I sat alone on the last leg of the journey, gazing out a scratched plane window at clouded pieces of California. Someone pinned a pair of shiny plastic wings onto my shirt so that the flight attendants would know I was alone in the sky for the stretch between LAX and Santa Maria.
Throughout the flight, I swung my legs and fiddled with the wings pinned onto my shirt, making sure they were still there, reassuring myself that having them meant I would make it to where I needed to go. My stomach turned like it was churning questions up into my mind. Would I get there safely? How would we fill our days? Would it be hard to sleep in a different bed for so many nights away from home in a bustling city and for so many days away from my Dad’s calming presence and my Mom’s kimbap? I felt small and strange and ashamed of all the questions that dimmed the simple excitement I thought most grade school kids had when they got to spend a few weeks alone at Grandma and Grandpa’s.
My family had been living in Tokyo for the last few years — my Dad, the one out of five, who had moved the farthest away from his parents. We moved closer to my Mom’s side with summer trips to Korea now much easier, but we were far from what my Dad always knew as home. Growing up in a multicultural family sometimes felt like a long game of tug-of-war that pulled from distances that stretched as far as the east is from the west.
My grandparents, Dallas and Marge, lived in a small central California town, in a quiet neighborhood, on a street that backed up against a fence with white horizontal slats and a wide hill of brittle grass the color of sand. Sometimes horses walked along the hill, minding their own business — a live picture of the quiet town.
After the plane’s descent and the collective chorus of unbuckling, a flight attendant led me out of the plane. My grandparents greeted me at the bottom of the outdoor staircase with smiles stretched across their faces, and my grandma’s arms out wide to embrace me. She kissed my cheek and giggled with delight.
We piled into their burgundy Oldsmobile for the drive from Santa Maria to Arroyo Grande, and I was both comforted by their presence and by having the distraction of the road and space between the front and backseats.
The first morning I woke, they brought me on their morning walk. Dressed in matching jogging suits, they led me through their winding neighborhood, the morning air still cool, under a layer of fog stretched out like a cold sheet. We made our way out to the more city-like streets, passed a pink Victorian-style house turned inn, and stopped at a nearby plum tree. My grandpa reached over our heads, picked a good-looking plum, and gave it to me. I bit into it, enjoying the sweet taste of fruit and being considered.
The days of my stay were quiet but not empty. Instead of toys and entertainment, my grandparents brought me into every detail of their everyday. My grandpa took me fishing and taught me how to catch and gut a fish, and later, let me watch him cook the fish for dinner. He told me about each western novel he read and about the passages in the Bible he loved. My grandma told me about Jesus and showed me that He could look like a woman whose skin was wrinkled but soft, who mended broken things and gently tended to everything from strawberry patches to the hearts of neighbors. Every week, she traveled to a small house on a hill nearby. She brought clothes and food and we would visit them — my grandma sitting with the mother to listen, read her the Bible, and pray. I played with the children, noticing our differences. My grandma brought me into those differences, showing me what it looks like to receive and bring together what felt strange and ill-fitting.
They didn’t work hard to entertain me while I stayed with them, but they worked harder than usual to include me in everything that they were and everything they did. Every corner of their lives was held wide open for me. They couldn’t offer my mom’s kimbap, but they made space for me to tell them how much I missed it, along with my house and the big city surrounding it while we watered the tiny grove of orange trees in their backyard. They asked me questions about living in Japan and being closer to Korea and learned to use the words that were familiar to me, like bopo instead of kiss before bedtime. They mended and tended to the distances I thought would keep me a partial stranger among my own extended family. They brought me into their fold, without forcing me to travel most of the relational distance to get there.
My grandparents showed me that hospitality is the answer to otherness. True hospitality has the power to bridge distances however far they stretch, to tend to differences however strange they seem, between you and me. They taught me that we were all made to be received wholly and in turn, wholly receive.
What person, however different or strange, is God
calling you to welcome in right now?
True hospitality has the power to bridge distances however far they stretch. - @tashajunb: Click To Tweet