A Sign of Gratitude
Xenia is the ancient Greek word for “guest friendship” – the concept that strangers would be treated with kindness and respect no matter how far they wandered.
In January of 2014, I was traveling from Maryland to Colorado Springs and, as the sun set on what I had planned to be my last day on the road, gray storm clouds loomed ahead. The temperature steadily dropped as I drove across Kansas, and as I neared the Colorado state line, the thermometer read five degrees. Storm conditions quickly worsened, and I hit a major backup on Interstate 70. I reached the crash causing the backup and saw cars strewn across the median and the side of the road, which felt more like an ice rink. Emergency services were arriving and traffic gates were lowered, shutting down the interstate.
Thankful to be off the highway, I drove around Burlington, in Kit Carson County, in the worsening blizzard only to find no vacancy at any of the warm-looking hotels. Anxious to find a place to rest, I called an emergency hotline and learned that a temporary shelter was available at Morgan Community College. After spending that night on a Red Cross cot in the gym at MCC, I carefully made the remainder of the drive to Colorado College for another semester.
A few things stand out to me from that experience. First, I was struck by the friendship and hospitality that the town showed to strangers and passers-by. I had no connection to Burlington but felt warm and welcomed there. Second, I was inspired when I learned one of the key volunteers was the Mayor of Burlington who had gone out of his way to ensure travelers and families were taken care of and that everyone in the town was safe. In fact, I recognized him as one of the civilians assisting crashed vehicles on the interstate, whom I had driven past earlier that afternoon. This was servant-leadership in action – a good example of how an elected official ought to act in an emergency.
I have always been grateful to the town of Burlington for looking after me that night and I look forward returning the courtesy as an El Pomar Fellow supporting the Northeast Regional Council. As I get to know the Region and the individuals who call it home, I will be keeping in mind the lesson of xenia I learned that night in Burlington: 1.) treat strangers with kindness and respect, and 2.) good leadership is all about service to others.
By Tim Jenkins