Hospitality to Strangers

The porch kitty who has chosen to guard us is teaching me a great deal about what service can and arguably should look like.  Whether she is doing it or another stray critter, our garbage cans are often tipped over and the bags ripped open.  This weekend was particularly egregious.  A heavy rain came before I had the energy and willpower to don rubber gloves and get to work.  Today, I did make it outside and I sweated profusely in the humidity, picking up the remnants of a week’s worth of refuse, soggy from yesterday’s deluge.  She watched me from the shade of the porch, indifferent to the plight she may or may not have caused.  I could be angry with her and stop feeding her in the hopes she’ll take her foraging to another house and another yard.  Some would advise that this action is the most practical solution and that I should expect to have more debris scattering my driveway if I continue to welcome the being creating that chaos.  Still another person might offer that I need sturdier bags and better can lids.  Neither suggestion is necessarily wrong, but both miss the larger point of service.  Service is inherently impractical, because when done in the right mindset, there is typically no quantifiable value to it within our society at large.  Sometimes, no matter how prepared you are, the work of service is messy and often, service is hard labor.  When you offer physical service, your body aches, your clothes get dirty, and exhaustion follows.  Emotional service leaves you with less in your cup than you started with, and again exhaustion follows.  Both are a sacrifice of time.  Financial service may or may not cause exhaustion, but it creates work for the giver that many don’t clock in for.  When you offer to help someone financially, that money is a gift and not yours anymore to decide what is done with it.  It’s hard not to judge someone when they use money you’ve given them in a way that isn’t how you feel they should be spending it and there is effort in controlling those thoughts.  Service should not involve leverage.  It should not remove dignity, nor should it remove the right to agency and personal autonomy.  This morning, hours before my trash hunt, I attempted to move beyond a nose touch with P.K. and her reaction was swift.  With a hiss and a glare, she ran to the other side of the porch and waited.  I learned more in that one moment about service than years of Sunday school as a child.  By trying to pet her, I ceased showing her kindness by making access to food conditional.  I treated her like she belonged to me.  I assumed consent and made a choice for her about her body.  What things have I done in my life in the name of service that have left a person wanting to hiss at and run from me?  When have I taken care of someone else with unspoken contingencies at play?  How have I overlooked the loss of choice and the feelings of desperation related to having no options but to suffer through the pity and condescension of others for access to basic life necessities?  Where is the world that allows us to rightfully retaliate when we are degraded as P.K. was this morning?  Her indifference was warranted, and the knowledge of how very real her experience is for many people is overwhelming.  I know that she will talk to me again in just a little bit, expressing gratitude for dinner and displeasure for my tardiness.  She will be the delicate silhouette in my window and maybe, I hope, I will be honored with more moments to show hospitality to this feline stranger who may very well be an angel in disguise.


3 thoughts on “Hospitality to Strangers

  1. Terrific insights and really great question!!! Too often we assume we already know what other people wants, without putting ourselves in their place or, better yet, directly asking then. As a result, our charity is wasted or even counterproductive.


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