In 1996, I was awarded a fellowship at the College of Preachers in Washington, D.C., which was located on the National Cathedral grounds.
My fellowship involved spending almost six weeks in residence at the college working on a project that I would ultimately present at a public gathering there. The college was housed in a large gothic structure that included a number of rooms for the people who came for a week at a time for conferences.
While those who attended the conferences stayed a few days during the week, I was in residence all the time, situated in what was called the tower which was above and somewhat removed from the rest of the college.
Consequently, the weekends were a bit lonely since no staff persons actually lived on the premises. I was not ever actually afraid, since the exterior doors were heavy and were always locked, but still, it was a big place and quite dark at night.
By the end of my first week, I needed to do some laundry, so the program manager told me to feel free to use the big commercial washer and dryer in the basement, since the cleaning staff washed only during the week.
So one evening that weekend after supper and when the staff had departed, I took my clothes down and put them in the washer and started it. Later, I went back and transferred them to the dryer.
As far as I knew, I was alone in this old gothic building. But when I returned to the basement to retrieve the clothes from the dryer, I found them dry and already neatly folded on a nearby table.
To say I was a bit unnerved would be understating it. It was not until the next week when I told the staff of my experience that I learned that for several years, the college had extended hospitality to a homeless man named Dave, allowing him to live in the cavernous basement.
It was obviously Dave who had taken care of my laundry. Later in reflecting on the experience, I couldn’t help but think that what Dave did for me was reminiscent of that part of “To Kill a Mockingbird” where the reclusive neighbor, Boo Radley, retrieved Jim’s torn pants from the fence, mended them, and left them folded where Jim could find them.
As I came to find out, Dave was a big man with an equally big heart. Although he led what might have seemed a solitary existence, he did surface often enough to be a part of the Cathedral community by singing in the chancel choir.
More importantly though from my perspective, Dave reciprocated the hospitality the college staff had shown him by “paying it forward” and extending that hospitality to me.
Finding my clothes inexplicably folded in that dimly lit basement that night may have been momentarily unsettling for me, but any feeling of unease has long sense been eclipsed by my gratitude for such a thoughtful gesture.