Someone’s Knockin’ at the Door…

For the past couple of weeks, one of my friends on our neighborhood listserv has been passionately appealing via the listserv for assistance.  A single mother friend of hers finally left an abusive relationship.  With no place to go and no financial safety net, this friend wound up in a shelter home with about 60 other women.  She’s scrambling to complete paperwork for an apartment, a resume for a new job, while trying to re-enroll her three kids in school for the coming year and hopefully secure some sort of usable transportation.


Towards that end, she’s kept people apprised of the situation.  She’s provided updates on what is needed – specific clothing sizes for the woman and her children, assistance with specific vehicular repairs, money towards an apartment deposit, etc.  She’s committed to helping this friend, and is sending out a lot of messages and updates so that people are kept in the loop.  She’s sent out a lot of messages in the last two weeks.


Today, people began complaining about it.


One newer resident of the neighborhood wanted to know why this one person was generating so many messages on one person’s behalf.  Why should the listserve be inundated with so many requests for assistance for one person, when “there are so many people out there in need”?  It wasn’t long before there was a peppering of messages echoing the same sentiment.  Enough was enough, after all.  If people were unable (or unwilling?) to assist, why should they be subjected to so many ongoing messages?


Why, indeed?


Everyone understands intellectually that there are lots of people out there who are worse off.  People hungry.  Homeless.  Living in cars and out of suitcases.  There are enough special interest local news segments to remind people of this.  Yet the local news stations are smart enough to know that if you feature someone in need every single day, you’re going to start getting complaints. 


People know that there is suffering out there, but we apparently have a dangerously low threshold for hearing about it regularly.  And God forbid anyone have the audacity to lobby on behalf of one particular person!  How dare they, when there are so many in need? 


But if nobody lobbies passionately for someone, how many people are going to receive assistance?  Isn’t the joke about the squeaky wheel getting the grease?  While we all know there is suffering out there, how often do we do anything tangible about it?


Because this one woman refused to give up, and kept on asking for help for her friend, I donated.  Others donated as well.  People who probably never would have helped out otherwise assisted.  People who weren’t doing anything for all the people in need ‘out there’ actually did something tangible for this one person.  It bothers me that despite this, instead of reveling in the excitement of making a huge difference in someone’s life, people are insulated and callous enough to not want to hear about it any more. 


A story is told about a man long ago who goes to his neighbor’s home late at night, after everyone is already asleep, and bangs on the door to borrow some bread for a late night guest arrival.  The man in bed with his family doesn’t want to get up.  He tells that man to knocking outside to go away.  But the man keeps knocking.  He keeps knocking even though it’s annoying and the man inside doesn’t want to get up.


Eventually, despite the annoyance and irritation, the man gets out of bed and gives his neighbor the bread he needs. 


The man who loans the bread can get back into bed pretty easily.  He’s lost nothing more than a little sleep and a loaf or two of bread.  He’s gained the appreciation and good will of his neighbor and his neighbor’s guest.  The neighbor has learned that he has a friend as well as a neighbor, and I don’t doubt their relationship was stronger for this test rather than weaker.  And the guest…well, the guest gets to eat.  Everyone wins.  Nobody is out much.  And what a difference it makes to that guest.


I suspect strongly that we need more people who bang on our doors on behalf of someone else, and who won’t go away just because it’s annoying and it’s late and we’d prefer not to be bothered.  We need to be bothered.

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