And Still They Come to My Door … Uninvited

Carol A. Hand

My yard is fenced and gated, a strange thing for someone of Ojibwe ancestry, I know. But I’ve learned from past experiences – mine and that of my ancestors. It creates a safe space for my dog to run and provides some protection for the gardens that the urban deer view as theirs. And once it was so. I would share with the deer but prefer that the choice be mine, to share equally, not all.

DSC00368

Photo Credit: My front gate – July 28, 2014

The fence, now higher than it was a few months ago, does not deter those who wish to save my soul. Dressed in their Sunday best, arms laden with bibles and brochures, they still make their way to my door. As I watch them approach, I am reminded of a passage from Thoreau.

“There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted. It is human, it is divine, carrion. If I knew for a certainty that a man [or a woman] was coming to my house with the conscious design of going me good, I should run for my life, as from that dry and parching wind of the African deserts called the simoon, which fills the mouth and nose and ears and eyes with dust till you are suffocated, for fear that I should get some of his [her] good done to me, – some of its virus mingled with my blood” (Henry David Thoreau, 1999, Walden or life in the woods and “on the duty of civil disobedience”, p. 59).

My annual uninvited visitors have taught me that it is sometimes wiser to hide. I have no wish to tell others what they should believe. I’ve grown weary of the futility of expecting them to respect my right live by my own beliefs. I continue to question my response last year, the first story I posted on my old blog…

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Hard of Hearing (June 18, 2013)

Yesterday was the first sunny day in what seemed like months (April 21, 2013). It was relatively warm here in Minnesota, in the mid-30s, and without wind it almost felt like spring. Patches of brown ground had emerged from the piles of snow in my yard. My dog Cookie, an 80-pound Black Norwegian Elkhound, was eager to go out and putter in the fenced-in front yard. As we reached the back gate, I noticed two women had entered my yard and were walking up my front sidewalk toward the house. I hesitated at the gate, wondering if it was wise to let Cookie into the yard. As I watched them walk toward me, I realized that the older woman leading the way was a visitor from last year, a proselytizer from some fundamental Christian church.

Both of my new visitors were dressed in long black coats and high-heeled shoes. I wondered how they had even made it through the unshoveled snow outside my front gate. After shoveling the sidewalk, deck and driveway, I was too tired of hefting the heavy white snow to finish the last patch, instead hoping it would melt on its own.

The older woman had carefully coiffed, curly silver hair, the second, younger woman following behind, both carrying notebooks and bibles in their folded arms. I remembered the older woman, although her companion was new. Last year, her companion was a grim-faced stocky woman with dark hair liberally peppered with gray. I remembered the encounter because of the notebooks and bibles. But this spring was far different than last year. Last year it was rarely below freezing, and I had been able to do exterior repairs on my house and yard. And because I had a chance to begin to work on creating gardens, I think I was willing to try to reach across the cultural divide and relate to them.

Last year, when the older woman introduced herself and the church she was from, I replied that I worked very hard to overcome my biases toward people from her religious background. Yet it was not an easy task for me. As an Ojibwe, I carried deep anger and pain because of the history of “Christian” treatment of Ojibwe people. Her response had been that she was sympathetic to Native Americans and what they had to teach about the environment. I let that one pass. Then she asked if it was okay for her to read a passage from the bible. I lifted my left hand spontaneously in a gesture to ward off “bad medicine,” an unconscious cultural behavior, and replied, “I am not interested. No. I don’t want to hear it.” The younger woman was standing slightly behind her, scowling and avoiding eye contact as if I were the devil incarnate. Fortunately for me, the older woman did not begin reading and left graciously. I assumed at the time that she got the message and realized I was not a soul she could save on that day.

hard of hearing

Photo Credit: Cookie – April 21, 2013

Now, as I stood at my gate with Cookie, I realized my repeat visitor hadn’t really accepted defeat last year as I had hoped. Here she was again with another “proselytizer-in-training.” It took me less than a minute to decide to let Cookie into the front yard. Both women froze in shock as Cookie ran toward them barking. The younger woman turned to flee, but Cookie is a gentle dog unless faced with someone she senses is potentially violent, so I was not surprised when she sniffed the older woman and walked away, bored with the whole drama. I remained close to the back gate, and the older woman began walking toward me even though I was unsmiling and nothing about my face or gestures suggested welcome. “I was afraid of the dog,” she said. My reply was to again raise my left hand. I responded gently, “Please go.” She answered “I can’t hear you, I’m hard of hearing.” I walked a little closer, left hand still raised, and repeated a little louder, “Please go.” She and her compatriot did leave, although they sat in their car in front of my house for several minutes, perhaps debriefing from their scare.

