THE BLOG
12/02/2013 06:45 pm ET Updated Feb 01, 2014

Welcome, Stranger

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.

Last week at the soup kitchen, I saw two people I haven't seen in more than 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.

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?

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