“I don’t have any friends. I don’t need friends,” our neighbor Harvey told me the other day.
“No, I don’t need all that backstabbing,” he said.
What had happened, I wondered, to so thoroughly break his trust in humanity? And yet, he’s right in a way, in that people can be dangerous. It’s kind of dangerous to just be alive, dangerous to be in relationships, dangerous to try to help people.
You don’t know what they are going to do next, and that’s dangerous.
Dangerous, perhaps, to live on Brady Street? Dangerous to plant a community garden in the adjacent empty lot and hope it doesn’t get vandalized? Dangerous to be awakened by a loud noise?
“That was someone knocking on the door!” Marnell said to me at five o’clock this morning, as we both became fully awake. Somehow, we had both been half awake. Perhaps the door bell had already rung and awakened us.
Now, we were catapulted from sleep by a mystery banging noise, close by.
I wasn’t convinced that it had been a knock on the door, because sounds in the street carry well to our upstairs room. Also, it had seemed exceptionally loud for a knock, splitting the quiet morning like dull shots. But we could see nothing in the street that might explain the noise, and we couldn’t see the front door because of the porch roof.
Marnell’s friend Mike had stayed the night, and I thought possibly he had bumped against something. Mike was our first overnight guest and we might not be accustomed to visitor sounds. Marnell eased the door to his room a few inches open.
He was sound asleep.
Then, the doorbell rang, followed by more heavy, frantic knocking.
“Who could it be?” Marnell said.
We stood frozen at the top of the stairs, our brains trying to catch up with the insult to our ears.
It’s dangerous, answering the door on Brady Street when it’s dark and no one has told you they are coming.
Before bed last night, Mike had asked us if he was going to hear gunshots in our neighborhood. Marnell told him that anything could happen, and Mike cheerfully announced that he wouldn’t need TV if he had police action right outside his window.
I wondered if he might get his action.
We listened more closely and could pick out a sing-song like humming from the porch.
This week, we spent several hundred dollars on soil and plants and flowers for our community garden and flower project, and most of it was on the front porch. The vacant lot next door, where the house just went down, is the space planned for the garden.
“Maybe it’s a drunk,” I said.
As excited as I am about the community garden I knew it was a dangerous proposal, a vandalism opportunity waiting to happen, and I had determined to give the garden to God from the start. But I had forgotten to give Him the flowers and plants on the porch. Could they be uprooted, ruined, crushed? I could imagine smashed pots and the stunning leaves of the green and purple coleus hanging in shreds.
As we continued listening to the sound, however, I was pretty sure I recognized the noises. It sounded like our neighbor Jen, who had been known in times past to come at 5am asking for coffee. Now, I could pick out my name. I could also identify that the noise was moaning, not singing.
Marnell confirmed through his angle in the front door glass that it was indeed Jen. Convinced it was her, I went to the door and opened it.
“Katrina, can you call an ambulance, I’m so sick, I’m so sick, I think I have pneumonia! Oh, there’s a spider!”
We both swatted at the spider while I processed.
“I’m so sorry to wake you, but I’m so sick. Can I sit in that chair?”
It was clear from my pajamas and the state of my hair, I’m sure, that she had awakened me. I let her sit on the chair.
“I think it would be faster if I just took you,” I said. “I’ll just drop you off, right?”
“Yes, yes,” she said.
Marnell offered to take her since it was the fourth Saturday and I had to work the weekend, but I assured him it wouldn’t take long. I threw a sweat shirt on and stepped into Marnell’s comfy house slippers,, and took Jen to the ER.
“Make sure you do whatever the nurses tell you to do,” I said as we eased into the circle drive of the ER. “Remember you told me one time you didn’t want to do what they said?”
“I’ll do anything,” she said. “If they tell me I have to stay, I’ll stay.”
Thankfully the ER is maybe two minutes away by car, especially at 5am on Saturday.
“A nice little wake up call for the ER nurses,” I told Marnell when I crawled back in bed. “Things looked pretty quiet around there.”
“They aren’t now,” Marnell said.
A few hours later, I kissed Marnell good-bye. He and Mike had stayed up late so he was still in bed.
At the front door, I was stopped for the second time that morning, this time by a blast of beauty. The berry tree overhanging my car was alive with cedar waxwings, beautiful brown and gray birds with strokes of yellow in their fabulous outfits.
I text Marnell because I thought he might still be awake.
There are more than a dozen cedar waxwings in the berry tree.
I hated to walk across the porch and disturb them, but I did have to go to work. As I advanced toward my car, the waxwings lifted like a cloud of fog. Danger, danger, they chanted as they evaporated into the higher and safer tree a few yards down the street.
All but one.
He stayed, balanced on a twig. He seemed to be eyeing me. He too, knew that humans walking toward you cannot be trusted. Why did he stay, when all his friends were fleeing? Perhaps he recognized me from before, just as Marnell and I had recognized Jen on the other side of the door.
Bad things can happen if we let ourselves trust, like Harvey said. We were right to be cautious about opening the door to mysterious pounding. The cedar waxwings were right to take flight when a human approached. Harvey, apparently, feels he is right to avoid having friends.
The reality is that we cannot know, cannot predict, cannot ever fully prepare for all the possibilities that lie behind the next door.
What would we do without a God who never changes, to whom we can commit our garden, our porch, and the knock on the door? Without God, we would probably all take Harvey’s approach.
But with God, we have a Father we can always turn to. To the cedar waxwing, he is the Father who sees every waxwing fall. To our garden, He is the Father who never sleeps, the “changeless shade”. To those with mysterious knocks on the door, He is the Door, the way in every uncertain scenario.
To Harvey, He wants to be the Father that never changes, that friend that never back stabs.