This morning I found myself still pondering why I behaved in such an unwelcoming manner. And then it occurred to me. My Ojibwe ancestors experienced brutal treatment at the hands of so-called Christians, and the scars remain with me to this day. Proselytizers are not in the business of really listening to others or, more importantly, honoring their heritage and beliefs. Last year’s decision to leave without reading her bible verse didn’t really mean that my message was heard. One needs to really listen in an open way to understand others. Her presence again this year suggests that she could not respect my position or beliefs, that she was “hard of hearing” not only in a physical sense, but more importantly, on a soul-deep level. I guess I was relatively safe to disrespect because I was soft-spoken, honest, but respectful. Perhaps my unwillingness to be disingenuous on the first warm day of spring this year and my ferocious-looking gentle dog will save me from the intrusion of “great white saviors” who come calling uninvited. Who knows what next spring will bring?

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This year, they waited until summer to come. This time it was a man and a woman who appeared at my door, ringing the bell, driving my new little dog, Pinto, into a fit of violent barking. Unlike Cookie, Pinto’s a fierce little soul who will not hesitate to bite intruders. I peeked from behind an interior door to see who was at the door. After one look at their Sunday attire and bibles, I decided to hide from sight in the kitchen. It was a long wait. They rang and rang, pried open the screen door that needs repair and knocked and knocked, and finally circled the house to the side door, forcing me to flee upstairs to remain hidden. I could watch from above as they stood waiting for at least half an hour, peacefully looking out at my gardens. It reminded me of a Gary Larson cartoon. If I looked like a bean bag chair, I wouldn’t have to hide!

the blob family

Photo Credit: Gary Larson – The Blob family at home

There are times when I feel it is wiser to avoid provocation. Today, I just wanted to enjoy a peaceful, productive morning. As I peeked at the visitors from behind the door, I felt a sense of dread. “Please not today! There are too many real troubles in the world that need attention.”

Although I wish my uninvited visitors well, my life is not theirs to judge nor is my soul theirs to save. Not today, and not next year. If they sincerely wish to do good in the world, there are many more productive paths they could take than the one to my door.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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40 thoughts on “And Still They Come to My Door … Uninvited”

  1. My dear Carol..when you figure out how to avoid contact with these intrusive,pushy,do it my way folks it will be a happy day! I too have been accosted by these save my soul, I am here to help you type of folks. Some among them have wounded me deeply because I was young and lost and trusting. I am older and wiser now and not as gentle and respectful as you…I no longer have kind words to use in sending them on their myopic way. Thank you for writing and sharing this Carol!

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    1. Thank you for your comments, Shirley Ann 🙂 You made me laugh! (If I had more room in my house, I might consider making a “bean bag” costume to don on special occasions.)

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  2. Yes it is built into a native to be free however in Florida we have a 6′ stockade fence around the acre of land in part to keep Breanna in and to keep un-wanted out, a stockade double wide gate, wide enough to allow a 30′ Motor home in and out however, bolted at the bottom of both gates, in the middle and a 1/2 thick galvanizes chain holding the two in the middle and still they come to shout over the fence?

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    1. It’s good to hear from you, Sachem. I’m glad to know I’m not alone in building a high fence :-). And I love your comment – “and still they come to shout over the fence.”

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  3. I remember Sindiwi Magona in To My Children’s Children explaining the irony of the Christian rituals of charity and creating special occasions for children, when the missionaries were the very people who were part of a system which deprived those children. And yet, there is a struggle to be deeply respectful of the right to soul, to culture, to heritage and history which become invaded by single views of the world. Crusades and the burning of witches, the interference (to use a euphemism) of children and the condemnation of homosexuality are quite enough to show that the need to guide souls is very damaging if this is not what people want.

