A few weeks ago I received an interesting message via the Couchsurfing website. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Couchsurfing, the concept is simple. People around the globe volunteer a spare bed or couch in their homes to those who are traveling. There is a process of verification and a place for references both for those hosting and those traveling. I first heard of the site through my friend Mark, who spent a month a few years back traveling through Turkey through the kindness of strangers.
The message I recently received, however, was not from a person seeking a couch to sleep on, but rather someone looking for a panda rescue. It seems that she had recently stopped for the night at a motel in my town and forgot to pack her stuffed panda. After having tried unsuccessfully to convince the management of the motel to mail her the panda, she turned to Couchsurfing for help. This past week I was able to get the panda and will be mailing it tomorrow.
The interesting thing that I have found in relating this story is how many of my friends have said things along the lines of suggesting I check to make sure there are no illegal drugs inside the panda, and other statements of mistrust when it comes to a stranger seeking help. In fact, this is a very common sentiment when I explain the whole idea of Couchsurfing to others. While there are obvious risks involved both in hosting a complete stranger, or in seeking hospitality from one, I feel that for the most part the fear is unwarranted and keeps people at a distance from one another.
As a seminarian I was fascinated by the Catholic Worker movement and its founders Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. They lived the gospel through welcoming strangers. My first two years of seminary were spent with the Benedictine monks at Conception Abbey. The Rule of St. Benedict instructs monks to welcome all strangers as Christ. As a result of both the Catholic Worker and the Benedictines I chose to make it my prayer at my own ordination to be open to those God sends my way. My holy card from that day quotes the Letter to the Hebrews’ instruction, Do not forget to welcome strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.
Each day the news highlights all the terrible things happening in our world, the things we are taught to fear. There are also quiet acts of kindness to others that daily go unreported. It gives me hope that kindness and trust are still a part of our world and that they continue to scatter the darkness present in our lives.