Boundaries

When the animals had built their Meetinghouse, they settled into worship quite happily. Every week they met and worshipped the Great Spirit in silence.

Then, one week, Bee came to worship for the first time. Frog greeted him at the door of the Meetinghouse and helped him find a seat, but Bee did not sit. Instead, he hovered in the air. As he hovered, his wings made a constant sound: “Bzzzz, bzzzz, bzzzz, bzzzz.” This sound continued all through worship.

After worship, many of the animals told Bee how glad they were that he had come. Most of them meant it, but a few did not. A few wished Bee had never come because the buzzing of his wings was disruptive to the silence.

Pig complained loudly to several of the other animals. “I can’t focus,” he said. “I just can’t stand that sound of the Bee. We should not let anyone into Meeting who makes so much noise!”

Ant disagreed. She said, “I think we should welcome everyone into the Meetinghouse, no matter what. We can learn to tolerate the noise. We should not say anything that might discourage Bee from coming.”

Opossum had yet another opinion. She suggested, “Perhaps one or two of us could speak gently to Bee. We could tell him that we are very glad to have him with us, but that his buzzing makes worship feel hard for some others. Perhaps if he knew that, he would be more quiet.”

Most of the animals felt that this was a good idea, so Opossum asked her friend Deer to help her, and the two of them went to visit Bee. First they talked with him for a long time, making sure he knew how welcome he was and how honestly pleased they were to see him. Then, they very gently brought up the buzzing sound and asked him if he might be more careful in the future.

“Oh,” said Bee. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know the buzzing would be so annoying. I don’t even notice it anymore. It comes so naturally to me. Yes, I can sit still and be quiet most of the time, but sometimes I just have to stretch my wings, and that makes a little buzzing sound. Do you think it would be all right if I made a little buzzing sound every now and then, if it weren’t too often?”

“Yes,” said Opossum, “I’m sure that it would. That sounds like an excellent compromise.”

And so the animals worshipped happily, including Bee. A few were annoyed by even the occasional buzzing, but they knew that Bee could not help it.

Some weeks later, Porcupine came to worship for the first time. Frog greeted her at the door and helped her find a seat. Porcupine’s seat was right between Toad and Heron.

The Meeting began quite peacefully, but halfway through, Porcupine began to feel fidgety. She squirmed in her seat, and when she did, she accidentally poked both of her neighbors with her quills.

“Ouch!” shouted Toad.

“That hurts!” cried Heron.

Porcupine’s cheeks turned red. She felt very embarrassed. “I’m sorry!” she whispered. “I didn’t mean to do it.”

The next week, Porcupine did not come back to worship.

“Good riddance,” said Toad. “She’s dangerous to have around. Sitting next to her hurts.”

“I agree,” said Pig. “I hope we never see her again.”

“But it was just an accident,” said Heron. “And she did apologize. I think it would be fine for her to come, as long as we didn’t sit so close.”

Opossum volunteered to go visit Porcupine and invite her back to worship. Heron went with her. The two of them spoke with Porcupine for a long time. At first, Porcupine did not want to come back. She was too embarrassed, and she was afraid that the other animals wouldn’t want her and that they might be unkind. In the end, however, she agreed to return.

The other animals were careful not to sit too close, and Porcupine was extra careful to watch where she put her quills. Porcupine turned out to be a kind and gentle person and very hard-working. She was an excellent addition to the Meeting! Every now and then, she still accidentally poked someone, but she always apologized, and the others always forgave her.

Time passed. Many months later, Skunk came to Meeting for the first time. Frog greeted him at the door and helped him find a seat.

Worship started fairly peacefully. Halfway through, though, Skunk lifted his tail and sprayed. A thick, horrible stench consumed the room. The other animals gagged and coughed. It was terrible! The rest of worship was almost unbearable. The animals could barely stand to stay in the room.

When worship ended, Skunk went away. The other animals went outside and tried to decide what they should do.

“Kick him out,” said Pig. “Tell him he can’t come back. He smells horrible.”

“It was an awful thing he did,” agreed Toad. “I think he did it on purpose. After all, he lifted up his tail before he sprayed. We shouldn’t even let him in the door next time.”

Bee shook his head. “But maybe–bzzzz–maybe he doesn’t know–bzzzz–maybe he doesn’t know how bad it is. Maybe he didn’t realize we’d be annoyed. Bzzzz.”

Porcupine nodded. “Or maybe it was an accident,” she added. “We don’t know for sure that he did it on purpose.”

The animals spoke for a long time. Many of them wanted to tell Skunk he could never come back. Some wanted to tell him that he could come back, but only if he absolutely promised not to spray. A few thought that he should be allowed to come back no matter what, even if he sprayed every week, because no one should be told that they couldn’t come to worship.

Finally, a small committee of animals were asked to go see Skunk. On the committee were Opossum, Bee, Porcupine, and Pig.

Pig did not start the conversation very well. When they arrived at Skunk’s burrow, before they even went inside, Pig said, “Your spraying stinks, and you’d better not do it again inside our Meetinghouse!”

This made Skunk feel very insulted. “I’ll do whatever I want. You’re not the boss of me.”

Opossum tried to save the situation. “Of course not,” she replied. “And we’re very glad to have you coming to our Meeting. But the smell of your sprays makes it hard for some of us to worship.”

“So what?” Skunk answered. “It doesn’t make it hard for me to worship. I like the smell of my sprays just fine.”

“Maybe you could spray outside,” suggested Bee. “Or maybe you could try to spray less-bzzzz-or not as often. We are willing to compromise.”

“I don’t want to compromise,” said Skunk. “This is who I am, and you’re supposed to love me exactly as I am.”

Porcupine listened to all of this. She did not know what to say. Skunk was right; they should love him exactly as he was. And Opossum was right; they needed to be welcoming. But Pig was right, too; the stench was so bad that the other animals couldn’t worship.  And Skunk didn’t seem to care how his spraying affected others.

If you were Porcupine, what would you do?