A Central Texas Gardener

Dr. Claire Colombo has served on the seminary's adjunct faculty since 2012.  As a freelance educational consultant, she develops religion curriculum for Loyola Press of Chicago and is a regular contributor to their Find God magazines and newsletters.

I had already drafted a whole ‘nother blog post. It was about radical hospitality as the making of a poem out of whatever surprising thing comes our way. (See www.typewriterrodeo.com for the general idea.)

But on Sunday morning, as I was driving to church, I stopped for a red light at an intersection. There, I saw a neighbor of mine. He’s a neighbor because he’s always at this particular intersection near my home. If you define neighbor as one who occupies a nearby residence, however, he wouldn’t qualify, because he’s homeless.

I’ve seen and chatted with this man for years—through several blistering summers and at least one bone-chilling winter. I’ve seen his limp, and I’ve seen his smile. I’ve seen him with sunburn, I’ve seen him with the shivers, and I’ve seen him with seventeen stitches. (He rides an old bike, and once got hit by a car while doing so.) I’ve seen him looking blue. I’ve seen his very blue eyes.

On this particular morning, I saw him wearing headphones.

As I handed him a packet of peanut-butter crackers, I said something generic. He tugged his headphones down to his neck as I spoke.

“Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t hear you. I was listening to my headphones.”

In response to this I said something extraordinarily inane, like “Wow! Where’d you get those?”

He was patient with me. After answering my question (“Wal-Mart”), he proceeded to answer the question I hadn’t asked but should have—i.e., “What are you listening to?”

“I like to listen to gardening shows,” he said. His eyes sparkled with the very idea. “Of course, I don’t have a garden right now. But I do love John Dromgoole ….”

The light turned green. As I pulled away, I babbled something incoherent that may have included the name Cecilia Nasti.

After a few head-slapping seconds, I got over myself and really heard what my neighbor had said. I realized that in exchange for a lame six-pack of possibly stale Ritz, he had handed me the freshest possible Eucharist. He had handed me the living word of hope. He had forgiven my stupidity and shared with me the thing that kept him going, despite—and perhaps because of—its absurdity.

That’s the final draft on radical hospitality, y’all.