    To the gentle and kind souls who embrace in a respectful and cherished spiritual faith, I give all of my respect. But I cannot believe that a Jewish healer who hung out with lepers, prostitutes and beggars, and who was radical enough to challenge the religious leaders of the time, would start telling people how to think.

    Take care, Carol. I’ve had the urge to be a beanbag too.

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    1. Important insights about (perhaps unintended) hypocrisy, Nicci. The healthiest way for me to deal with this topic is with humor, but on many levels, it is not funny at all. The assumption that one’s religion or culture or nation is superior is the root of much evil in the world.

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      1. I think it’s the superiority, whatever shape it comes in, which burns so deeply, and actually wounds the rights/values of the people it tries to engage. It’s profoundly disrespectful, and a violation of the right to true faith.

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        1. Yes, it’s the ignorant arrogance that is so hard for me to deal with dispassionately. I need to be in a special mood to be willing to give it a try…

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  4. Carol, while I understand your inclination towards disengagement, you shouldn’t have to feel besieged in your own home. Christian proselytizers knock on my door, too. I inform them firmly, but politely, that their message is not welcome. Have the courage of your convictions. Authoritarian religions are emboldened by perceived susceptibility.

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    1. I do have an inclination toward disengagement at times, Robert. I get tied of crossing cultures and always being reasonable about other peoples’ ignorance and rudeness. It’s a many-times-a-day experience sometimes, especially when I work in Euro-American institutions. And it’s exhausting. Religion is a particular pressure point for me – I lived with the consequences of my mother’s internalized racism because of her treatment by nuns in a catholic boarding school. For decades, I have read about and witnessed the consequences of proselytizers in my work with tribes. As I once told Jeff Nguyen, it sometimes fills me with a sorrow too deep to name and a rage to strong to bear. The pressure from stuffed frustration and anger builds from all of these sources. I know when I need to take time to rebalance. Until then, I avoid situations that can trigger disproportionate anger towards some poor unsuspecting soul who happens to say the wrong thing on the wrong day. It takes another kind of courage for me to choose to walk away or avoid situations that evoke strong emotions, to “watch, listen, and consider” so my “deeds will be prudent.”

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  5. Ringing, knocking, sneaking around, and lurking for half of an hour would only have prompted me to let loose just a little. 😉 I wrote a tale of these tinkerers a while back, though around these parts, they tend to leave when you tell them to and then walk or run away. Our friendly neighborhood mutt who hangs about our yard often enough hides out when trouble comes a knockin’ as well. Smart pup! If you’d like to read my little tale, I’d be happy to share it. Smiles!

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        1. A lovely story, ♡eM. Thank you for sharing your thanksgiving insights. Unannounced visitors can have an unsettling effect, but your handled the challenge with grace and kindness.

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  6. Carol, You don’t have to hide. Just open the door tell them firmly, “I’m not interested.” And do not hesitate to close the door in their faces if they don’t have enough sense to leave. I’ve done it for years. I’ll actually smile a little. But, No, is no and they do understand. I’ve done it to Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, and those I didn’t know what they were ,in states across the nation. Don’t hide, you’re strong enough to let them know you’re just not interested and you don’t owe them any explanation. Time is too precious to be wasted in pointless dialogues. But your experience did make a good story. Thanks as always for sharing.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your stories and insights, Skywalker.

      Some days, it really is best for me not to open the door. I hid mostly so my uninvited visitors wouldn’t escalate their efforts to get my attention. As I just told Robert, crossing cultures can be exhausting. (I’m sure you experience this.) When I reach the limits of my endurance for rudeness and ignorance, I know some poor unsuspecting soul may say or do the wrong thing and I will unleash the full force of the anger and frustration I’ve been carrying. I had reached my limits weeks before my visitors came 🙂 And I suspect, as I suspected then, that people who were as persistently intrusive as these visitors were very likely to make me very angry. I chose instead to go upstairs to breathe and meditate. From that vantage point, the encounter was amusing to me, rather than a source of yet more anger. (And it does make a good, true, story.)

