This last weekend violence visited the Catholic Worker where I live. A long-time guest broke into one of our houses and made mayhem of our things.
For the past couple of days I’ve been struggling with trying to make sense of the incident, to give some reason to the unreasonableness of such an act.
The timeline of events doesn’t seem to provide much light.
Our hospitality on Saturday went as it usually does. We opened the doors at the normal time and welcomed around sixty people to join us for supper and fellowship.
After the hustle and bustle of hospitality — cooking food, eating with guests, selling bus passes, distributing gloves and socks — we began to close-up for the night. As we did, one of our guests asked us to write him a late entry pass for the local emergency shelter.
That’s pretty normal. What followed this time wasn’t.
Before we even had the chance to hand the pass to this guest and friend of ours, things blew up. While we were away writing the slip, the guest asked one of our volunteers for some money — a whole fifty cents.
The shelter requires a dollar to get through the door. The guest was probably trying to make sure he wasn’t left, quite literally, in the cold.
The volunteer didn’t know that. His response was an honest letdown: he said he didn’t even have his wallet on him.
That was it. The guest stormed outside the house, picked up one of our metal trash cans and threw it a whole 25 feet into the alley. For the next two hours he paced the street in front of the house, screaming vile obscenities.
After that it calmed down. It seemed he had moved on.
Moments away from bed, I looked out my bedroom window. All of the things on our front porch were scattered on the lawn.
While walking around the house trying to find out what had happened, my community members and I found boxes of meat stacked on the sidewalk.
It wasn’t until we finished the walk that we figured out how or why the meat got there.
Coming around the backside of the house we saw it.
Our guest had thrown one of our potted plants through our back window. It seemed he’d crawled in, and, in what must have been a fit of rage, flung the belongings he could see every which way. And then taken all the meat from our freezer — the meat we prepare for our free meals for those who are hungry — and placed it outside to rot.
That wasn’t all. One of our community member's rooms was also completely torn apart, his things just strewn all over the floor.
Looking closer, I suppose the timeline does shed some light.
As unreasonable as the break-in was, it was also perfectly reasonable. After years of suffering, our guest has learned a pretty effective response to neglect: anger.
It’s like a child who throws a fit to get what she wants. She knows that after a time her parents will respond.
The difference is that our guest does this to get what he needs — an extra helping of food after a particularly cold day, someone to talk to for just a few moments, a place to stay at night.
Yet the violence visited upon our house won’t easily go away. It’s permeating my life, scattered around like the shards of glass left on the floor.
Still, what else can we do but continue? In a world where such need exists, what else can we do but provide what we can?
After all, it's forgiveness that will put the pieces back together again.
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