Hospitality

 

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Although today in the West, “hospitality is rarely a matter of protection and survival and is more associated with etiquette and entertainment” (“Hospitality”), in premodern times, in hostile environments like the Middle Eastern desert and the Scottish highlands, hospitality was a cultural imperative. When the weather could scorch you, drench you, starve you and kill you even if all you did was sit there for, say, a six-hour stretch, you probably are going to need some help. So in these cultures, hospitality meant that if a stranger came to your door, even if that stranger was your sworn enemy who had killed your father because your dad had killed his dad, etc., you had to put him up for two or three days (the time depends on the culture, but is usually strictly prescribed), give him the best of your food and the best place to sleep and protect him from his enemies, even giving your life if you had to. And if you wandered into his locale, he would have to do the same for you.

I think of this now after spending the last two or three months going to lesbian meetups: museum tours, happy hours, a dodgeball game. For the most part, the women I’ve met at these events have been kind and welcoming, allaying my fears about not fitting in and recommending other groups or events for me to try out. (And yes, it did turn out that the dodgeball game was untraumatic. In fact, watching women throw these shiny red balls at each other reminded me less of middle school gym bullies and more like a larger than life garden salad tossing itself, albeit a salad that was high on tomatoes and very, very low on lettuce.) Admittedly, at the last happy hour I attended, I did encounter one or two rather odd ladies, but for the most part, it has been uniformly positive.

I can only imagine that when you and your community have faced the hostile weather of institutional oppressions, it’s going to make you a bit less likely to reproduce that oppression and a bit more likely to combat it.

Note on the Illustration: “In the Caribbean, Europe and North America, the pineapple became associated with the return of ships from extended voyages, and an emblem of welcome and hospitality that made its way into contemporary art” and architecture, particularly in port cities (“Pineapple”).

“Hospitality.” Wikipedia. 16 Feb. 2016. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.

“Pineapple.” Wikipedia. 6 April 2016. Web. 6 April 2016.

April is National Poetry Month

Perfect Stranger

Lately my eyes have been catching spaces

Between trees on the street, weights

Racked at the gym, eyelets on a shoe,

Myself and other people. Music happens

In the space between notes, the pauses

Between words, making sense of sound.

 

As children we’re told to be wary, if not

Fearful of strangers, the unknown quantity,

Untrustworthy and so much taller than we are.

Without being told, we fear death, the ultimate

Stranger. But oddly, we rarely fear sleep

Or the strange gnomes in our brain who file

 

Away our experiences, play dreams on the screen

Of the mind. We embrace sleep, groggy, watch

The 5-4-3-2-1- as the film counts down.

Sometimes the dream explodes behind our eyes.

Sometimes it starts more like a whisper or

A breath of spring morning air. Sometimes

 

The strangers in our dreams alarm us,

Not by threatening but by offering us too much

Familiarity, like unasked-for candy. There is

A lesson here. Sometimes they stand apart,

Waiting for us to notice them. We wake,

Hopeful. The future, promising. Sometimes

 

By day we enter spaces like our dreams,

Peopled by both kinds of strangers. Then

The game is to identify which is which.

Take this woman, who saunters into a room

Of strangers milling around looking awkward,

Engages the most uncomfortable, makes her smile:

 

Not candy, but kindness. Then she moves on.

Faces turn in her direction like flowers

Following the movement of the sun, gathering

Warmth and light. Another time when I see her,

I offer her a purple flower. She tucks it

Behind her ear and turns away. The space

 

Between us fills with other strangers. This

Morning on the subway, in between every two

Strangers is another stranger, and all of them

Looking bored, tired or angry. I find myself

Smiling for no reason, passing the light along.

Now the spaces in my dreams are full of flowers.