Karen lives in a church based intentional community – almost a dozen unrelated people who have chosen to pool their resources and share a large crumbling mansion in the suburbs. One night this happened.
Shadows pool so deeply at the bottom of the stairway that it would have been easy to miss the woman standing in them, even with her big silent dog and her lack of pants. “What are you doing here?” seems the natural question, and formal address seems silly given that this is not her living room and she’s never been here before.
She begins mumbling things. Was that, “Car broke down?” “Rape?” Her words are as murky as the light around her. A change of interview space is desperately needed.
The back porch feels safer, with debris from the garden lying all around. Surely nothing bad can happen in a space crammed with potting soil and random loose flower petals. The lack of pants is still pretty distracting, though.
She wants a place to stay. She saw the church sign outside and just assumed….Ah, now it makes sense. Of course. Babies left on doorsteps and all that. But this is not that sort of place. Not a home for wayward anythings or abandoned anybodys. Still. A call to the police seems in order, and not for any cruel reason, but simply to restore some order to the world, both hers and mine. The police seem just the people to do it.
They arrive in their shiny blue and white car and are reassuringly friendly and unruffled, jovial even, laughing and almost flirting with the woman, now half clothed in a striped blanket from the downstairs. Perhaps she will be driven immediately to a clean, warm, well lighted place and get three squares and a pallet of straw.
But it is not to be. The police take her vital information, call it in, confer. Then they drive away. She is left standing in the bright street light, in a blanket that doesn’t even match her blouse, waiting for morning. Only the dog, munching on a leftover hot dog from the fridge, seems satisfied with the outcome.
A church leaflet. That’s the ticket. Pressed into her hand, it silently proclaims a commitment on the part of Jesus Christ and all his followers to welcome her with open arms—just not at three a.m.
The tea kettle on the stove burner stands ready to boil and bubble in the morning, the toaster likewise waits to do its humble job. The bed has been waiting, soft and warm, for its owners’ return. For the return of the lucky one. The lucky one who can return, the one who doesn’t have to figure out where to go now, the one who has a place in this house and thus in this world—the one who belongs.
Sleep is not as deep and peaceful before the arrival of this person who went bump in the night. A quick inspection of the property in the morning reveals no missing or damaged objects. A check of the lock is equally reassuring. Stern instructions are issued to all occupants to keep the perimeter secure in the future. A call to the police elicits the sad information that the shelters are full, the jails likewise, the mental hospitals overflowing, and there is no place for someone, however desperate and possibly deranged, who doesn’t pose an immediate threat to life and limb. Never mind that the threat seems to be to peace of mind, to way of life, and to the feeling of virtuosity required to continue trumpeting hospitality to “the least of these” as a core value. But safety is a core value too. Especially with three young children sleeping downstairs. They don’t even know yet that it’s possible to so lose one’s way that any random doorway can seem like home.
Karen Fallen-Rhodes is a mental health therapist who believes that much of mental illness is, at its core, simply loneliness. Hence her ardent belief in community, which she backs up with her lifestyle. A former newspaper reporter, she is happy to still be writing in what is fast becoming a “post newspaper” age.