Hospitality

Walking in an April snowfall, I think:
I’ve learned all the lessons that winter
can teach; I’m ready for spring; this winter
has lingered too long. And then I recall
the guest who long ago came for a week
and stayed for two, repeating the story
we’d heard for years, always unable
to mine the meaning. It didn’t matter
how closely we listened, what questions
we asked, the telling never varied and
yielded no treasures. Every morning,
our guest, in robe and slippers, gripping
his mug of coffee, would shuffle into our day
and eventually recite again, the old, old tale
of suffering unhealed; he’d sit at the site
of the wound, poking, prodding, turning over
all the pain and guilt, the wrong turns and regret;
the words never changed. Life had been unfair.
Perhaps we stopped listening; I know I sometimes
rolled my eyes at my husband when The Story began
again; everything we spoke of somehow provided
our guest a way back into the circling labyrinth
of repeated injury, with nothing at the center
but darkness. And then one morning, in a pause
between the words I’d heard so many times
that I could say the next, our guest stared, looking
beyond the moment to memory, and sighed. And
in that sigh I recognized the bitter song of robins
trapped in a winter that should have been spring.
And the door of my heart opened; as though I was
hearing his story for the first time, the yearning,
the sorrow, the joy that had slipped and fallen
through his life just when he’d felt it was finally his.

Maybe true hospitality only begins when guests have
stayed too long, when patterns long repeated shift
to mystery, and we open our guarded hearts wide
to the pause between words, consenting in love
to pursue winter’s lessons all the way to spring.

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10 thoughts on “Hospitality

  1. Thank you Kitty for this. We’ve all been in the position of putting our patience on high alert. The newspaper today is all about empathy, which seems to missing these days. Miss your wildlife pictures. Donna

    Sent from my iPad

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    1. Good to hear from you, Donna! Yes, empathy is such a huge part of the listening we offer others…I think this poem came from the many times patients and friends—and Phillip and I—have repeated stories, searching for meaning, and how an empathic listener can often, just by being generously present, help us hear our own song…and then the listener realizes she is also gifted!

      Wildlife is emerging! I hope to catch some in my lens. 👍

      Thank you! Be well and merry, Donna.

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  2. My sister is sixty five and she has lost her recent memory.
    In a conversation, she’ll ask a question about my daughter.
    After a few minutes, she’ll ask me the same thing again, having forgotten my previous answer.
    Her husband has to answer to these repeated questions all day long.
    But he does not show any annoyance or impatience.
    Maybe this is a kind of true love.
    Kitty, when I’m connected, my steps often take me to your daily round.
    It is always refreshing to read your posts.
    Greetings from Mauritius.
    Shiva.

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    1. It is indeed a loving response to her desire to communicate and to her understanding that what she is saying is new. Phillip’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and the gentle patience he demonstrated with her repetitions was so very creative and loving, and so respectful of her dignity.

      Love to you, your sister and her husband, Shiva!

      I am so happy you visited and honored by your sharing. Peace to your heart.

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  3. I think our culture of entertainment has shaped us so that we are always seeking the next thing…new and exciting. But encounters like this can teach us patience in repetition, and, as you say, eventually open us up to insights we can so easily miss in our haste to not be ‘bored’ again. There are lessons in everything, if we look hard enough. Thank you for reminding us of that, Kitty.

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    1. Yes, I think staying in place with attention and compassion and allowing another to truly hear their story can be healing.

      Sometimes, though, people get trapped in repetition and, without considering other perspectives, can inhibit their growth and healing…not speaking of dementia here, but of the hiding we can choose instead of the hard work of transformation. But yes, this poem is more about the kindness and, as you say, openness to lessons in traveling with another.

      Thank you, Yacoob!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, yes! It was gorgeous falling and then gone. Back to wind and rain. Beginning to see green here and there in the gardens. Hoping for a less droughty garden season this year; that would be such a gift.

      Thank you for your generous comments; love to you.

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    1. Ah, thank you for that, Jeanne! When we get ourselves out of the way, loving each other isn’t nearly as hard as we make it out to be, is it? Deep listening refocuses me. I don’t think I’ll ever read a book as interesting as another person.

      Yes. Spring unfurled leaf by leaf! 💛

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