There was a clear glass carafe on the armoire that stood to the left of the bed, and it was filled with cool water. The small glass drinking cup fit neatly on top. A metal three-bar towel rack hanging on the closet door held three white fluffy towels, in progressive size order—washcloth, face towel, and bath sheet.
The tiny daffodils on the nightstand to the right of the bed were thoughtfully cut from the garden in front of the house and arranged in a clear glass vase, a gentle and convincing yellow affirmation that spring was indeed here; we needn’t look over our shoulders with weary apprehension into the shrinking winter chill anymore. And the windows above the headboard-less bed framed a treetop view, where branches bore the unmistakable signs of new life in search of the warmer days we’ve all been dreaming of as March faded away into our collective seasonal memory.
When I arrived, before I’d even turned off the truck’s engine, my host had come down the steep front steps of her home, smiling and asking what luggage she could carry for me. A warm embrace and kindly exchanged pleasantries carried us back up those steps into her living room, where I met a new friend and another warm embrace. Behind her in the dining room, a Napa Valley Pinot Noir was breathing on the table, and the aroma of a turkey stuffing bake wafted its way into the living room where I’d just taken off my shoes.
I stood drenched in their hospitality, full-hearted and content.
I was scheduled to facilitate a learning session for a group of fellow volunteer managers, and their monthly meeting started around 8:30a.m. To get there on time from my home would have meant leaving somewhere between 3:00 and 4:00a.m., so did something I rarely do—asked my friend if I could come down the night before and stay with her and her wife. I’d be much more coherent with a full seven hours of sleep behind me instead of a dark-to-dawn journey culminating in the best rush hour traffic Cincinnati had to offer.
The road trip to their home was just shy of four hours, and the phone app that guided me there had made it clear this was the best route to take—no highways. And it didn’t lie. I was treated to acres of open and just-planted fields, a pale blue sky with random thin clouds on the horizon, and freedom of thought in any direction I looked. It didn’t register at the time, but upon reflection, the land was extending her hospitality to me as I traveled those two-lane county and township roads, soothing my senses with color and comfort I didn’t know I needed. Isn’t that usually what hospitality does?
In my short and experience-packed life, I’ve been delighted and humbled and rendered speechless by the generosity of spirit extended to me by others. Freshly-washed sheets, deliciously-prepared and presented meals, cheerful introductions, and sincere “make yourself at home” directives are lovingly tucked away in my elastic memory, teaching me how to carve out an even deeper place for gratitude in my soul, and all I really needed to do was show up. I’ve also recalibrated my view of our home as a place where those “others” would find the color and comfort they need, and provide the necessary details to ensure their safe arrival down the gravel driveway and over the bridge then past the two chicken coops and up the remaining gradual slope that ends where our front porch begins. In this final leg of a friend’s journey, we’re watching from the kitchen window for a few seconds, then crossing the living room floor to fling open the front door and our hearts before they even get out of their cars. That they want to spend time in our company is gift enough, even as they unpack side dishes and Cabernet and a small handmade candle from a crafter in their hometown. Any visit that begins with that sort of reckless abundance is going to be a keeper.
Of course, I initially go to that dark place of unworthiness, that someone—a friend, or an acquaintance, or a friendly stranger—would “go to all that trouble just for me”, and such an automatic response takes time to unlearn. But take the time I must, because even unspoken, this feeling of not being worthy is the emotional equivalent of leaving the gift unwrapped, or worse, taking off the bow, lifting the lid from the box, and smashing the contents in front of the giver. Hospitality feeds itself and is not dependent upon any recipient’s sense of self in order to be genuine or plentiful. Doesn’t that just mess up our balanced ledger tendencies?? Of course it does. And that’s the whole point. So we are taught and encouraged from toddlerhood to say “thank you” each and every time we’re on the receiving end of someone’s generosity, no matter what the size or depth, and we quickly learn that our gratitude won’t have the last word. “You’re welcome” finishes the encounter, and we’re left to ponder what that really means.
It means come again. I enjoyed our time together. Thank you for the Cabernet.
The daffodils were just for you.