Some one came knocking
At my wee, small door;
Some one came knocking,
I’m sure – sure – sure;
I listened, I opened,
I looked to left and right,
But naught there was a-stirring
In the still dark night;
Only the busy beetle
Tap-tapping in the wall,
Only from the forest
The screech-owl’s call,
Only the cricket whistling
While the dewdrops fall,
So I know not who came knocking,
At all, at all, at all.
(Walter de La Mare)
Ever since I’ve been a therapist, I think about people who are alone during holidays. When family surrounded me, I would think of clients who had no one to be with and nowhere to go. This Thanksgiving I mentioned this to a few friends who felt I was spoiling the joy about being around people they loved.
Besides, you can always rent a Kurosawa movie, someone said.
Or curl up with a good book.
And why spend Thanksgiving with people you don’t want to be with, anyway?
That’s not what I meant, I wanted to say. I’m thinking about people who don’t have options.
On the evening before Thanksgiving I heard a faint knock on the door. We live in a courtyard that’s so far back from the street kids miss us on Halloween. The porch light wasn’t on.
Who is it? I called
Who is it? I called again.
Again no answer
I opened the door to darkness.
Please, miss, said a wavery voice. Please help me.
The voice could signal danger: A giant impersonating someone harmless. An armed robber who worked in tandem with a nearly-inaudible voice. Take the risk, part of me said. Don’t,said another. Close the door.
If I hadn’t talked to my friends earlier, I would have closed the door. Instead, I turned on the porch light and saw an old man with a childlike face. He had no teeth and was so thin his pants fell around him in folds.
How did you find this place?
I don’t know. I just came here. I thought you could help me.
He began to cry.
For a moment, I switched to a former therapist-mode.
You seem really lonely. You need people to talk to.
I know, I know. Highland Hospital. They kept me there like a jail. They wouldn’t let me out.
Maybe you could talk to someone at a clinic, I said.
But it wasn’t advice he wanted. It wasn’t even money. Even so, I rooted around in my wallet and gave him what I had. He cried again.
Just one thing, then, I said.
I know, he said. Be careful.
Yes, I said. Please be careful.
He walked down the steps holding on to the railing. His body was as wavery as his voice.
I told Keith when he came home. I told him about my earlier conversations, about the feeling that I had to respond to whomever was at the door.
He was guided to you, he said. He was guided to test you.
You’re a software architect, I said. You never think like that.
I do now.
I never told anyone else about the man. I was afraid they’d tell me I should never have opened the door. He was casing your place. He’ll be back. Watch out.
The man never came back. Now and then I think I hear a small knocking. I open the door and no one is there. The man was real. And what he wanted was real. Someone to cry with. A handshake from a stranger.