Welcome, Stranger

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I don’t know you. I don’t know your pain. I don’t know your joy. I don’t know what you struggle with. I don’t know your past. I don’t know your future. I may have sat right next to you, but I don’t know who you are.

The Goddess Athena came to the door in disguise.
Telemachus welcomed her in.

Sometimes I don’t feel generous. Sometimes I feel tired. Sometimes too far extended. Sometimes I’m afraid to welcome you. You may need more than I feel I can give.

The Goddess Athena came to the door in disguise.
Telemachus welcomed her in.

Today at the soup kitchen, I saw two people I haven’t seen in over a decade. One is an old school leftist with a bright smile, a man who struggles with clinical depression. The other is a woman for whom I used to offer hot compresses to soothe the abscesses up and down her arms, drawing the pus and poison from the pinpricks on her body. I looked at her today and thought, “How is she still alive?” How is she alive after years of chronic drug use and living on the streets? The grinding of that day to day would be too much for me. Yet here she was.

The Goddess Athena came to the door in disguise.
Telemachus welcomed her in.

Then came in the well dressed, well spoken man with work steady enough to pay his rent but not feed him until the rest of the month. His shoes were shined, as usual. Then the guy taking classes at City College who was also short on cash. On and on people came, sat, laughed, ate. 125 gallons of fresh soup, and equivalent amounts of salad and bread. Everyone who walks through the gate – guest or volunteer – has a story we don’t know. Everyone gets fed.

The Goddess Athena came to the door in disguise.
Telemachus welcomed her in.

Who is a stranger? What is the unknown? Whom do we choose to welcome? Whom do we choose to spurn?

The Goddess Athena came to the door in disguise.
Telemachus welcomed her in.

We gather with our families. We hold each other close. We sit out in the cold, feeling desperate and alone. We feel sorrow in the midst of others. We are the gay kid who fears to come out. We are the chronic user afraid of judgement. We are the Pagan in the midst of Christians. We are mobility impaired and looking up a flight of stairs. We’ve just lost our job. We’re secret dancers. We are ashamed to tell our friends we can’t go out because we need all our money to pay rent. We have dark skin in a culture that privileges the pale. We go without food so our kid can have shoes. We are in love. Our father just died. Our child was killed. Our partner left us. We have big dreams.

The Goddess Athena came to the door in disguise.
Telemachus welcomed her in.

Today, while scrubbing pots at the soup kitchen, I realized this truth: we are all strangers to one another. Then I realized: we can all welcome one another home.

I welcome you, stranger, Athena, Goddess in disguise. May you find warmth and light, good food, a place to sleep, and someone who will listen. What is the tale you have to share?

39 Responses to “Welcome, Stranger”

  1. Crow

    This is by far the most beautiful thing I’ve read in a while. Thank you, Thorn.

    I’m feeling exceedingly grateful and unusually loving and open as the holidays arrive. I have enough, and enough to share at the moment, even though I am struggling to climb out of a period of necessary inactivity and rest. Looking forward to making up a pan of turkey enchiladas to feed my blood family and a friend who is in rehabilitation, and a drive to Austin to spend a bit of time with family of choice over the weekend.

    Much love to you.

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Thanks, Crow.

      That gratitude is exactly what fueled this post. There is such contrast in the world and we all share in it.

      love back.

      Reply
  2. Duke "Dag" Egbert

    As always, your writing is a breath of fresh air. Thank you for reminding me that it’s all about how I treat everyone I see, meet, and encounter.

    Reply
  3. Trista

    Thank you for your lovely and inspiring work, today, tomorrow, and forever.

    I’m not a bot, honest. But I’d love to encourage you to search for ‘Puscifer green valley video’ so you might hear the song I heard in my head while I read your words. I hope you find it beautiful. The lyrical sentiment isn’t quite perfect, but maybe it will do for a start. :)

    Reply
  4. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    You’ve reminded me of something else, Thorn: Ireland.

    There was a story I heard in my very final academic engagement while I was there, which was a symposium on manuscripts and paleography, of all things. There was a scholar who went around in the 19th century looking for manuscripts in private hands, and the incidental part of the account that absolutely floored me, but was a perfect example of Irish hospitality that is still found in some places, involved him showing up “cold-calling,” as it were, at a place he’d only heard might have manuscripts which was a typical peasant house. He knocked, was welcomed in, put by the fire, given tea and a pipe and some food, and only then was asked who he was, why he was there, and what news (which can equally be translated “stories”) he had.

