Monday, May 23, 2011
When Saw Thee Me a Stranger...
or Stranger than Fiction: Don’t be surprised if you see a tepee in my yard.
Things happen to me. Things that don’t happen to other people. Take today for instance. I have a friend staying with me. A down-on-his-luck, recently-released-from-“the joint”*, 6’4”, bald, tattooed, should-have-been-a-standup-comedian-or-ultimate-fighting-champion kind of guy. He’s been no trouble at all. I mean, really, he sleeps probably 15 hours of every 24 in his room in the far end of the basement of my three-level home like a hermit in a remote cabin sort of thing. He comes up for dinner, and once in a while to borrow one or two of our 2,600+ collection of DVDs, and on weekends for NFL games. He’s polite (rushes, I mean RUSHES, to open my door for me), helpful (he does dishes, picks up trash in the yard), clean (never makes a mess and rinses all his own dishes). I mean, it’s a pleasure to have him.
And I feel good about myself.
Like the Savior I am trying to emulate, I am “doing unto the least of these” what the Savior has invited me to do.
Today**, he plans a trip with some old friends he worked with on drill rigs in the past. Camping. They get as far as Perkins***, a small little almost-a-town 12 miles away, and their truck breaks down. Will not go. And, to make matters worse, it’s attached to a large flat-bed trailer that holds a small fridge, camping gear and a tepee. Yep, you heard me right. A tepee. Twenty-foot poles with bright blue canvas painted with yellow stars for Father Sky, white in the middle for the Circle of Life and brown around the bottom for Mother Earth.
The trailer also holds a large pit bull.
That’s fine. After all it IS stuck in Perkins, 12 miles away from my house.
So I go to work, traa la la la lalala, and everything is fine and happy when my phone rings.
It’s my friend. He wants to know if his friends can set up their tepee on my dead-but-hoping-to-be-resuscitated-soon lawn near my trampoline. (Did I mention most of my neighbors are in supervisory positions at the local industrial plant with $350,000 houses, landscaped yards and NO TEPEES!)
My friend says they are waiting for parts for their car. They were going to just camp in the canyon that is within several miles of my house, but can’t stand to be separated from their trailer which has been towed (along with the broken down truck) to my driveway and carries all that is of value to them in this world.
“My friend wants to know if they can set up their tepee to stay in for a day or two until their car parts arrive.” *make your own surprised, empathetic or other appropriate noises here*
Now, I don’t know these people. But I want to be Christ-like. I’ve been stranded with car trouble before. I know how it is. And my friend assures me a “no” will be fine, but that feels mean and un-Christ-like ("who saw me there a stranger and took me in") so I concede as long as they don’t come into my house when I’m not home. After all, it's not necessarily the same kind of service if it's too easy right? I mean good Samaritan and all?
I picture a couple of guys my friend’s age, hanging out in clean jeans and white tee shirts drinking Coke and working on the truck.
I forget about it until it’s time to go home...
...and I drive up my road and see the towering, brightly colored tepee visible for miles around and anchored, securely, in my yard. I get out of the car and three bodies leap from their camp chairs on my porch in a cloud of dust.
For the next few paragraphs, I am claiming immunity from un-Christ-likeness for the sake of literary description. Please read accordingly.
The first thing I see is my friend jumping down the porch stairs to open my door and carry my bags.
The next thing I see is a middle-aged man with stringy, balding, dirty blonde curls, or maybe just dirty. He has two or three visible teeth. Tobacco, grease and other should-have-been-sterilized-weeks-ago stains that create a redneck paisley pattern all over his clothes. He reeks of body odor, motor oil and bad teeth. He wears faded red suspenders. Of course he wears suspenders, and thank God for that!
Friendly enough guy. Immediately thanks me for my generosity. Let's call him, ...oh..Jethro. Jethro immediately starts telling me about why they are here, how he built and erected the tepee, where his dad lives, all the places he’s been and the people he’s met and he does not take a breath or even pause while talking and all the while his girlfriend is waiting to be introduced and his pit bull is DIGGING A HOLE IN MY LAWN!
Is this “Christ-like” or “Crazy”? I am trying to decide that very thing when the girlfriend takes a step towards me.
Joleen. Joleen Jo Lee-ee-eeen (Hear the Dolly Parton song playing in the background?).
Joleen is friendly, a little rough around the edges, but feminine, and oh, say 15 years younger than ole Jethro. Just sayin. She is part freckled, pink-lipped America’s Next Top Model raw material, and part crooked tooth, sitting on a hillbilly porch with a rifle kind of woman. I find myself imagining what she might look like in Relief Society with maybe a toddler on her lap or cashiering at the local WalMart to the accomaniment of MUSAK over the store sound system when she spies her pitbull, Keetch, out of the corner of her eye and in a truckdriver’s gravelly, LOUD voice yells “Keetch, you quit barking at these people or I’m gonna’ come down there and kick the S$%*! right outta you!” Then she turns back to me and smiles.
I’m a little scared of Joleen.
Joleen asks if she can plug her fridge into the outlet on my porch. She offers to make me a deer roast or dutch oven cake.
She, who has so little, will share her store with the likes of me.
That takes me aback for a moment.
Joleen has spent more than one dance in the worn Capri jeans she wears with scuffed pink cowboy boots and a detergent-faded pink sweater. She has pretty blonde hair, freckled tan skin, crooked dirty teeth, a darling figure and the most beautiful sparkling dragonfly earrings I have ever seen.
Now, let me just say that for a long time dragonflies have been a sign for me. On a serious note, they are a sign of the presence of angels between my Savior and I. And they are on her ears. She glows when I compliment her on them.
In my head I’m having this discussion with myself. Okay, angel? Joleen? Now, I can welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, strength the feeble knees. Really I can. But aren’t there limits to what is required? What are my neighbors thinking? It’s one thing to help my friend, to be a good Samaritan to someone I could take to the grocery store and everyone would think he was my wayward brother. It's another to house the socially unacceptable. I mean, what if they attack me in my sleep? Or perform acts of random thievery? Do I really have to take in the loud, greasy, socially embarrassing, redneck strangers that are camping in a tepee on my lawn?
The answer is: Yes.
*SIGH* We are all children of God. This is my brother and this is my sister, and Lord help me, we are fam-i-ly (Thank you, Sister Sledge).
So I bring them into my kitchen and sit them at my table and feed them from my plentiful store. I give them a place to bathe, to avoid the hot sun and the “grip” (my friend says that means a whole lot of something in jail slang…) of flies. I give them a hand of fellowship, a chance to feel at home in a world where they will probably never feel they belong. In return, they, without being asked, clean up the trash in my yard, rake the dead grass and perform acts of service for me simply because they see I have a need.
I take a deep breath. And another.
And I think, “If ye have done it unto the least of these…you have done it unto Me.”
So don’t be surprised if there is a tepee on my lawn. Because things happen to me.
Crazy, beautiful, challenging, inspirational, God-given things.
When they leave, there is a pair of dragonflies earrings left on my kitchen table.
It’s a sign.
** July 2009