Hospitality: “the act and practice of being hospitable; the reception and entertainment of guests, visitors or strangers; liberality and goodwill” (Oxford English Dictionary). The etymological root of the word hospitality is the Latin hospes, meaning guest, host and stranger.
“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13,2
stretching deep off script
along subterranean routes
of duress and hope
traded across continents
as things of slab flesh
then tossed away
by someothers’ soiled hands
onto somewhere’s stony shores
arrive still breathful
bearing beautiful dreams
can only guess
Day time. Maria Skobtsova House, Calais*. The front door bell rings, an unsettling sound, always, like the clock that chimes thirteen.
“In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” quickening towards the door with those thirteen quietening syllables, tracing the sign of the cross.
“Welcome back, Robbel, I am so happy you are safe.” An embrace. Such cold small ears. Winter's chill is still in the air.
Or a request: “I'm so tired can I sleep the night?”
Of course, welcome.
Or one hand clutching a head wound, the other a discharge paper from the hospital.
Yes come in.
Or four people asking for a shower: “I’m sorry, we cannot offer showers today, the house is too full.”
The pain of saying “No” feels like an act of violence.
Adonay, Josef and Haile are at the door. They’ve come to spend the night after their friend Samuel, just a month in Calais, has been killed, hit by a car as he jumped from a lorry. Tomorrow, to the mortuary in Lille to pay respects to Samuel’s body.
Massawa presses the doorbell. He’s come to shower and have his clothes washed before visiting Teodros, his friend in hospital who is now paralysed from the neck down after being shot by a people smuggler.
Tomorrow he will see the words above his friend’s bed: “Teodros, everything happens for your own good”.
Boundaries: “A boundary is a line drawn that defines and establishes identity. All within the circumscription of that line makes up a whole, an entity. Neither good nor bad in its own right, a boundary determines something that can be pointed to and named: a person, a family, a geographical region, a city, a town, a nation, a parish church, a denomination, a faith. A boundary provides essential limits, for what is not limited, bounded, merges with its context and ceases to exist in its own particular way” (Canon Caroline A. Westerhoff).
But who do we allow to cross these boundaries, to enter our countries, enter our homes, enter our personal space?
Night time, probing the darkness under the pine trees. The moon has yet to rise. Emerging from the trees, the path towards the bridge under which ninety or so Eritrean refugees spend the night becomes clearer, foot-flattened earth through black grasses. The thunder-drum of lorries powering along the artery road from the port creates a pervasive sound wall.
Issac beckons. “It’s draar, dinner time, eat with us.” We gather, ten of us, cross-legged in a circle in the low space just beneath the undersurface of the road bridge. A container with rice and beans is placed in the middle, spoons are passed around. First we pray and then eat. Isaac smiles.
“Yes life is hard, but it can be good, like now, and everyone smiles. We can smile because we know everything passes.”
“Bruq leyti, goodnight.”
There are many hands to shake. The way back is clear. Yarrow, the last of summer’s flowers, is caught in the moonlight.
*Maria Skobtsova Catholic Worker House, Calais: ‘Our mission is to be prayerfully present with and amongst the refugees, migrants and poor; and to build with them a community of hospitality’.