Even still, when I taste that particular gazpacho, I am rushed back to that day and that table. The cool, cucumbery freshness, the grassy bite of bell pepper, the distinct edge given by Tabasco and Worcestershire all combine to become a distinct place-marker in my mind. In fact, I recently made this picnic lunch for my sister and myself. As we each took our first bites of this cool and refreshing soup, I asked her what the taste made her think of, giving no hints or winks. The leaves on the trees rustled and shadows played on our quilt as she gave it some thought. “Painting the house that summer,” she said.
Hospitality from the margins is a widow’s mite welcome, made abundant by its sacrifice. Perhaps it means simple spaces. Tuna sandwiches around an undressed card table. Popcorn and cocoa by candlelight. Makeshift beds on the floor of your dorm room. Family holidays open to those who are far from family. Hospitality that is “real and costly,”5 not because it required a $300 grocery bill, but because it came out of your poverty. Extravagant generosity with financial, physical, and emotional resources, regardless of the social standing of the guest.
If I was looking for a card for an 18-year-old high school graduate, I’d still have my usual inner turmoil, but it would be a little different story. In this case, our graduating friend is in his 40s, getting his master’s degree after a two-year program at a university in the U.S. that is 7,000 miles away from his wife and children and community in Africa. English is his third language — he only heard it spoken for the first time 10 years ago. He comes from an economically poor community that has experienced a great deal of trauma, and he will be returning there soon.
I’m dumbfounded. My preliterate preschooler is turning into a little journalist, and I have no idea why. When she sees me with scraps of paper, it is more often to make a grocery list than anything else, which she’s at least mildly aware of since I always start my list by asking, “Lily, what should we get from the grocery store?” To which she replies something like, “Cereal, strawberries, and chocolate.” I’d like to think that it’s the writer in me that has somehow projected the importance of literacy to my child and she’s absorbing my love of the written word, but I don’t think that’s it.
“We do not have to live as if we are alone.” One would not be hard pressed to interpret a large percentage of Bruce Springsteen’s extensive catalogue of songs over the last thirty-something years as attempts to communicate the same message. The role of an artist in our world today surely includes, among other things, the task of expanding our moral imagination . . .