My daughter likes to tell everyone we meet about one of my most embarrassing moments. It involved food. We had been living overseas for a year or two and I was till working on verb tenses. Even though I dreamed of a life like Frances Mayes in Tuscany, frequenting neighborhood food stalls and chatting it up with my local friends, I had already resorted to anonymity in the large super store. You never had to speak in the large super store.
But Thanksgiving was approaching and rumor had it the butcher would find the Americans a turkey if you asked him to. This required speaking. No problem. I could easily order a turkey and arrange the day to pick it up. But I waited too long. He doubted he could have it by Wednesday. And, in a moment of expat desperation I pleaded, "I must be a turkey by Wednesday!"
It was imperative. More than 20 people were coming to our home, foreigners and nationals alike, to celebrate an American Thanksgiving. I had even found another produce seller who could get sweet potatoes from the coast. Someone else had recently brought hams from a trip abroad and we.were.set.
It became a tradition. Large groups gathered around the table my husband crawled under as a boy. The table which squeaks and with the chairs whose leather weaving is tearing and bolts are popping off. So many stories have occupied these chairs and eaten on these plates. In the midst of cross-cultural stress and otherness, I relished creating an environment that welcomed the weary. I nourished souls through hospitality.
A few years ago it seemed right to open our home to a young person in need of a family to stay with for a while. It felt like an extension of hospitality and it stretched us all. Our son gave up his room for 2 months. Our food budget swelled. We suffered through our own ignorance of trauma and failed miserably to understand what he needed. It ended poorly. We tried again with a younger girl a few months later. This time our daughter gave up her space. We hid knives and pills and faced depression head on. We welcomed the other.
But it took its toll. It's too much to live in painful stories all day and come home to more of the same, my therapist husband said.
I began to recognize his exhaustion. While I was hoping to plan the next gathering, pinning recipes and arranging invites, he became the weary. He nourished 20 souls a week and had no more to give. I desperately wanted 20 around my table but not with a reluctant co-host.
The plates went unused, accumulating dust on the bottom few.
I have wondered what to do about this predicament we're in, my husband and I. The refugee crisis makes me wonder how we would respond if we were nearer. Some of the very friends who joined us overseas, now gather Syrians at the train station and take them home for a night of sleep in a bed and a wash in a shower. I think of the traveling holy family this advent season and wonder if there would be room in our inn?
I have been sad about it all.
And then I realized, those 20 hurting souls that sit across from my husband each week, whose stories I only know via the exhaustion on his face, are my guests. I serve them each week by keeping my table open. While the plates gather dust, my husband gathers strength. By welcoming him to a quiet and empty evening, I am hospitable to all the unknown names and faces he serves.
I realize, I am practicing stealth hospitality.
So to them, I raise a toast! May you know the abundance of God's grace and find rest for your weary soul. May you love your life and live restored through the hospitality of the Bruno family.