Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2
When I heard the knock at the door, I just said “come in.” We were expecting visitors, after all. My wife went to the door anyway and I could tell right away that this was someone other than our friends. After living in the neighbourhood for over two years, now, I have been somewhat surprised that we haven’t had more visitors like this young man: cold, wet, drug-induced confusion, looking only to borrow the phone to call his family or friends.
Because our house is set off from the street behind other houses, most people don’t even know there’s a house back here. Also, because of the number of people who live in the houses guarding ours, anyone looking for help would probably ask one of the consistently present people sitting on one of the porches for a cigarette break. Tonight, however, there was no one to be found in the front houses so this man found his way to our door and knocked. He borrowed the phone to call his mom, but did so shivering, so my wife asked me if I had any clothes I could give him. He was hungry so I went and heated up some leftovers in a neighbour’s microwave. I had no problem offering him my shirt and he obligingly accepted.
Our friends finally arrived at 8 for a set meeting but we couldn’t get started until 8:40 when our other visitor finally left to take the Skytrain to a friend’s house in the suburbs. My wife had to orient him toward the station because he was under the assumption that he was much further into downtown than he was. He had apparently woken up in the park soaking wet, all his belongings gone, under the assumption that it was morning rather than evening and that he was in another neighbourhood entirely. He had been clean for two years until the night which brought him to our door.
When we moved into the house, I was actually expecting more evenings like this one. I was even mentally preparing to sleep downstairs on the couch if he needed a place to stay. Or rather, I was wondering if I would be willing to do so. All that to say that I feel there should be a responsibility to be a good neighbour and that means something different for different neighbourhoods.
But what if my neighbourhood clashes, just a little, with the ideals that I aspire to? That is, I believe in helping people in need and I want to live simply and responsibly. I want to think globally and act locally; be a responsible consumer and a good neighbour. I could go on with a lot of other phrases and ideals indicative of my particular cocktail of being—white, middle class, Christian, educated, international, generation-X, etc.—but I’ll instead give an illustration of what I mean.
The very next day, I was walking my son back home from the library and had to veer a little on the sidewalk because a couple was doing something with a large amount of personal belongings. I suspect they were moving or were being evicted or something; it was unclear. Nevertheless, the man saw my son and started rummaging through his things to find something to give him. He eventually found a small 5-ball from a miniature billiards set and, with an incomplete toothy grin, offered it to my three year old son. I tried to tell him that we don’t need the ball and the man seemed to take offense that I wouldn’t accept it. I tried to explain that my son likes to throw things but the man insisted that I… save it for later? When I tried to explain that I was afraid that my son might break a window with it and that he could keep the ball for himself the man brought up his own son in order to identify with me and this led to each of us apologizing to each other for different reasons and me walking home with a rock hard, heavy ball in my jacket pocket.
I should have reacted better. I have had plenty of opportunities to figure out how to accept things on behalf of my children that they don’t need. We have been offered candy on several occasions including one woman who tried to give us a nice, large, unopened box of chocolates. One time a man thought my daughter was so cute that he gave her a $20 bill. When we tried to refuse it his response was that he wasn’t from the neighbourhood so it was clean money. He had just moved to town from Nova Scotia for work and wanted her to have it. My daughter has a cute little purse from a woman who happened to have a cute little purse with her when we randomly passed her on a corner heavily trafficked by prostituted women and addicts.
My kids are very cute. I feel comfortable admitting that. But I have a hard time believing that they would be offered so many things by random people in other neighbourhoods, even in Nova Scotia. I think I understand, in a basic way, why people around here are so eager to give my children candy and why they seem offended when I try to refuse despite the fact that they certainly had heard that children are not normally to accept candy from strangers.
Two weeks ago on a sunny afternoon, I suggested to the kids that we go to McLean Park. I like going to McLean park for a number of reasons, but mainly it’s because there is almost always some kids there that my kids know. When we arrive, they drop their bikes and go play with their friends on the playground or swings and I chat with other parents or even read a book. Because this was a sunny day, I bade them stay nearby while I rubbed them down with sunscreen, knowing that they would run off as soon as I was done with the rubdown. As I was applying the sunscreen a woman approached me dangling a piece of candy from her hand. She said that my kids were so cute (told you) and that she wanted them to have some candy. I’m sure I looked annoyed (I tend to look annoyed even at my most comfortable) and tried to explain that my son can’t have milk chocolate due to an allergy, but the look on her face was one of hurt. She said with her eyes that she could tell she wasn’t good enough to give my children something while she said with her mouth that she understood.
I felt bad but I wasn’t sure how to apologize without exacerbating the issue. I could accept the candy and not give it to my kids, I suppose. But the damage was done. I glanced over to the woman, who was sitting with her husband or boyfriend. Because of the rapid gentrification of the neighbourhood they seemed out of place in McLean park, but a decade ago they would have fit in. I watched my kids play for a little and then I decided I was going to apologize for acting rude and at least treat them with a little dignity. I turned around and they were gone. It was almost as if they had disappeared into thin air.