Conversations with two different neighbors unfolded within a few days of each other. They keep floating in my head for further reflection. During a front hospitality shift at church (my workplace too back then), I met both of these guests as their initial point of welcome to the church’s campus.
The first encounter was with a younger gentleman in his twenties. He was spirited and articulated his words with a little punch….not with a disrespectful tone at all, but with an audible beat of precision.
He proceeded to offer his thanks for the church helping him replace his birth certificate a while ago, which was neat to hear! It was motivating to meet him and receive his sentiment on behalf of the team.
His speech pattern then began to accelerate.
He said: “They erased my memory because they inject serum in my eyeballs each night up in Baltimore.”
I wasn’t sure what to say beyond some quiet eye contact.
His speaking rate continued to accelerate then slow back down, then speed back up as he described his memory loss and eye ball injections. It was clear he deserved compassion, and sincere regard. The guest repeated expressions of appreciation for the church’s volunteer team again that had helped him secure his birth certificate. He mentally bounced in between the contexts of injections, memory loss, & gratefulness.
He seemed to want his gratefulness for the church community to be honored in a certain way but I wasn’t sure what to do. It was a sense in my gut that I was trying to interpret. Then mental fatigue really kicked in. I just wanted the exchange to end but wanted to offer some sort of resourcefulness. I asked if he’d like a mini directory about the church and nearby health providers too; I offered my own thanks to him for visiting while directing him to the door.
I’m still analyzing this guest engagement from a hospitality perspective. Sometimes providing attentiveness while ignoring some inner bewilderment is apart of extending hospitality.
I’m grateful to him for that learning. Something else about the exchange though made an impact that I did not realize until later.
The next week
A local neighbor arrived at the church asking for a clean pair of jeans. He was in his 40s, had lived on the street a while, conversational (and I recall very warm too). As he shared about his clothing needs, the inner bewilderment from the recent guest last week cropped up. That instantly provoked internal fatigue that in that moment with this new guest, I just didn’t want to feel again.
So I interrupted the guest in mid-sentence with the hope to end the conversation.
I instantly felt guilt & regret sprout up inside. It was an impatient move to interrupt (and inhospitable to say the least). The man went silent.
He then replied with beautiful self-control & dignity: “Ma’am I’m poor and am preparing for the colder season. I don’t mean to take up unnecessary time. But when you’re poor you need to see asking for help as an asset. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
I felt like such an ass.
I apologized, thanking him for his forgiving patience and clarity of mind. After we found some suitable clothes that fit, we had a strong, brief discussion about his entry to living on the street in multiple states. His wisdom opened my mind on many levels. For starters – he brought to a more conscious level how being homeless does not mean your self-knowledge or capacity for wisdom is less than other neighbors who are perceived as ‘more integrated or relevant in society.’
Conversation with him revealed how I’d held this social bias yet was not conscious of it.
Our exchange underscored how delivering hospitality does not simply demand empathetic communications but also unconditional patience even when inner resources may be stretched.
It occurred to me later that me being a wee bit mindful of self-care would be goooooooood & prudent.
These encounters bring to mind now a devotional excerpt from Sarah Young’s enriching book Jesus Calling.
She wrote from her October 31 entry:
Learn to listen to (God) even while you are listening to other people. As they open their souls to your scrutiny, you are on holy ground.
Photo: husband patiently “listening” to the kitten.