Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Hospitality (02/07/05)
TITLE: Stranger Love
By Cynthia Zirkwitz
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I was a pregnant teenager when I married. I thought my husband’s mother was a crabby old woman, but when she offered us a place in her home, I consented to move.
Hospitality, from the Greek "philoxenia", means “loving strangers”.
I’m not sure if Ruth loved me when she met me. Eddy, my boyfriend, was her youngest child, “the Canadian” in the family. She had had high hopes for him to get an education and a profession.
She had worked hard-- scrubbing other people’s floors, looking after other people’s children—to support her family. Her husband, Theo, had buried his gun and gone AWOL from the German army towards the end of WWII. He, Ruth, and their two small children, had hidden out in the forests. Eventually they had come to Canada as refugees, sponsored by Theo’s sister and her husband. Eddy was born during that time on the farm in Alberta, and then they moved to Vancouver. Theo had what we know now is Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, and spent a lot of time in and out of the mental hospital. Their eldest child went back to live with the aunt and uncle who could offer her more opportunities. Theo didn’t learn to speak English. He didn’t find steady work. Like immigrant and refugee parents everywhere, Ruth wanted a better life for her children.
Ruth was a Lutheran pastor’s daughter; I was the daughter of Catholic converts and had spent three years as a convent boarder. Clearly, we had some biases to overcome at the outset of our time together.
During my pregnancy, Ruth nurtured me with food and pampering that I wasn’t used to. Huge trays of food were presented to me while I watched TV in the evenings—open-fac sandwiches, bowls of fresh blueberries, herbal teas. “Eat, eat, eat!” she would chirp. I resented the fact that my young husband let his mother do the caring work. I saw her as a competitor for Eddy’s attention. How, I wonder, did she see me?
When our baby was little, we moved into a nearby suite. I returned to work and Ruth was my babysitter. She was a popular person in her Church community, so our son was quite often the center of attention at the weekly gatherings of the Ladies’ Missionary Society and other groups that met at her home. She was ever hospitable.
My mother-in-law had a quiet strength that I didn’t appreciate for years. I saw her as “mousy,” when she was far from that. She had opened her home to a contrary little sulker who observed the morning devotionals and heard the ever-on Christian radio programs. One day she told me that she loved having me as her daughter. That admission of love broadsided me—I had not expected it, and I certainly didn’t feel that I deserved it.
My dear mother-in-law has been gone for several years now, but I remember and attempt to model her sweetness and her willingness to show the love of Jesus to strangers.
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