Terror on the Porch

Kathleen Kjolhaug
Friday, January 25, 2019
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Theology in the Trenches

It happened under my watch. Or did I watch it happen? Either way, it matters not because it went down — rather quickly. Very subtle it was as the one who intruded was coy. Some might say charming and disarming but not everyone would agree with that. I suppose it would depend upon from whose vantage point it was being told.

Rumor had it that there were new neighbors in the neighborhood. Immigrants had moved in from down south and soon brought with them more of their kind. The mom and dad were seen from time to time and every so oft more than the usual amount of squawking was heard — a sure bet that little ones had now arrived as well.

Housing was short so squalors they became taking anything that was up for grabs. They were free loading to the best of my knowledge and made due with handouts. Living off the county I suppose one could say — but as I didn’t have proof, I’d best not murmur. Protective of what they did manage to gather made them seem a bit standoffish. Their house held not a speck of paint — making it look as foreign as they did. Nothing but raw boards boarded up their little hole in the wall.

By all appearances, friendly they were not — but neither were others in the neighborhood. The newcomers were warily eyed for hours on end. Territorial became those who were already established and others, flat out, did not like the looks of those who’d now entered their space. The audacity of someone else moving in didn’t sit well — especially with one in particular.

Tensions were high, but I was unaware. I’d been going about my business when I heard the scuttlebutt. Screaming at the terror that was unfolding was the new neighbor. It looked as though the protective patriarch of the newcomers was doing all of the moving and shaking as he swiped like a mad man screeching at the top of his lungs. Outraged he was at what was going down.

It all seemed as if it were well beyond my control. Just who was terrorizing whom? I suppose it’s in the eye of the beholder, but what was I to do? I perhaps could have protected, but I simply had no idea how to intervene or if the matter concerned me at all — so I did nothing. I stood on the sidelines watering my plants, daily passing by the soon to be victims, and by hindsight, I knew that little house they inhabited was vulnerable. And it was vulnerable because when that cat who was waiting for just the right moment pounced upon the railing — all heck broke loose.

Kitty cat did what all cats do, they chase birds. In fact, this one chased the whole family right on out of the neighborhood and that was that. Never to be seen again was that little family and the traumatized patriarch was letting the cat know that he was not pleased. The cat seemed quite calm as he remained undaunted that he had just completely brought terror to rest in the nest.

My role? As I already mentioned, I did nothing. I had not even asked so much as a question. I didn’t go out of my way to discuss it with my husband to see if that little family would be safe, if they needed food, or for that matter minded being persecuted day after day under the watchful eyes of others. I simply continued on with my comings and goings — and guess what? When that cat terrorized that whole family of birds, my life went on as usual. It did not affect me one little bit. Or did it?

Leviticus 19:34 was thoughtfully written for such a time as this. “You must treat the foreigner living among you as native-born and love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

In the end — I want to say that this was not intended as a political statement in our political climate. The story just came to me as I was recalling what took place this past summer. Yet, when it came out on paper, it did indeed look like it was for our times. Neighborly kindness looks the same worldwide. As one wise woman once told me, “We need to welcome the stranger. If we do not, we ourselves will not be able to go anywhere in this world and be welcomed as one” (Balu Q. OSB). We all need a home. Amen.

( Kathleen Kjolhaug is a religion columnist.)