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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