Answer the Door


Here in downtown Covington, we live with a lot of people who are in and out of homeless shelters. Plus, my wife’s job is to write about homelessness, poverty and social justice issues for a local television station. So it’s a topic at every dinner upstairs and at our storefront’s door everyday downstairs.

When we lived in the wealthier suburb of Fort Mitchell, I never answered the front door (our doorbell broke about 1998, and I never fixed it to achieve bliss). It was always someone trying to sell me wrapping paper or mulch. Or it was a political candidate or religious zealot – also selling something.

But here in Covington, I try to always open the door when it’s knocked. Sometimes it’s people looking for the upholstery shop one block down, or someone wondering what the heck we do here. And sometimes it’s someone who needs something. They might be experiencing homelessness, they might not.

I try not to judge. To some people, I look homeless. Last week I walked to Klingenberg’s hardware store to buy some glue, and I had two people stop me and direct me to the soup kitchen on Pike Street.

“Better hurry,” one said. “Today is hamburger day!”

For the most part, the visitors need some change for the bus, some toilet paper or to borrow a tool. We’re happy to help when we can. What is surprising is how often the visitor is there to help us. One guy gave us some rusted F-style clamps he found in an alley. Another woman, one of the prostitutes, found the car keys that a drywaller had dropped while doing some work for me.

A few months ago, a guy with no teeth began knocking at the door. He looked like he hadn’t eaten in a long time. On the way to the door I picked up the jar of change we keep for these occasions. I opened the door, looked him in the eye and said “Hi!”

“I think you lost this,” he said, holding up an engineer’s square. It was a little rusted, but was still in good shape. I told him it wasn’t mine.

“Someone dropped it out here in the gutter,” he said. “It looks too nice to be trash.”

I thought it might belong to one of our students, so I took it and thanked him.

We checked with the students who had attended recent classes – no one had lost a square. I checked the square for accuracy. It is dead-on ISO 9009 perfectly perfect. So I keep it in our machine room. Every time I pick it up it’s a small reminder to stay human, to keep opening our front door and that the first Tuesday of the month is hamburger day.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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65 Responses to Answer the Door

  1. pfollansbee says:

    Chris – I’ve been reading your stuff since 2008. This is the best of the lot. Thanks very much.

  2. Dave Fisher says:

    Beautiful post, Chris. Thank you.

  3. Perry Chappano says:

    Good man

  4. mwood says:

    Well, that got my eyeballs all sweaty. Thanks for the good words. We need more of that in these dark times.

  5. John Jenkins says:

    Amen brother!

  6. Rick Brunelle says:

    I don’t always read your posts, Chris. But when I do, you usually catch my attention. I just wanted to say thank you for being an example of a good human and a good …… American. Some of us need examples from time to time.

  7. Jonathan Hershey says:

    I really appreciated this post! When someone is used to being treated as if they don’t exist or with hostility, a little respect goes a long way and means the world to them. I spent my career working in library outreach and a large number of my customers were very poor and many had a variety of problems. But most were incredibly nice and appreciated our service. In once case, I saw one of the men at a flea market and we got to talking about old tools. He said he had a drill that I might like. A few weeks later he gave me a Yankee North Brothers brace that he’d had for years! He wouldn’t accept payment and said he wanted to be able to do something for me. An incredibly kind gesture that I think of every time I use it.

  8. Joseph Johnpoll says:

    Thanks for this, Chris.

  9. Choirboy says:

    Christianity in a nutshell. The stuff one sees on TV isn’t Christianity, it is political propaganda dressed up in religious robes, modern day scribes and pharisees. Christ always opened the door, talked with prostitutes, fed the hungry, and generally avoided the religious upper crust, unless it was to attack them with a whip or call them ugly names.
    Keep being like Christ, even though I know you don’t subscribe to organized religion.

  10. Keith Mealy says:

    great post, Chris

  11. Mike says:

    Hayward’s smiling down on you I imagine.

  12. stradlad68 says:

    Chris, Thank you for the nice post and your treatment of your fellow humans. Reminded me of a family story about my maternal grandmother, who kept a small “flockette” of chickens. She lived in a small railroad town in Ohio. During the Great Depression if a hobo stopped at her door she always prepare a meal of fried eggs and toast for the man. That is what religious people call “walking the walk not just talking the talk.”

