering a compassionate presence during the darkest hours.

 

Lyell started our night’s walk by teaching us the Night Ministry saunter. “We’re not in a hurry. We’re not going anywhere. We’re just walking. Keep your head up. Look people in the eye.  Nod or smile. Many of these people aren’t used to being smiled at.”

 

It was clear that Lyell loved this neighborhood. Loved these neighbors. And the feeling was mutual. We were greeted on every block. “Hi Pastor.” “Hi Father.”  We stopped to talk with three men outside the Iriquois Hotel. Lyell got into deep conversation with an agitated man while we chatted with a man in a wheelchair and another who told us about his mother in Memphis. After about 20 minutes, we said goodbye. Lyell handed the agitated man a pen with the Crisis Line phone number and told him he’d swing back by later.

 

Lyell pointed out beautiful architectural details and historic plaques as we ambled down O’Farrell and around the Civic Center. It was a very quiet night Lyell told us as we ended our stroll around 12:30. We headed to our beds. Lyell headed back out into the streets.


 

 

Image above is Campania, Image 274, courtesy of the Getty Museum.

Posted by admin in Inspiration, religion, 1 comment