A Story of Radical Hospitality

NOTE:  This is a guest post by Connie Goodbread, Healthy Congregations Consultant, District Executive serving two districts of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

Hospitality is a lively, courageous, and convivial way of living that challenges our compulsion either to turn away or to turn inward and disconnect ourselves from others.*

Juliet and I had been grocery shopping.  I had spent $150.00 at the grocery store and
we had 10 bags of groceries in the back of the van.  We were headed home and my mind was filled with the heat of the day, the ice cream in the back of the van and all the work that I had facing me in the next couple of days, then weeks, then months.

The light was red.   From the back seat Juliet says, “Memaw, what is the matter with that
boy?”  She is looking at a boy, maybe seventeen, who is standing in the median with a sign that says, “I’m starving, please help.”  Juliet is four years old, so I begin, “See that paper he is holding?  It says that he is hungry and needs help.”

Juliet, “Where is his Mommy?”

“I don’t know Juliet.”

“Where is his home?”

“I am not sure he has a home.”

“Where does he sleep?”

“I don’t know.”

“What is the matter with him, Memaw?”

“The sign says he is hungry and needs help.”

“Ah, poor thing.”

“Ah, poor thing indeed, Juliet.”  I say.

“He needs help Memaw.  Poor thing.”

Juliet says, “Ah Poor thing.” a lot.  She says this when she sees the stray cat that lives in our neighborhood that I won’t let her pet.  She says it when she sees a dead bug.  This is her budding empathy.

“Yes, Juliet if that boy’s sign is true people should not be driving by him while he starves pleading for help.”  I think of the bags of groceries in the back of the van.

“Juliet.  Would you like to go home and make that boy a sandwich?”

“Yes, Memaw.”  Juliet is very excited about the idea.  She is gleeful and bounces up and down clapping her hands and grinning from ear to ear.

We get home; put the groceries away.  I pulled a chair up to the kitchen counter top so that Juliet can help make the sandwich.  We make him ham and cheese and put both mustard and mayonnaise on it because we are not sure what he likes.  Juliet suggests chips and a can of mandarin oranges, because they are her favorite.  I suggest an apple instead.  We add two bottles of water and a juice box, cookies and Juliet thinks he will need a napkin.

In the van on the way back to the corner where the boy is standing with his sign, my mind is filled with all the jaded thoughts that you can imagine.  This is probably a scam.  What if he is dangerous?  Is this a wise thing to do?  I have never done anything like this
before.… are there no work houses, no prisons?…
 Thinking all the things that make me an adult and a skeptic and wary of the motives of others in this world.

In the back seat, Juliet,sits my little warrior princess, to whom I will hand this broken and desperate world.  A world where I have worked hard and done the best that I can to make a difference and, in spite of all that work, is still broken.  Juliet – the hope of the world
sits in all her glee looking for the boy.

“Memaw.  Is the boy gone?”

“No see his is leaning on the sign.”  We turn the van around so that I can get in
the lane that will pull right up next to him.  The light is red.  I roll down the window and hand out the bag.  “The sandwich has Mayonnaise on it so you need to eat it right away.”     I say as I hand the boy–and he is a boy–the bag.  We look at each other.  He has none of the things in his face that I expect to see.  He doesn’t look drugged out or drunk.  He certainly doesn’t look dangerous.  He has a nice face.  He has tears in his eyes, “I will.  Thank you, m’am.”  He takes the bag, runs behind the van and across the street to sit on a wall.  He opens our bag and hungrily begins to devour the sandwich.

“He was hungry Memaw.”  Juliet says from the back seat. “Ah, Poor thing.”

Yes, Juliet he was hungry.  Whatever else is going on in this drama, the boy’s sign had been true.  He was hungry.  With tears in my eyes all I can think is, “Ah, poor thing.”

I am not the hero of this story.  This story points out many of my flaws.  I had never done anything like that before.  I would have driven right by that boy.  I will not finish the work I have started.  There is no one lifetime that is long enough to fix all the things that are broken in this world.  I will hand over a broken and fragile thing to my grandchildren, as it had been handed to me.

The boy is not the hero of this story.   He is, however, an example of just how broken and fragile this world is.

Juliet, my little warrior princess, my little Jiminy Cricket, is the hero.  She told everyone
that we came in contact with, that day and the next, about the boy.  Her story about him and the sandwich is sweet and sad because it includes the boy might not know where his mommy is and he might have no home.  The story ends with “Ah, Poor thing.”  We go by that corner a lot. Every time we come near she asks about the boy.  “Where is that boy, Memaw?”

“I don’t know, Juliet.”

And the conversation begins all over about mommy and home and the sandwich.  And always ends with, “Ah, Poor thing.”

*Hospitality is a lively, courageous, and convivial way of living that challenges our
compulsion either to turn away or to turn inward and disconnect ourselves from
others, writes
Father Daniel Homan, a Benedictine monk, and Lonni Collins Pratt, a journalist and retreat leader.

1 thought on “A Story of Radical Hospitality

  1. Wonderful story. Thank you for sharing it, Connie.
    For a long time I wrestled with these questions, and still do to a degree. Where I live, in the south, its hot during much of the year. So, I keep bottled water in the car and offer it to anyone with a cardboard sign.
    I’ve been surprised that almost everyone accepts it and almost all seem very grateful.


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