In the mid-1980s I met a man at a party in Toronto who had a look in his eyes of someone who was haunted by the suffering he had seen. I learned he had just returned from Ethiopia where he’d been helping to reduce famine with Bob Geldof. It was exhausting work and he'd given up a good-paying engineering position to follow his personal mission. I told him I admired him for what he was doing. He said most people hate him. That startled me. I asked why. “Because,” he said, “people will envy you for making personal sacrifices to be kind-hearted to those in need and will treat you with utter contempt.”
I still didn't completely understand why. He said it was because most people couldn't/wouldn't make the same sacrifices he did and couldn't hate themselves so they projected their contempt onto him and those who could. Years later I understood his words too clearly. This man had a profound effect on me.
This article about my Toronto "Authors Bed & Breakfast" appeared in a 1997
supplement to the Canadian Booksellers Association Trade Show edition of Quill & Quire.
Here I'm serving bagels and muffins to a woman (and her unseen partner) who were visitors from Australia.
My dream was to open a bed and breakfast for authors on book tours in the heart of Toronto, Canada and combine it with my book promotion service. I opened on May 1, 1997. On August 20 I experienced a home invasion and came face-to-face with the intruder. That night changed my life for the next thirteen years.
Because I was able to identify the intruder I helped police put him in jail. Soon after, the death threats started because I was freelancing as a broadcaster on national TV and was visible to anyone in jail. Police officers advised me to take the threats seriously - they knew the extreme violence to women he was capable of - so I quickly closed my B & B, gave away everything and disappeared. The small community in Pennsylvania where I sought refuge was hostile despite all my attempts to make friends, volunteer in the community and do kind things for my neighbors.
After nearly eight years of solitude with constant threats and vandalism from my neighbors, I sold my mobile home for half of what I paid for it and moved again. I wanted to prove that kindness doesn’t incite envy and contempt everywhere, but as I remained consistently kind to others I had to concede that Henry could have been right. In 2005 I bought a condo unit in a 30 year old building in a Canadian town near the US border at a price higher than market value in an effort to help raise property values for my new neighbors. I was earning good money again, consulting to US clients by email and phone.
But it seems my neighbors, most of whom were retired or living on government assistance, didn’t like - or were envious of - my financial independence and the consistent friendliness and cheerfulness I showed them. I received anonymous crank calls, anonymous hate emails, public accusations of things that I didn’t do, bullying in the halls, banging on my door at all hours of the day and night, and terrifying physical threats including a hunting knife at my throat and having a loaded gun pointed at me. I woke in terror every night. I cried every day.
Not a single person stood up for me or supported me. I put my home up for sale, knowing I’d have to take out a loan to cover the mortgage deficit. Then I received the Cease and Desist letter. The directors I'd voted for were telling me I had to stop earning a living by selling my books from my US web site and stop consulting to US clients by telephone.
I asked them how was I supposed to pay my mortgage and condo fees every month without income, and was told that if I didn’t pay, management would put a lien on my unit so I couldn’t sell it. If they hated me so much why did they make it so difficult for me to get away? I was encouraged by a lawyer to just walk away and leave the country, but I'm a woman of integrity and couldn't do to someone else what I wouldn't want someone to do to me.
With no earned income I couldn’t qualify for a loan so I could offer my home for sale at less than what I still owed. I felt as if I were on a never-ending episode of The Twilight Zone. For the 19 months before I sold my condo – accepting the first offer - I used credit card advances to keep paying the bills. On May 30, 2008 I was homeless. Literally. Here I was, someone who once provided accommodation to strangers, now living in my van with no money, no job, no income, and not one neighbor I had been generous to would offer me a meal or a bed.
I roamed New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, sleeping in parking lots, staying in people’s driveways and homes where invited in. Most people were hospitable, but most had definite ideas on what I should do… there was a definite feeling of contempt creeping in to their conversations as though I didn't deserve to be treated as an equal. I think there is contempt for the homeless no matter how it happened. I think I experienced it so that I could have empathy for those with fewer resources.
After 4 months I learned that my father was falling and hurting himself and his wife had fallen and broken her shoulder so I drove north to Erie PA and found an affordable apartment so I could be available to help. I knew I again would have to put my life on hold for an indefinite period of time - perhaps years - and I would likely not be able to earn much, if any, income due to the unpredictability of my father's needs.
To pay down my debt load and to avoid more debt, I started recovering money from people who had overcharged, underpaid or never paid me in the past. I found that I could get better results by helping my debtors save face and look like heroes rather than using insults, abuse, and bullying tactics that some bill collectors use.
On December 31, 2009 I started uploading the first pages of AndreaReynolds.com the site that was previously banned. I intend to get back on my feet by offering to share the profits from the book I'm writing: The Kindness Test. If I can generate income from spinoffs like writing articles and speaking, those profits may be shared with my early buyers as well.
An FAQ will follow. Feel free to send me questions. I'll answer them on this web site and in the book.
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In the works...
Incredible, but true, accounts of my 15 year experiment to see how people act when they KNOW upfront I'm testing them.... and writing about them. I couldn't make this stuff up... I suck at writing fiction.
Cover Design: Jacqueline Miller,
Order The Kindness Test here: $9.95
If you prefer to send a check or money order, my mailing address is below. Please make checks payable to Andrea Reynolds, 2501 West 12th Street, Suite 647, Erie PA 16505.
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