The True Meaning of Hospitality

11 Jul

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


“In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” –Blessed Mother Teresa


                Only one more week to go, so mind-blowing how fast the time has gone. Everything about this place is amazing; the lifestyle, the environment, and the people. Coming up here was scary-I was alone and lacked the support I am so used to having at home or school. What I have learned about people up here is that everyone treats you like family. They offer a roof over your head, a warm bed to sleep in, and food in your stomach. They tell you about places to visit or sites to see, some even take you there. They ask you questions and engage in conversation with you. They’re authentic and genuine. I have seen this same mentality in other places, yes, but I have never experienced it to the extent that I have here. The way people have welcomed me into their homes and lives is a beautiful thing. And, I have seen it from people I know up here, to people I’ve just met, to people I barely know. One of the clients who I worked with briefly but likes to get to know the interns every summer invited me to his birthday dinner next week. Other people have offered me a place to stay for when I return to Alaska in the future. Still others have invited me into their families while I’m here; giving me not only adventures but also offering support and friendship. I am truly amazed at the hospitality I have received here in Alaska.

                I spent a good chunk of time last week writing and debriefing for myself. I had been here for six weeks and I was so worried that I didn’t know what to bring back. I didn’t know how to wrap my eight weeks of experience into a neat little package to show off when I got home. This is something that needs to be lived to be understood, as most experiences are. How can I explain to people that have never seen the places I went, met the people I met, or lived the same situations I did? As I struggled with that over the last week, I worried that I couldn’t communicate the many ideas I’ve seen in action, that many of them were blending into one repetitive monologue. On Wednesday I went down to Seward, AK (about 4 hours from Palmer) to watch Mountain Marathon (a race up a mountain that involves mud, blood, and running down a mountain at full speed) with two people I met this summer. One I had known for 6 weeks, the other for 6 days. This past weekend, I went camping with a few friends I’ve known for a few years, their family, and some other friends I’ve met this summer in Homer. I spent almost 4 days with these people, sharing stories, ideas, jokes, and laughter. It was like I had lived here my whole life and this was completely normal to be camping with them.  It is so beyond basic hospitality that these people have welcomed me with. And as I considered these situations and people, I realized that what I was going to bring back is not a concrete lesson or package, it’s an idea-an idea of finding love in each other.

                Mother Teresa’s quote above is one that I believe embodies this idea. We are not going to cause earth shattering change right away, and the point isn’t to look for the biggest and brightest idea, it is to love wholly and completely. It is to welcome the stranger, visit the imprisoned, offer food for the hungry. Doing everyday activities with the utmost recognition of a person’s humanity is the greatest gift we can give each other. We are all human, and transcending that, as a believer, we are all created in the image of the divine. We find in each other something that goes beyond our flesh and bones that calls us to care for each other because we all share in this unique reality. This is the idea that Mother Teresa hit on; every act we do, must be done in love of our neighbor. The selflessness of this act is what is so amazing-there is nothing to gain from caring for the sick or injured-it is done only because we care about our fellow human beings.

                This element of love and compassion is what I have be witness to here in Alaska. I have seen this in the clients that have opened up to me, trusting me, and sharing their stories and lives with me. The people that have opened their homes and hearts to me, asking questions, offering stories, laughter, joy, and yes, food, have shown me the action of love by treating me like family. The Case managers and employees of Daybreak have embodied this idea of love in the truest way. They are true advocates for the voiceless and marginalized. They offer help and service coordination, but it goes beyond that. So many of them act as supporters, cheerleaders, and yes confidants. The case managers are there to not only offer the clients the choice and power to find treatment; they also hold the clients accountable for sticking by their treatment plans. It is in the small acts-a weekly phone call, driving them to a therapy session, or working with them to maneuver the system-but when done with love, the clients find in their case managers an ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on, and a voice to offer advice and encouragement. By acting through love, the small act becomes that much greater.

                This is what I am bringing back from Alaska. I have a greater sense of what it means to open your arms and your heart to someone and welcome them. They all put a great deal of trust in me, by welcoming me, and it was done without any selfish expectations, and I wish I could give back half of what I have received here. I know, as an outsider, what it was like to come in and feel welcomed by so many people. I wish I could help those who welcomed me, understand how much it means to me to have experienced that. I know I can’t ever truly repay those I have met up here, but I can pay it forward. I have a lot of opinions and ideas that I have experienced, questioned, and concluded while up here and yes, I will most likely be voicing those from time to time, but the most important lesson I’ve learned up here is that the focus is on the people. It is not a dog eat dog world where you need to step on your mother to climb to the top, instead, people are able to see and respond to each other’s humanity. It is about loving each other through our actions and words. Mother Teresa said it best, no matter what we are doing in life; the action becomes that much greater when it is done with love.


                           Hope: just down the road, but no worries, there is help along the way.


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