Do You Speak English?

”Taler du engelsk?”

I look up from my desk in the round church of Osterlars into the eyes of a beautiful young man, an angelic figure who seems to have stepped out of a Pre-Raphaelite painting.

”Taler du engelsk?”, he repeats.

“Yes, I do speak English. As a matter of fact, I don’t speak Danish.”

“I have some questions about the church. Would you be willing to answer them?”

“Of course, I would be delighted.”

Follows a series of questions about the architecture and the maintenance of the buildings. The church has recently been whitewashed and my angelic visitor has noticed the splashes of whitewash on the steps. It turns out that Simone is Italian, from Milano, living in Aarhus with his Danish girl-friend. Maybe more a figure from a da Vinci fresco. We get chatting about all the places we know of, reminiscing about the grandeur of Italian art and the magnificence of the Duomo of Milano. Waves of nostalgia for my numerous visits to Italy submerge me, and I cherish the moment, as does Simone.

Several weeks later, as I walk towards the church, early one Saturday morning, I am greeted by the same question.

“Do you speak English?”

This time my interlocutor is Canadian and he is standing beside his bicycle equipped for long-distance travelling. He explains that he inadvertently left his camera on the wall the previous day, and was wondering if someone had handed it in. I had just come out of the office where there was nothing, so I suggested he followed me to the church. There, we found a note left by my colleague informing us that a camera had been found and handed over to the police at 18.30. We then inquired into which number to call and where the nearest police station could be. It turns out that there is only one police station in Rønne, the main city, and that was where the camera was waiting for its owner.

The relief was palpable and the Canadian started to share something of his story. His wife is working in Copenhagen and he has been cycling around Denmark and Sweden for the past two months. He then told me that previously they had been living in Switzerland, near Basle. So, we ended up discussing places we knew in Switzerland, which brought another wave of nostalgia and a longing to go hiking in the Alps.

I love these encounters with people whose stories reconnect me to previous chapters of my own life-trajectory. I am reminded of pilgrims walking the land and becoming available to life’s arising. I am also reminded of all those who welcome the pilgrims and discover the many meanings of hospitality, and the magic of those blessed encounters.