I’ve been avoiding writing this story for several months now. That avoidance quickly morphed into not writing at all. A few Facebook posts here and there, but mostly silence. I’ve been busy of course, pursuing a Master’s degree and other things that take up my time, but this thing remains shackled to me. It hovers in my bedroom at night, robbing me of dreams and sleep. It’s the passenger in my always full car, reminding me constantly of my refusal to fully see it, to write it down and make it real.
The truth is that I haven’t wanted to grapple with the implications of this thing that happened and what it says about my life. But the time has come to tell this story. I’m afraid that you will read this story and think that it is about me. But that’s not true either. I am a character in this story, but it is about something else entirely.
I live in an old cotton mill, long since converted into loft apartments. It is a typical ant colony-style complex with hundreds of neighbors who I do not know and far more who I never see. My apartment is high-ceilinged with windows that scale the length of the far wall, letting in unremitting light. I sleep alone in the cavernous back bedroom that shares a wall with the much-trafficked hallway outside.
It is a Sunday night and I am abed by nine and asleep no later than ten in anticipation of the 0400 am alarm that starts off my weekdays. I don’t know if I dream that night, but I do sleep. I sleep until I am startled awake by the screaming. A piercing, unrelenting scream for help that reverberates off of every wall in my apartment. I awake flustered and frantic. My hands shake as a I grab my phone off of the bedside table. The woman is still screaming. Her screams so loud and close it’s as if she is sitting on the edge of my bed.
I am pants-less as I get out of bed. I tip-toe the short distance to the door. I don’t know if my original intent was to only look through the peephole or not, but the screaming hasn’t stopped and I am soon opening the door. The screaming woman is running towards me, hair flying wildly behind her, frenzy and fear covering her face. I cannot see who she is running from, but I open the door wide enough to let her in. “This way,” I tell her.
When she is in the house, I shut the door and lock it. I catch a glimpse of the man she was running from through the peephole. She falls heavily to the floor. The 911 operator informs me that they’ve received five calls from our apartment complex already and that the police are on the way. Her screaming has been replaced with gasping sobs at this point, “He was choking me,” she says, “I couldn’t breathe. He was going to kill me.” The story tumbles out piecemeal in this way: A breakup, she moved on, the ex-boyfriend returned to be the boyfriend again only to find that she had been having fun in his absence, jealousy and anger ensued. The aftermath was the two of us, holed up in my apartment in the narrow space near the front door.
She is taller than me and much younger. I have never seen her before. “Have some water,” I say. “Let’s wipe your face?” “Maybe we should sit on the couch,” I suggest. She doesn’t budge from in front of the door and so I take a seat next to her and watch my cellphone clock, silently willing the police to hurry. She’s disoriented and scared. Maybe a little drunk or just oxygen deprived from being strangled. It’s hard to tell, but she’s out of it. She’s also missing her right shoe, which she notices. “I need to get my shoe,” she says. She remembers her friend who lives downstairs in this moment. “I’m going to get my shoe and go to my friend’s house.”
“I think we should wait for the police,” I say. The peep-hole glimpse of the guy in the hallway on repeat in my head. She has a plan though and for whatever reason is determined to see it through. She stands and we begin a surreal, horror movie struggle for the door lock. “don’t open the door,” I say over and over and over in a whisper. “Don’t open the door.” She opens the door and steps into the hallway and the weight of my body slams the door shut behind her.
The horrible screaming starts all over and I am opening the door once again. She is frozen in the hallway with that mind-numbing scream flowing unceasingly from her mouth. I cannot see the man who is coming towards her, but she can, and everything is in slow motion. I grab and she falls -we fall – back into my apartment, shutting the door and locking it behind us. This time we wait for the police in silence.
She’d stopped speaking completely by the time the police arrived, leaving me to tell them her story as best as I could. I don’t think she wanted to press charges. They ended up escorting her to her friend’s house. She left a card of Thanks on my door that evening, but I’ve never seen this girl again in my apartment complex. I’m still not even sure what apartment she lives in.
Much later, when I was recounting this story to SDW, I remembered something that I noticed when opening my door. “All of the other doors were closed,” I told him, “no one else opened their door.” I completely understand, of course, why you wouldn’t want to open your door when someone is being murdered at three in the morning. But what I couldn’t explain to him at the moment, the thing that’s kept me from writing for so long, is why I had opened the door.
You might be reading this and thinking that I opened the door that night because I am a superwoman who fears nothing. But that’s far from the truth -I was plenty scared that night. And I have been plenty scared since. I want to be safe and secure in my home like everyone else.
But, here’s the truth as best as I know it: I opened the door because you cannot do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God behind a locked door. I opened the door because I’ve realized that loving your neighbor is a costly business that cannot be done from the safety and comfort of your living room. I opened the door because God has shown me what radical love and radical justice look like. I opened the door because thoughts and prayers weren’t enough at the moment, because typing “praying for you” under her photo on FB would not have been enough. I opened the door that night because these words resonate with me:
Sympathy is not solidarity. Crying “shame” is not solidarity. Complaining behind the safety of four walls and a locked door is not solidarity.
-From “Radical Reconciliation” by Allan Aubrey Boesak & Paul DeYoung
I opened the door that night because I finally understood that the Good Samaritan was more than just a Bible story that we tell children so that they are nice to others. I opened the door because looking the other way is no longer an option. I opened the door because my beliefs are what I do in the moment, not what I say I will do, or what I tell you that I do. I opened the door because the Gospel –the Good News– is for those who are oppressed and at the margins.
Six years ago I started to write about caterpillars and chrysalises and the whole process of becoming a butterfly. I was in diapause, a dormant period of extended development, for an awfully long time. And while I am far from being a butterfly, I will say that I am not the woman I was at the start of this journey. Praxis, or belief in action, has been the rallying cry of my life this year. And though I do not know what living in this way will result in or where it will lead, I’ve counted the cost, and I’ll continue to walk the path that God has called me to.
I don’t know what your calling is and I have no idea what discipleship will require of your life, but I know that it will cost you something- be it time, or money, or resources — maybe even your life. For wherever you are on the journey, this is for you:
May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, hunger, and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done, to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.
-Franciscan Benediction, found here