X Is for Xenial



Xenial: Hospitable, especially to visiting strangers or foreigners; Of the relation between a host and guest; friendly.

Unless you are completing an Alphabetarium blog and have come to this difficult-letter-that-hardly-ever-begins-a-word (or if you’re playing Scrabble)—why use a word like Xenial at all and not just say “hospitable” or “friendly”?

Well, I’m at X in my alphabetical blogging, and staring down but two more letters to complete this feat … so let’s just take it from here:

Being hospitable to strangers was an important theme in classical literature. Hospitality was an indispensible quality especially in Homer’s Odyssey, and in that context I have just encountered the related Greek word for guest-friendship: xenia. This referred to a relationship between people from different regions who formed an agreement that they could visit each other’s territory and be assured of safety, a place to stay, and food to eat.

Because many people had to travel long distances on foot, such hospitality could mean the difference between life and death on the way to one’s destination. Travelers could not count on a local Holiday Inn or even a friendly mom and pop restaurant turning up along the way in their journeys. And so they had to rely on extended hospitality for shelter and sustenance—which surely has led to many a fascinating tale. “… now that you have taken refuge here, you shall not lack for clothing or any other comfort due to a poor man in distress” (The Odyssey, Book VI, 205). See also the example in the Bible of Abraham’s visitors in Genesis 18.

The nearest thing I have experienced to Xenial behavior from a stranger occurred on dangerous snow-covered Illinois streets: I once slid off into a ditch during a storm, and a friendly pickup truck driver (surely an earth-angel) stopped to help me. He put gravel under my wheels, hooked my car to the back of his truck, and pulled me out. Plus, in true Xeniality (if that’s a word)—he would accept no payment. After unhooking my car he drove on and I never got his name.

In fact, it always seemed that severe weather brought out the best in neighborliness: people shoveling other people’s walks; bringing a pot of soup to the door of someone who couldn’t get to the store; picking other people’s kids up for them when school let out early …

If we became a more Xenial society—with less fear about being ripped off, and more concern for our neighbors’ welfare, I could predict that the hope-meter for the planet would shoot upwards pronto.

This story from Martin Buber in Tales of the Hasidim says it all:

An old rabbi once asked his pupils how he could tell when the night had ended and the day had begun. “Could it be,” asked one student, “when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it’s a sheep or a dog?”

“No,” answered the rabbi.

Another asked, “Is it when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it’s a fig tree or a peach tree?”

“No,” answered the rabbi.

“Then when is it?” the pupils demanded.

“It is when you can look on the face of any woman or man and

see that it is your sister or brother. Because if you cannot see this, it is still night.” 

5 responses »

  1. Pingback: Z Is for Zing « Isabel Anders' Uncommon Mother-Daughter Wisdom

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