by Judy Alexander
Years ago, my little Welsh-corgi-mix dog got run over by a
car. Annie Dog had been napping on the driveway. My husband
didn’t see her as he backed up the car, running over
her hip. Miraculously, Annie Dog wasn’t dead – she
ran around the backyard in circles, yelping. I shrieked and
jumped out to comfort her, talking soothingly, reaching out
to touch her. Annie Dog was always so sweet tempered, and I
wanted to comfort her with a gentle stroke of my hand. But
as I reached out to my pain-filled friend, she bit down deeply
into my hand. Never having owned a dog before, I was shocked
to learn that an injured dog, blind with pain, will snap its
jaws even at a loved one. Two hospital visits later, one to
the vet to find out that Annie was only bruised and would need
nothing more than a soft bed to rest her sore body, and one
to the doctor to flush bacteria out of the puncture wounds
on my hand, Annie and I were both bandaged and healing. I’d
learned something: Trying to comfort a wounded dog can be dangerous.
That lesson also applies to wounded people. I’ve read
or heard stories of kind-hearted people being attacked by the
abused child they adopt, the juvenile delinquent they give
a job, the homeless man they invite to dinner.
Jesus says in Matthew 26, “I was hungry and you gave
me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger
and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick
and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.” Service
to others is a requirement of all major religions. But how
can I offer help and comfort to the hurting without putting
myself and my family in danger?
I recently saw the movie “Radio,” about a high
school coach who followed the Matthew 26 admonitions by helping
an unknown mentally retarded man nicknamed Radio. The coach
offered Radio a hamburger and a bottle of water, welcomed him
onto the football field and into the locker room, gave him
a team sweatshirt, and picked him up from jail.
For awhile, all was good: the coach felt that great feeling
you get when you help someone else, and Radio felt the companionship
and acceptance he’d never had before among other men.
In the movie, it wasn’t the wounded dog who bit, it
was some of the towns folk. They were concerned that Radio
wasn’t being properly supervised when he was around the
high school students. The coach refused to abandon his friendship
with Radio. Instead, he resigned his football coaching position
so that he’d have more time to supervise Radio, thus
maintaining his commitment to his new friend while putting
to rest the fears of the townspeople.
How willing should I be to sacrifice my own comfort and safety
in order to help others? I find myself vacillating between
being too naïve to properly protect myself and being too
scared to help.
Here’s an example of my way-too-naïve phase: Empowered
by the helper’s high that I got from dropping off a daily
sack lunch to an elderly homeless man, one year I invited all
the homeless men from the local city park to Easter church.
They declined, but shortly afterwards, one of the younger men,
having misinterpreted the intention of my big smile and Easter
hat and shoes, suggested some frightening sexual activities.
I refused to go near that park for weeks and obsessed about
whether or not he knew where I lived. Finally, I got word that
he’d been ostracized by the others because of his threats
towards me and no longer frequented that park.
Here’s an example of my way-too-scared phase: My path
crosses that of several intellectually bright but emotionally
ill people. I find myself avoiding them, making excuses when
invited to social gatherings, loathing that unexpected phone
call or email. I’m scared that their mental illness will
make them volatile.
How can I offer comfort and friendship without putting myself
and my family in danger?
The answer is that I can’t, at least not completely.
I’m not saying that I should invite a stranger off the
street into my home when I have a child who could be sexually
molested – surely I have a great, solemn responsibility
to protect my own child and to give him a safe home environment.
But on the other hand, does any relationship come risk-free?
Even my closest friend or husband will hurt me at some time
or another, and I will do the same.
Maybe my dilemma should be rephrased: How can I be both kind
and wise? Perhaps, like all other wisdom, knowing how to deal
with hurting people comes with experience. I first have to
be willing to reach out and try something, and when I fail,
I have to learn from that experience and be willing to try
The wisdom I crave includes acknowledging that even the sweetest
little dog can bite when hurting badly. In the movie, gentle
Radio tore up his house when his mother died. But I’m
still obligated to take that little dog to the doctor – I
can’t leave her wounds untreated because my own hand
Judy Alexander is an aspiring novelist, business writer,
and webmaster living with her husband and two sons in California. To
read more of her writing, visit www.judyalexander.com and www.literarychristian.com.