    Or, as a Van Morrison and The Chieftains song said it: “There’s a stranger / And he’s standin’ by your door / Might be your best friend / Might be your brother, you may never know.”

    People often ask why I’m interested in “old” cultures and what the point of looking into them is; and, it’s this.

    Reply
  5. Panthera

    This post was so so beautiful. I can see it & remember cleaning up after class in the kitchen. Very moving and Thank You. This is the 2nd year away from friends so the “holiday” is just a day off work. So I try to bring the thanks for all I have to the front. Because I really have a lot even if friends are far.

    Reply
  6. Serenity

    Thorn, this is beautiful. I have fed those who were hungry many times, without asking questions. I have put clothes on those who needed them, without asking questions. I have given cash to men and women who were playing an instrument, with the instrument case open, believing that this was going to be used for good, and not drugs. I don’t ask questions, I just love others as I was taught, opening my heart and giving what I have to those that have not. There is a Bible story about the widow’s mite, and one time while attending church with my young children, I put the last of my money in their building fund. The next time I looked at their “thermometer”, I noticed that they had made a special note of the 19 cents I had given them. They didn’t know it was the last of my money, they didn’t care. All they cared about was making a joke of it. I never attended that church again, and took my children elsewhere. You don’t claim love, then make a person a laughingstock.

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Serenity, that church didn’t sound too welcoming. My hope when you said they made careful note of your 19 cents was that they were honoring the contribution. It doesn’t sound like that was the case, though.

      Thanks for sharing your story.

      blessings to you. Many blessings.

      Reply
  7. EmberVoices

    > Sometimes I feel tired. Sometimes too far extended. Sometimes I’m afraid to welcome you. You may need more than I feel I can give.

    And then what do I do? How do I welcome you in when that may mean hurting myself, and by extension, anyone I already promised to help before you arrived?

    Your post is beautiful, and hurts to read, which I’m sure is as it should be. I believe in the ideal of hospitality – especially hospitality as a way of recognizing that we don’t NEED common ground to respect each other. Existence is common ground enough.

    But I don’t know how to be the person who welcomes others in when I’m too exhausted to open the door, and that scares me.

    What do you do?

    -E-

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Ember, Sometimes I find a way to be gracious and kind even while re-enforcing my boundaries. For me, it is about noticing when my *inner* generosity wants to give up.

      I learned this lesson years ago – also at the soup kitchen. Sometimes in order to support the community as a whole, we need to ask someone to leave for the day, or sometimes 30 days.

      If you are hurting yourself in the process, that isn’t right relationship. We need a home in order to share a home. How do I welcome the stranger within myself? How do I then welcome you, to the best of my ability?

      How do I welcome you to the best of my ability?

      Sometimes, when I encounter someone in need on the street, I have the time and energy for a quick conversation, or can offer them some money. Some days, I don’t have the inner or outer resources for that, so what do I do? I offer what I have: a smile, a couple of words. Other times, if they don’t want an encounter, I say a silent blessing as I pass.

      Reply
      • EmberVoices

        > We need a home in order to share a home. How do I welcome the stranger within myself? How do I then welcome you, to the best of my ability?

        Ouch. I clearly have some work to do in this area, since reading those first two sentences made me cry.

        Thank you. Your insight is frequently both challenging and helpful.

        -E-

        Reply
      • Swaling

        Thorn and Ember, thank you for sharing your gifts of opennness and insight. I am familiar with both sides of the kitchen counter, both sides of the door, both questions of how to walk into welcoming and with it. Reminders of this dance-struggle with xenia are so important to me.

        Reply
  8. Kim McDonald

    Tomorrow I will spend the evening with the kids at the shelter, while my family is in NC. The holidays are rough on my kids, we have a new group at the house, all strangers to each other. And we will eat and spend time with each other and find healing and comfort.

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Kim, that is so wonderful that you’ll be there for the shelter kids. May you all find some love, warmth, and comfort. As always, thank you for the work you do.

      Reply
  9. Thealandrah

    Absolutely beautiful piece of heart opening inspiration. Thank you, Thorn.

    Reply
  10. Jody

    Thorn
    I’m reading this again today on Christmas it’s just another day off for me as I’m wiccan but it has touched my heart in so many ways, I have remembered your words as I work retail and deal with homeless outside the store. I have felt this way for many years also but this helped to remind me you never know who you may be talking too.
    Blessing to you.& thanks

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Jody,

      thanks for writing. The small acts of kindness and of recognizing another’s humanity are so important. The more we can do that for one another, the better sort of world we are building.

      thanks for your service.

      Reply

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