We arrived at the farm in the early afternoon, hours before our hosts were due to arrive. They had said to make ourselves at home, and the gentleman who gave us a ride from town was unsurprised to be taking strangers to the Dring place, for John Dring and his family welcomed newcomers all the time.
One of my earliest memories of profound hospitality came when we travelled to Ireland through Servas, an international guest-host organization embodying the Greek concept of “xenia” — the hospitality & generosity extended to those who are far from home, the reciprocal warmth of host to guest & guest to host (Ancient Greek, ξενία). This notion is similar to “Atithi Devo Bhava” in Indian, a Sanskrit term for “Guest is God.” And in Swahili — “mgeni karibu, mwenyeji apone,” which translates to “Welcome guest, and the host will benefit (too).”
The Drings welcomed us, fed us, and offered us shelter in the caravan complete with a new litter of kittens. As our two-day visit drew to a close, John insisted on plotting our next move by calling a friend and fellow Servas host two hours north to suggest his family be our next hosts. The hospitality of these two families left an indelible imprint of what it can mean to be welcoming.
My personal favorite hospitality offering came a few years ago when a friend asked us to help a friend of hers whose mother was very ill at Duke Hospital. The friend needed a place to decamp and catch her breath. She requested a time that happened to be when neither my husband nor I were at home. A friend of ours let her into our house. She slept for five hours. Then she left and went back to the hospital. We never met her!
Beloved progressive Christian Rachel Held Evans died a year ago this month. Her work was all about creating a bigger tent, for everyone who wants to join, even those we haven’t yet met. “This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.”
I want to expand my tent, to explore what “xenia” can mean these days, to develop new ways to practice hospitality while I can’t currently welcome people into my home. Sharing flowers from the garden with neighbors. Connecting to strangers on the street with a smile or an appropriately physically distant chat. I’m now in conversation with the mom who is renting a house just up the street. Her two-year-olds are named Ira and Anoushka, but she and her partner call them Peaches and Puppy. They’ve lived there for months, but our work schedules were not in sync and we had never met. I’m eager to see them again, to introduce my geriatric dog to the two toddlers, and to get to know Peaches and Puppy. We’ll welcome and care for each other from afar.