Hospitality—a changed fuse, a restored gift by Robynn. Follow Robynn on Twitter @RobynnBliss and read the rest of her posts here!
Hospitality is a dying art here in the West. Martha Stewart and Pinterest have made simple gatherings with friends seem too small or insignificant. There is some invisible pressuring force that perfection is a prerequisite to hospitality. If our homes aren’t impeccably decorated, if our housecleaning isn’t at a professional level, if our cooking isn’t gourmet we dare not invite someone in. This says nothing of the personal pressure we feel. Our children must be great conversationalists, extreme servers, polite passers. Our spouses must be engaging. Our marriages should seem as flawless as the table center, as wrinkle-free as the tablecloth.
When we lived in South Asia we continuously had people in and out of our home. There were those who popped in for a cup of coffee and a conversation. There were others who came and settled into our guest room for weeks at a time. If Lowell met travellers out in the city who seemed to need a place to unwind, or the comfort of a home cooked meal, he didn’t hesitate to issue them an invitation. Colleagues, teammates, friends often joined us around our supper table. A tray of tea, a plate of biscuits or cookies, a bowl of spicy numkeen snacks, cane chairs under the mango tree were all the ingredients for many an impromptu tea party! We had this wonderful roof with a broad expansive view of the Ganges river. That was also the perfect spot for coffee, or later in the evening, with the sky darkened and the stars out, for drinks with friends under the Indian moon.
Somehow in the move back to North America I lost my capacity for hospitality. As I think on it now, I wonder if it wasn’t a combination of burn out, deep weariness and culture shock. At the beginning I was simply too tired. And then I was too intimidated. I had no clue what the rules were here. How did you invite someone over? What needed to happen for it to be a successful moment? What food should be served? On what plates? What time? What date? It seemed too high of a mountain to climb. It seemed to risky. I couldn’t manage it. My years of hosting seemed over. My hospitality fuse seemed blown.
In the first seven years we’ve been back I can count on one hand the number of people we had into our home—and those mostly family and friends from our India days. I knew what the expectations were for those friends. I knew how to do that type of hospitality.
I’m not sure what changed. Suddenly last Fall I had the random idea that I might like to have some people over for dinner. There’s a man in our community, a teacher, a father of two sons—one grown, one yet at home, a kind-hearted man, with whom Lowell and I have both enjoyed conversation. Bless his heart; unbeknownst to him, he became our first victim! I sent him an email and asked if he and his son would like to join us for dinner. He seemed pleased by the invitation. That felt like a good sign. I forged ahead. I planned a simple menu that I thought his son would appreciate. I cooked the food and set the table. It didn’t seem terribly different from a normal night. I was doing what I knew to do. When Roger and his son showed up they brought flowers. My stomach betrayed the confidence I feigned. I pretended we did this all the time.
At the end of the evening I felt such joy. It had gone well. We had enjoyed stimulating conversation and wholesome food. The guests seemed to feel welcomed and valued. I had done it! And it hadn’t destroyed me! My unease and discomfort were made smaller. I had a growing sense of accomplishment and pleasure.
In December we had our youth pastor’s family of six for dinner. As the pasta bowl was passed around I couldn’t stop smiling. There was community for supper and happiness for dessert. It felt right and good. Not long afterwards we hosted a couple from Chicago, with their two young children, his sister and their sixteen year old Pakistani exchange student! That was an incredible evening. Less than a week after that we had dear friends from Louisiana and New York join us for supper. Our friend Roger and his son came too. Looking back on that evening still brings me joy! We laughed and told stories. We talked about books and good movies. We shared thoughts on politics and Kansas, on spiritual direction and liturgical services. It was a wonderful night.
Last Saturday evening we hosted our first party since leaving India. For those who knew us there these admissions will likely seem fictional and untrue! Those years in India were punctuated by many a celebration and party: birthdays and Thanksgivings and Christmas. We hosted many such events and we did it with joy! But none since we returned to this side of the sea. Last Saturday I felt extremely nervous! We were hosting a Corner Gas party for a small group of friends that have come to enjoy the Canadian sit-com set at a small gas station and restaurant at the heart of a small town, Dog River, in the vast Saskatchewan prairie. The show hasn’t run for several years, but they recently released a movie! We ordered it on line! It seemed like the perfect excuse for a party.
I made my to do list several days before the party. Clean the bathrooms, sweep the kitchen, move the TV, change the kitty litter, vacuum the living room. Make brownies, make layered dip, set out carrot sticks and chips. On Saturday morning Lowell suggested we should have chili cheese dogs (it’s the food of choice of one of the main characters on the show). I nearly panicked. I didn’t know how to make those. And they weren’t on my lists. Lowell slowly talked me through the “recipe”. But how much chili for each sausage? How much cheese? What were the ratios? Lowell calmly offered to be in charge of this last minute addition to the menu.
Our friends all came—good people with years of shared stories and shared snacks! We loaded up our plates, crowded around the tv and watched our movie. It was an enjoyable evening sprinkled with laughter. It was a good time.
Later I confessed to my mother in law how very nervous I felt hosting this party. She was surprised. She reminded me of the dinner parties and the gatherings of people I’ve recently hosted. Some how the party felt different to me. But she was right, really it was an extension of this recovered gift, this restored grace.
To me December’s gatherings and January’s party seem like marks of healing. I’ve unpacked another piece of me. I’ve found again, a part of my true self, the other self, that lived far away, and I’ve brought her here. I’ve dusted her off, and I’ve found, much to my delight, that she still fits. It feels right and good and whole. It brings me joy.
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Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/steps-river-side-ganges-ganga-bank-314190/