When we told his older brothers that our baby had been born with Down syndrome, we explained that Ace would be more flexible than any one else in our family. Flexibility is the flip side of low muscle tone, you see. His ability to fall into the splits or fold himself in half in order to skooch under a table is remarkable.
Ace is fifteen months old and is the size of a nine month old. He doesn’t crawl yet and struggles to stand. By standards of typical development Ace is weak, and yet he works harder than any baby I’ve ever known. He practices and practices and practices. And he doesn’t complain.
Flexibility is the flip side of weakness. Courage usually shows up in the cracks. I’m starting to think that real hospitality is born there as well.
In her podcast, On Being, Krista Tippet recently interviewed Xavier Le Pichon, the scientist who helped create the field of plate tectonics. He’s also a practicing Catholic who speaks of the earth’s fragility (ie: moving and colliding plates) and human fragility as one and the same. Essentially, he says, what makes us human is our ability to put the weakest among us in the center of the community. When we’re doing that, we thrive.
Of course, Jesus said the same thing. Blessed are the poor in spirit, he said. Blessed are seekers of righteousness and justice, blessed are those who make peace by caring for the least among us.
We as a humanity are obsessed with power. The sorrows, the tragedies of this summer might as well be narrowed down to the powerful, the powerless, and those who will do anything to keep their power. And all those who are crushed along the way? They’re the casualties of turning our faces from what makes us human. When we fail to care for the weak, we fail to flourish. We fail to be what God has made us to be.
Ace worries me. He’s too small and he doesn’t gain weight easily. He’s on a high-fat diet, sitting in his high chair at least three hours a day while I coat bite after bite in oil, or cream cheese, or butter. At the amusement park last weekend, his feet couldn’t touch the bottom on the baby boat ride and there were no seat belts to hold him steady. So his five year old brother Brooks—the only one among our extended family who was small enough to ride with him—climbed in the boat. He put one arm around his brother and one hand on the bell and rang it for the both of them, holding tight to Ace.
Hospitality is everywhere. Hospitality is not about performance. It’s not about perfection. It’s not even about beauty. It’s about weakness.
It’s about us—individually and as a society—turning our faces toward the weakest among us. Extending our power to the powerless.
Jean Vanier said it this way: “Weakness carries within it a secret power. The cry and the trust that flow from weakness can open up hearts. The one who is weaker can call forth powers of love in the one who is stronger.”
Hospitality begins there, in the power that flows from weakness. If we want the world to change, it starts here: in our kitchens, in our homes, our neighborhoods, our cities. It starts when we release our grasps for power and begin to cling to love.