Hospitality can look different from one situation to another. It can be opening one’s home to another or serving a meal, but it can also be cracking a joke to break the ice or ease some tension. Humor is the hand of hospitality. Today I get my chance to practice.
Wednesday, June 19—This day begins with a trip to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, located in the Franconia region of Bavaria, Germany. It is a well-known medieval old town, having survived the Thirty Years War and World War II (limited damage that was repaired). Rothenburg, a walled village with many towers, is part of the popular Romantic Road through southern Germany.
In Rothenburg, there were many sites to see—churches, garden walks, spectacular views, quaint shops, many Christmas stores, a part Gothic/part Renaissance Town Hall, and beautiful fountains.
St. Jacobs (St. James in English) is dedicated to the apostle and is one of the churches on the pilgrimage route to St. James grave in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. St. James is the patron saint of pilgrims and merchants, known by his staff and scalloped hat. The church was built between 1311 and 1471; the reformation took place in 1544 and the church became Lutheran. Much of the art, stained glass windows, pews and altar date back to the 16th century.
A spectacular feature of the church is the High Altar of the Twelve Apostles Altar, one of the finest in Germany.
After exploring the village on my own, I found a restaurant to have lunch. Chas and Ellen, two pilgrims from Nebraska, invited me to have lunch with them. I had met Ellen a few years before on retreat at St. Benedict Center—we shared many things in common and were looking forward to getting to know each other better on this trip. Lunch was a great opportunity to meet her husband, Chas, and learn so much more about their lives. The meal (roasted ravioli, omg) and conversation filled me in so many ways. I could kick myself for not getting a photo of us at lunch, but we also shared our final dinner together (photo below.)
Next stop, Ulm. The Cathedral in Ulm, Catholic turned Protestant after the Reformation, has the highest spire in the world and five naves.
I shall never forget Ulm—mostly because I used the men’s water closet. I imagine most women have accidentally walked into the men’s room before, but I accomplished so much more! After the bus ride from Rothenburg to Ulm and a hasty walk to the water closet, a female friend and I rushed into the restroom. We struggled with the turnstile to get in, but I was quicker than my companion—hurriedly, I paid my typical 50 cent euros in an empty restroom and went to a stall.
And then, I hear it— my accompanying friend said, “Oh no, it’s the men’s room”. She got the heck out. Too late for me. I hear men’s voices and panic. What to do? Disappearing was what I wanted to do, staying in my little space until everyone left might have been a good option, but all I could think was I have to get out of here!
I could have silently escaped, but NO, in my embarrassment I loudly exclaim, “I’m not looking. I’m not looking. I have to get out of her, it’s the men’s room” (probably not new information for the men.) I cover my eyes, rush out, and nearly fall into Fr. Volker’s arms. He looked a little confused as I said again, “I have to get out of here. It’s the men’s room.” (Again, not news to him.) Nothing quiet about my mistakes, lol.
It takes several minutes to pull myself together with a little self-talk—it’s okay, everyone makes mistakes, thank God you’ll never see those men again. I begin my journey of the vast and stunning Ulm Cathedral, wandering up and down the naves, unsure where to focus—so spectacular wherever the eyes landed. I pass a fellow pilgrim, both of us gazing skyward, snapping photos, beholding the sacred—and then my new friend and co-pilgrim Chas said, “Great to share the bathroom with you.”
So much for anonymity—word traveled fast. When we returned to the bus, my good-natured pilgrims got plenty of mileage out of my faux pas. This too is hospitality. Making someone feel welcome often comes in the form of humor (or at least, this is how I have interpreted it.) Hey, you’re okay, you’re human, and you made a mistake. I joke with you so that you don’t feel uncomfortable. Humor helps one cultivate humility as well—I am not perfect. My one mistake is not the end of the world, I am not the center of the universe, my ego will survive.
Questions for reflection: How has humor helped you cope with an embarrassing or difficult situation? Is it easy or hard for you to laugh at yourself? Consider how humor can be the hand of hospitality. Can humor go too far and hurt another’s feelings? How can you determine the proper balance? How will use humor to offer hospitality to yourself or others? I would love to hear how humor has helped you!