I believe that all of us are searching for a hospitable place where life can be lived without fear and where community can be found. Our society seems to be increasingly full of fearful, defensive, aggressive people, anxiously clinging to their property and inclined to look at their surrounding world with suspicion, always expecting an enemy to appear, intrude and do harm.
One of my life’s vocations is to convert hostis into a hospes, the enemy into a guest, and to create the free and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be formed and fully experienced.
Hospitality means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people but to offer them a space where change can take place. This has certainly been a key component in my thirty years ministering and working with hospice patients – the word hospice is from the Latin hostes which means hospitality.
The paradox of hospitality (and hospice) is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free – free to sing their own songs, speak their own language, dance their own dances; free to leave and free to let it all go. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adore the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guests to find their own.
When we think back to the places where we felt most at home, we quickly see that it was where our hosts gave us the precious freedom to come and go on our own terms and did not claim us for their own needs. Only in a free space can re-creation take place and new life or true peace with life and death be found.
The real host is the one who offers that space (which hospice does so beautifully at the end of life and during the grieving process) where we do not have to be afraid and where we can listen to our own inner voices and find our own personal way of being human. And to be such a good host we have to first of all be at home in our own house.
There can be tears after weddings and smiles after funerals. We can indeed make our sorrows, just as much as our joys, a part of our celebration of life in the deeper reality that life and death are not opponents but do, in fact, kiss each other at every moment of our existence.
As I grow older, I discover more and more that the greatest gift I have to offer is my own joy of living, my inner peace, my own silence and solitude, my own sense of well-being. When I ask myself: “Who helps me the most?” I must answer, “The one who is willing to share his or her life with me.”