In the Shelter of One Another (Part 1)

“It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”
— Irish proverb








If we don’t shelter one another, we are lost.  If we don’t shelter one another none of us has a home; none of us has heart, has peace, has rest.  If we don’t shelter one another, we are alone, alienated, adrift.

Believing this to be true, struggling to understand community and what it meant to care for one another, I wrote the prose poem below some years ago, wrote it in the voice of a woman who had the experience described:

 My apartment has a view of the city skyline

 A street lady keeps coming to visit me.  She’s looking for her son, leaves me notes.  I called the police.  They said to call if she comes again.  She hasn’t come again, but when she does come, she tries to get in.  

Of course, she can’t get in. 

She only rattles the door.

Would you have responded differently to the woman’s visitor?  What would you have said or done?

Tomorrow, in the spirit of these questions, I’ll bring you a guest post, written by my dear friend and fellow writer, Mindy Shannon Phelps.  Mindy’s post will further address this issue of “sheltering”–offering another voice of witness.

Hope you will come back tomorrow and listen to Mindy.  Let’s help her feel welcome!

30 thoughts on “In the Shelter of One Another (Part 1)

  1. Very thought-provoking poem. Why is it we find it so hard to shelter one another? It does seem to require a lot of thought and debate for so many of us.

    Looking forward to Mindy’s post!


  2. That poem is beautiful and disturbing. As much as I say I love people, and I have always done some kind of volunteer work, the thought of welcoming a street person into my home brings up a lot of anxiety for me. I hate that it’s there, but it is.


    • I understand, Renee. I completely understand. The incident described in the poem really happened to someone I knew. But the poem is a perfect introduction to Mindy’s post tomorrow.

      By the way–thank you so much for your post today about memoir! I needed it!


  3. Oh, this is fascinating! I don’t know how I would have reacted if a woman kept coming by to rattle my doorknob…I know I would have felt pity (maybe she was doing it because she suffered from a form of dementia) and I’m sure I would have felt fearful (is she going to harm me if I confront her?). I might have called the police, too, after all. I wish we could feel more confident about sheltering one another–it’s a beautiful thought and message. But there’s an intrinsic fear associated with it, a sense of danger in letting a stranger in or at least offering a helping hand.

    I’m also looking forward to reading Mindy’s take on this issue.


    • I understand. It’s hard to say what I would have done either. I like Mindy’s narrative negotiation of the issue, as “story” sometimes seems the most appropriate avenue into issues like this. The story of Mindy’s expereince, I think, will move you.


  4. Can’t wait to read Mindy’s post! This issue is a tough one. I believe we mostly want to be that welcoming person, ready and willing to provide shelter to any and everyone who needs it. But I have been disappointed in myself before, at my inability to think outside myself and provide support for the stranger outside the door so to speak. In an ideal world I would have let her in, helped calm her. In reality, I would’ve been concerned for my well-being and comfort.


  5. So many of our homeless have mental illnesses that need proper, around the clock care. These facilities don’t exist in our medical structure today. The homeless keep rattling the doors, but no one answers. When will our society provide a home for these people who fall through the cracks?


    • OMG, Deanna. You have hit the nail on the head! Mental healthcare in the US is pathetic. I don’t know what the answer is. In some ways the old system of institutionalizing was better, inasfar as it, as least, ackowledged and tried to do something about the problem. This is a huge issue and one I will come back to. Thanks for raising it, Deanna!


  6. Great topic! It reminds me of a TV show called, What Would You Do? It’s a kind of Candid Camera situation where actors stage a scene in a real setting and see how other people respond. No one is in on it but the actors. For example: a man is verbally abusing his “wife” becoming louder and more obnoxious with each passing moment. It’s interesting to see if any of the people nearby offer to step in. There are so many layers to these kinds of scenarios.

    BTW – I came across this Red Cross update from Haiti and of course thought of you.


    • Thanks for this great comment. I think I may have seen that show once. It sounds so familiar. But thanks for the Red Cross link. I will check it out– I will also pass it along to Sara, though she may have already seen it, who knows. Thanks for thinking about me!


  7. Saint John, New Brunswick where I live has a high poverty rate, and our bookstore is in a neighbourhood frequented by street people. Most of them are harmless and friendly. However, there was a schizophrenic man who “lost it” a couple of years ago and grabbed a random old man off the sidewalk, bounced him off a wall and landed him in the hospital. I am always cautious around people I know to have severe mental illness…there are a lot of people walking around who should be receiving inpatient care in secure facilities!



    • Yes, you are right that most of the mentally ill are indeed harmless, in fact, likely more passive and less violent than the general population. I think violence undertaken by the mentally ill often becomes sensationalized. And we DO have a huge failure in North America in terms of in-patient treatment for the mentally ill. So true! So few beds available these days. So few funds to fincance more. It’s sad!


  8. I don’t think any of us really knows what we’d do…until we are faced with a choice.

    then, upbringing and stereotypes and beliefs come in to play…

    I will be on the lookout for Mindy’s post.


  9. It’s a tough call and I don’t know how I would respond – I am sure I would be fearful and wish I felt differently. I guess we don’t know until it happens.
    I love the Bible verse about “entertaining angels unawares”, but I’m not sure that’s what would be in my mind while I’m listening to my door rattling. Eish.
    Sunshine xx


    • Exactly, Sunshine, and I think that Mindy’s post tomorrow may make us think even more about “entertaining angels unawares.” And, at the same time, it’s frightening to have someone rattling your door. Very frightening.


  10. I think you did the right thing, Kathy. You live in a desperate country, and you never know what kind of behavior desperation will bring.

    I feel for the woman, though. I hope she somehow gets the help she needs.


    • Yes, I think we do need to be careful and indeed things are desperate. I don’t have the answers either. I only hope that in continuing to ask the questions we will begin to get closer to solutions, or at least options.


  11. I am humbled that Kathy invited me to write on her blog site. She is the lovliest writer and has such a true heart. I have always had trouble with homelessness, in that I don’t understand how people get there. Extreme mental illness, extreme poverty. Losing your way entirely. Just giving up! These issues require compassion that I’ve been unwilling to embrace, many times in my adult life. Why? Fear. Yes. Fear of loving, solving, being one tiny bit of light for another person in extreme need. Guilty.


  12. I feel sad for the woman. I think I would want to help her in some way but would feel frightened about not knowing how to help. I’d be afraid that a situation would develop that I could not control. Fear is the great robber of experience….an experience that could turn out to be the most loving experience one has ever had.
    Maybe it is helpful to embrace in ones heart the victims of homelessness with love and compassion.
    Thank you for sharing this, Kathy.


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