  13. Mark Williamson says:

    I’ve read much of your writing, basic posts and diatribe (my favorite tribe). This post is quite real. It is everyday stuff but goes beyond the ordinary. Perspective, capital “P”. Spot on! BTW, I always open my door too. As Foghorn Leghorn would say, “Just in case of such, I say, such an emergency.” Or blessing. Cheers!

  14. kapitman says:

    Favorite thing I’ve read this week.

  15. Tom says:

    I’m pretty sure of the company that made that square, I own one that was my fathers who was a toolmaker, it’s one of my best precision squares. Funny how it is when we take a minute to talk to someone who looks down and out or maybe looks like a bum. They can be the nicest and most intelligent people. How did he know it was a machinist square ( most people wouldn’t )? He must have had some knowledge, so he knew on some level what you do for a living and then brought it to you as a useful tool, which it is!
    Then again it might have been a Chinese copy of the Brown & Sharpe or Starrett squares but still just as good.

  16. Jacque Wells says:

    This is the best and most uplifting message I’ve read this quarter — and I don’t remember if there was a better any earlier. Thank you. Some of us aren’t worth the powder to blow us up, but a great lot of you are more precious than rubies. (I’m just not a baseball fan.)

  17. Drew Lastra says:

    God Bless Chris. You have a heart the size of a hotel.

  18. Tom says:

    Awesomeness. My dad made a point to always answer the door, for similar reasons. Used to fondly describe such gents as Knights of the Road.

    Many of whom have some real skills, and appreciate the gift of the dignity of being asked to use them.

  19. SSteve says:

    Back in 1999 or so, my band played at Chavez Park in Sacramento. Our guitar player said something about it being my birthday. After the next song, a homeless person came up to the stage, told me “Happy Birthday”, and gave me a dollar. I still have that dollar to remind me not to be a dick to homeless people.

  20. eahiggins121 says:

    Thank you for the much needed reminder of the humanity we share with the other creatures made in God’s image who walk this planet. We should remember that much more unites us than separates us.

  21. Erik Hinkston says:

    This is why I buy all of your books, so well stated, so well done.

  22. I don’t believe in the concept of karma. But it costs nothing to act as if it were real, just in case.

    And if anyone needs to know, every night is cheeseburger night here.

  23. Alan - planesaw says:

    This is simply to agree with all the compliments above. One of your best.

  24. Jars Family says:

    I love this. We get a lot of visitors too at our store front. #teamhuman

  25. Brian Chin says:

    I like this.

  26. Roger Erisman says:

    Thanks for reminding us to not judge on appearance!

  27. Rick says:

    Beautiful message here. Thanks.

  28. Mark P says:

    Thank you for being human.

  29. Roger P says:

    Random acts of kindness. I organised a tour of where I work for my wife’s students I gave them all a patch and knew one of her other teaches used to work here and got a student to give him one too. He was so touched he nearly cried. A random act of kindness he said. I have a very old wooden sailing boat and the other day some kind soul left a wooden block in the cockpit for me. No note, nothing but a random act of kindness. Not all the world is bad. I am reminded of the line in a song during the Cold War…The Russians love their children too. Tuesday’s you say? Yum.

  30. W.S. Gilliam says:

    Hell yeah, hamburger day! I wish someone would have mistook me in need of a hamburger day instead of a woman in the long hair of my younger years….

  31. AndrewM says:

    bless you

  32. Pascal Teste says:

    L’habit ne fait pas le moine. Nice to know that gentle people are amongst us. Thank you.

  33. 2cmundus says:

    Thank you, Chris.

  34. todlacey says:

    I started my day with coffee and “The Anarchist’s Design Book,” ended with this post. Thanks for the bookends of a good day!

  35. BLZeebub says:

    Cheers, mate! So refreshing to read something other than a screed about fake news, deep state, Orange Man missives or just about everything else in the news nowadays. We do well to remember we all had mothers, put our shoes on one at a time and hurt the same way. Thanks, bubba.

