It was when my brother was speaking about his experience of learning to interact with Maori culture. This is a culture rich in protocol and very intentional about the ways people interact. It would be easy to feel that, as a non-Maori, the risk of doing things wrong is simply too great and that it is best not to even attempt to engage on Maori terms.
Dominic spoke instead of being willing to take the leap, to risk learning to follow the protocol involved when groups gather together. He admitted that it felt vulnerable to speak Maori as a beginner and yet to be the one who is making an official welcome, but still I could hear the exhilaration in his voice. I had the sense that he was enlivened by the thrill of the adventure and impassioned by doing something that felt valuable.
As he expressed the risk of taking the leap into the unknown, a Maori friend at the table responded. ‘And I’m your parachute!’ she declared, going on to explain the way she often guides Dominic as he prepares for more formal gatherings and that, when she can, she sits behind him so that she can whisper instructions. ‘I’m not going to let you crash land,’ she said.
Something within me responded to the generous-hearted love that was expressed across the table. The love of one person who seeks to make his home in a culture that is not his own and to do so in ways that honour those who receive him. And the love of the person who welcomes this willingness to bend to the form of the receiving culture, and who walks alongside to make sure that what is bent is not broken.
I recognise in my own life the longing to be accompanied by a person like this. Someone who would not just translate the language, but who would act as a kind of culture coach. This is a sort of hospitality that cannot be required but can only be offered by the host, the one who is far-sighted enough both to build bridges and to be the bridge where necessary.