“Hi, Paul,” I said, ”Lose your key?” (I wanted to add…”again!” but I held my tongue.) His reply was, “I’m looking for a room to rent, Ma’am. Would you happen to have one?” I immediately laughed, saying, “Oh for heaven’s sakes, Paul, come on in!” But he just stood there and repeated his words, “Ma’am, I am looking for a room to rent for the weekend. Do you have one, and if you do happen to have one, how much is it?”
“Paul,” I said once again, ”Come on in and stop fooling around,” to which he retorted, “If you do not have a room at this time Ma’am, I will have to look elsewhere.”
Now I was getting perturbed and replied, “Paul, stop it.” However, he did not relent once, again asking his same question regarding a room to rent. I also noticed he was not looking directly at me, but instead his widely opened eyes were staring a little off to the side with a kind of strange slanted gaze. What that was about I didn’t know! So I just walked away leaving the door open figuring he would just come in and stop fooling around. He did not. Instead he just stood out there silently with that terribly strange look on his face and absolutely no hint of a smile at all.
It was then I began to become a little worried. Somehow it only took a few more minutes before I was in a frantic worried and panicked mother mode. What on earth was the matter with him? I thought and began to ask myself a lot of questions. Was he on drugs? Was he having a nervous breakdown? Could it be he was really not Paul our son at all but just looked like him?
In a real frenzy by now, I went upstairs to send my husband down to the front door while I proceeded to the laundry room to cry my eyes out! Of course, when my husband went out there and explained I was sobbing into the washer, Paul finally admitted what this was all about.
He had attended one of his university psychology classes that week where his professor had proposed an experiment to illustrate a point. The experiment was the question regarding if a student went home on the weekend pretending to be somebody else and also pretended not to know their parents, what kinds of reactions would there be from the parents. Well, wasn’t that interesting? Now we were part of a psychological experiment! At that moment I wanted to find that college professor and tell him a thing or two. Paul told us most of the students in the class said they would not dare do such a thing because their parents would probably disown them! But not our son Paul. Far be it from him not to jostle the parent world once in a while to keep us on our toes.
And so after Paul found his “real self,” we did sit down and have a discussion about our reaction so he could write his psych paper. Of course he received an A+, at which point I thought actually we, his parents, should have really received the credit for!
This experience reminded me how often there are situations in our lives in which we really may come across a stranger at life’s door; a homeless person, an immigrant from another country or a man standing on the street corner asking for work or food. Many strangers came into our midst on September 11, 2001 with the 9/11 disaster. The persons affected by the New York bombing knocked at our door even from a distance and gave us a reason to reach out to strangers we would never meet. And reach out we did as best we could. We all need to ask ourselves how often will we and do we have a “stranger at our door,” and how will or do we react? I hope our actions will be as we would expect others to act if we ourselves needed help at times in our lives.
Lynn Assimacopoulos writes from Arizona.