  36. Eric R says:

    Like my mother always used to say, “kindness doesn’t cost anything”

  37. John says:

    My workshop is downtown, right on mainstreet and I’ve worked there for 33 years. The people have always facinated me. They each have a story. Some are so honest it’s amazing the hard life they live hasn’t turned them into thieves and some are thieves. Look them in the eye and talk to them – few people do – you’ll be surprised. Few nights that someone doesn’t sleep in the covered area behind the shop. We keep some food to give out. I’ll sometimes take a young one to the bus depot and buy them a ticket home. There was a time I had no home but I was a Hippie then and didn’t want one.

  38. jmwagle86 says:

    Inspiring! Double plus good.

  39. Fred says:

    Good words. Look up Paul Thorne on the net and listen to his song “Things Left Undone”.

  40. Rick B says:

    I am reminded of a similar gift. A the end of a tool chest workshop at Kelly Mehler’s place, the instructor gave away a number of tools tools, and assured me it was ok me to take a small brass and wood square, a little smaller than the subject square here. It remains a special gift as it reflects the kindness and compassion of the teacher, Professor Schwarz.
    You just don’t forget these acts of kindness.
    Thanks again, Chris. Peace.

  41. Bob Van Dyke says:

    Chris- That is the best post you have ever done. hands down.
    Stay well

  42. asarumcanadensis says:

    Empowering for those who you treat kindly – and for all of us who read the blog. Merci.

  43. Patrick Price says:

    Nice one, Chris. I have been forced into retirement and my wife was recently retrenched. Even so, we are more fortunate than many so when the bell rings we always answer it knowing that it is probably someone asking for help.
    Maybe someday I will need that help.

  44. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack says:

    Kindness costs us little or nothing. Thanks for reminding us of that fact.

  45. jeff simpson says:

    I like you. Just saying, you’re my kind of person.

  46. rustlerrd says:

    We never go wrong by doing the right thing. Thank you for the reminder.

  47. Jayson Schmitt says:

    Thanks for keeping us all humble in these difficult times.

  48. bgrif says:

    Great post. Thanks!

  49. KA Cruise says:

    Too true in this day and age.

  50. eaia says:

    Best sermon I have heard on Sunday morning in a long time. Kindness is something that can be freely given. Thank you Chris.

  51. Brian says:

    A priest friend once told me that a homeless guy had once told him that the hardest part of being homeless was not going hungry or having no specific home, it was that “nobody will look at you.” Just by being willing to say “Hi” and treat somebody as being worth having a conversation with, you are doing good.

    • My wife interacts with people experiencing homelessness almost every day. She’s the one that taught me that. Everyone deserves to be seen. Even if you can’t give someone a dollar, you can acknowledge they exist. And that’s something, too.

    • Lex says:

      I’m the type who’s liable to end up in a 30 minute conversation with a homeless person, and I feel like the money I’ve given is a small cost for the understanding I’ve gained in those conversations.

  52. Ron Michaelsen says:

    Your story warms my heart.

  53. Mark Gilsdorf says:

    I swear I get followed by store security every time I go into the grocery store straight from the shop.

  54. Adi says:

    its a good article about kindness.

  55. Dan says:

    I’ve just discovered a rather large loophole in your “a couple Saturdays a year” policy.

  56. Lex says:

    Damn, dude. That’s the best essay I’ve read in a very long time. Thank you.

  57. What a fantastic attitude you have.

  58. Awesome! “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord. ” Proverbs 19:17. Thank you, Chris.

  59. Davey Leslie says:

    A beautiful story. You just never know, do keep the cynic on a short leash.

  60. John Sisler says:

    Magnificent post. The more we give,the more we receive-kindness,love,material,everything. Actually this post didn’t surprise me-You have exhibited this attitude in your writings and videos.

  61. Curt Lavallee says:

    What a wonderful anecdote and an admirable approach to life. As another, far wiser Kurt once put it:
    “Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies – “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

    • morrisruskin says:

      We lose something when we surround ourselves with other people who look, think, act like ourselves. Being around people who aren’t like us can enble us, if we are open to it, to see more clearly what others experience and to have more empathy and compassion.

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