Opening the Door of Mercy

Karin Round - Lynnfield, Massachusetts
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, September 10, 2010
Karin Round

Karin Round lives at the end of an interstate off-ramp in suburban Boston, and she often finds wayward travelers on her doorstep asking for assistance. In spite of the potential dangers, Round believes it’s important to open her door and help those in need.

Age Group: 30 - 50
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One afternoon a couple of summers ago, just as the sky was darkening, a woman I didn’t know stood sagging on our threshold, holding the screen door open. I saw the silhouette of her head through the window.

No, she answered me, she was not all right. She didn’t feel well at all. So, I wondered, what was I supposed to do now?

This moment of decision had happened to me before. For almost nineteen years, we’ve lived here at the foot of a highway exit ramp. Our address is blandly suburban, but the highway often leads exhausted cars onto our curb. Lately cell phones have diminished the flow, but we’ve met many people in distress. More diverse than our own community, these travelers have all asked for little things, such as the phone, a glass of water, or simply directions. All have been strangers to me.

Ours is a cynical, suspicious time. Conventional wisdom advises that to act as a good Samaritan is to be naive and risk terrible consequences. The news is full of stories about victims who unwittingly endanger themselves. I’ve no doubt that those are true stories, but the lesson rubs me the wrong way. Sometimes to do the right thing, you must take a risk. Must we fear all of those whom we don’t know? If so, then how do we act or identify ourselves as neighbors or citizens when we won’t greet one another without proper introductions and background checks? Is our own personal safety always the important consideration?

Our location forces me to make difficult choices. This is not some classroom debate for me. The highway makes it impossible to ignore the world and our relationship to it. When someone approaches us for help, I have to decide: Do I help them or not?

I wonder if people realize how final a step, how isolating, how evil it feels to literally shut the door on someone in need. I have done it. Sometimes I have been hostile to people, and although I can justify my actions, those are the moments I most regret.

I believe repeatedly rejecting others who need help endangers me, too. I’d rather risk my physical safety than my peace of mind. I’d rather live my life acting out of mercy than save it by living in fear and hostility.

So here where we live on that afternoon one summer when the woman was sinking like the sun on my front porch, I made my choice.

I opened the door.

Karin Round is office manager for her family’s hardware store in Massachusetts. She has studied nonfiction writing in a postgraduate program at Goucher College. Ms. Round continues to help travelers stranded on her doorstep.