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  7. I have to answer the door, it’s the only way to get them to leave here. If, “I’m sorry, I’m not interested” doesn’t work, and “what didn’t you understand about I’m not interested”, then I do what mom did, and beat them at their own game – because quite often I know more about their religion, than they know themselves. It starts with “I’m sorry, but I do not believe that ….. is right”, that is usually their cue to leave.

    Great post…

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  8. I certainly sympathize and relate to your story, Carol. I have many stories of hiding from persistent door knockers! I come from a religious background (however, unwilling) and I’m very familiar with their MO’s. My first thought when your team got scared off and sat in their car is that most likely they were praying for you. I don’t enjoy engaging in any way. A few years ago I solved the problem. I had a sign made to put under the No Solicitors sign: No Proselytizers. I’ve never had one come to my door again!

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    1. Mandy, thank you so much for your comments and your important (unwilling) insider’s perspective. I love your solution! I have just the board I can use for a sign, plenty of paint, and a drill to make holes. It’s just the inspiration I need to finish my most pressing gardening project!

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      1. I’m so happy to be of help, Carol! I hope it solves the problem. If not, now all you have to do is point to the sign 🙂 btw your garden is beautiful!

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  9. I am a Christian, but this stuff annoys me…I feel we need to leave people to believe what they want + not push our religion on to others…..if a person asks me, I will tell them what I believe, but never push my faith or what I believe on to them…I do not believe, I have all the answers, so what right to I have to tell them I do have all the answers….I pray, I read, I grow in my faith, but it is my personal journey…, and some day, I will meet my God face to face + I will answer to my God….as for them like gnats, japanese beetles, or mosquitos, they are just part of spring….they come and go, but never truly disappear-lol:-)
    You have a lovely garden!!!!.

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    1. I so appreciate your thoughtful comments, Robbie. It seems our spiritual beliefs are very similar. And I like your metaphor – “them gnats, Japanese beetles, or mosquitos” who “never truly disappear” 🙂

      My garden is a work in progress – I hope it someday fills the whole yard like yours.

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  10. Had a couple fellows come by a few weeks ago, invited them in, offered coffee, started sharing views with them, until they said something like “we have to leave… another appointment…”, and I asked them “where you going?, we’ve just started talking.” Maybe I’m a masochist or something. 🙂

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  11. The persistence and regularity with which bible-carrying-unwanted-visitors-dressed-in-their-Sunday-best arrive at ones door, promising salvation “if only you …” is spread far and wide and it took me quite a while to come up with a way to trick, um deter, them coming to my door, Carol. I had a lock installed in my front gate, which is about 8 meters from my door, so they had to ring the bell at the gate, which I never answer – of course. They gave up after some months 🙂

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    1. Thank you for sharing your comments, Ina. You have described the challenge so well, and your creative solution! It’s also interesting for me to hear that this is an issue in other countries.

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  12. Ah, the old bean bag trick. I have to remember that the next time I get proselytizing visitors…or Verizon/Comcast salesmen. I loved The Far Side when I was younger, by the way. Thank you for sharing your humor and wisdom on this particular topic, Carol.

    If only your unwelcome visitors were as willing to accept your beliefs as they were willing to force you to accept theirs. Then, a dialogue or conversation might have been possible. Were they wearing hoodies? In FL, you could have shot at them and claimed you were “standing your ground”. 😉

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    1. Thank you for sharing your humor and wisdom too, Jeff. Your comments remind me of another story about the dance of communicating across cultures, but that story will have to wait for another day. Today, the first thoughts on my mind when I awoke were of “Peace for Palestine.” It would be a different world if we were all willing to respect others’ rights to live according to their own beliefs.

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  13. I ask them to take a loaf of bread a jar of peanut butter and jelly and go to the park where the homeless hang out. Make some sandwiches with me and pass them out chat for a while and I will go to church with you… None have taken me up on the offer and they usually cross the street when they see me coming. 🙂 Hypocrites….

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