(No, this is not my daughter)

(No, this is not my daughter)

Last weekend my wife and I drove our daughter to a camp in up-state new york (Saranac) where she will be volunteering for the month. Dropping her off was a bittersweet parental moment: our daughter growing up… enough for a full month away from home—and in a relatively remote location (with a no cellphone policy! ouch!) We knew she’d be homesick. She might even have a few moments of missing us as much as we miss her. Plus--sadly--this is just the beginning. She starts college this fall.

Anyway, we lingered until one of the camp supervisors took the initiative to introduce herself. She too was volunteering as supervisor for volunteers. It was clear she was thinking about this month as a way to invest part of her life and time and gifts in caring about the volunteers at the camp. Ah. It does something to your soul to suddenly realize that someone wants to look out for your kid, wants them to feel comfortable and have a meaningful experience, and is even a little nervous about making that possible. Simple hospitality can be the most profound gift. I’ll probably never meet that person again. I don’t even remember her name. But she is the best…

On our way out of the camp we drove past a house completely decked out in its patriotic finest. Ruffles, skirts, flags, sashes, buntings, bows, garlands, not to mention a straw-stuffed Uncle Sam sitting stiffly in a porch rocker. I suppose one way to monitor your patriotism is by how big of a garage you need for all your Fourth of July paraphernalia… But the sequence of that sight and experience did stick in my head.

It’s Independence Day: So a few patriotic thoughts:

1) Our Assyrian kitchen manager came into work last week with everything but her voice. She had lost it cheering for the US team at a soccer game (against Ghana, which she said she watched in Spanish). It’s been touching to me to hear our employees' pride in the American team. Usually they seem to have no interest in sports. But now, when one of them calls me to ask why the flax seeds are a different color, or when the pecan meal is arriving, our conversation smalltalk begins and ends with Team USA. They even (tentatively) call it “soccer,” proving all it takes is a bit of convergence between something familiar and their new country to unleash a patriotic fervor.

2) On Friday, I visited our newest employees—an Iraqi couple—at their apartment in Providence. They’ve been in the country for about 3 months. I was dropping off some supplies and was handed a piece of cake. The truth is, I almost refused. Refusing hospitality is a weird instinct of some of us in social services. The motive is fine enough: we’re aware of how little people have. I'm aware of how refugees lives are expanding (in a totally new world) and yet diminishing (with a limited ability to communicate, limited money, limited transportation, limited choices, plus the loss of everything they've known before). I know there is a lot of whiplash in these experiences, and want to protect their limited resources… so it’s easy to turn down gifts. But this is a mistake. Something important is happening when new (or becoming) Americans develop or risk the confidence and emotional solidness to extend hospitality. Receiving probably has way more impact than giving.

Really, I should have accepted their invitation to sit and have tea, and talk with their kids and enjoy their apartment. I always seem to be too busy. But I did eat the cake. It seemed to be made partially with corn flour, eggs, butter, and a cream filling flavored with rose water or something I can’t quite place. Different than anything I’ve made. And delicious.

fourth of July cake

Maybe this could be a definition for a new kind of patriotism: Receive some new American hospitality. Let a refugee or immigrant into your life, heart, food, tastes, interests. Eat cake. Just imagine how many garages this kind of patriotism might free up.

3) A pastor from a local church stopped by to pick up 100 Beautiful Bars. The church has been reaching out to the new Burmese refugee community. They now plan to give a bar to each person visiting their church. I love this idea. They provide more work for refugees. At the same time they introduce their visitors to the realization that there are refugees resettling in our city by giving them something refugees made. Really, it aligns all our goals in a very simple, wonderful way. This week I’ll call it patriotic hospitality.

So Happy Fourth of July. I am proud to live in a country that extends hospitality to 50-70 thousand refugees each year. I sincerely believe the US refugee program and the various non-profits doing the work of resettlement are investing deeply in the strength and character of our country.

And, once again, we are proud to celebrate the holiday with the most extravagant granola we know how to make: Blackberry Cobbler. We pack it with freeze dried blackberries, sliced dried strawberries, and, of course, all-American ruby-red Cape Cod cranberries. Just opening up a bag and breathing in the smell is a way to capture the sweet best of summer. We've already almost run out of our first batch before I could get this announcement out--but we'll be making more next week. You can order yours

Written by Keith Cooper

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