Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Friends on your Doorstep

The welcome mat.

My first purchase for my new apartment is a brightly colored rug to adorn my entryway: WELCOME greets my visitors in big bold letters. I love it, and I love anticipating who will step across it to find me home.

I have this presentation I do for women, "Whistling Tea Kettles and Welcome Mats". It's mostly about hospitality, and little things Martha Stewart totally misses in pursuit of perfect placemats and superlative souffles. Puh-lease. We're talking more authentic attributes of hospitality, like putting aside your stress to soothe another's. Like embracing the irritable, adjusting to the unplanned, finding words of life to speak into somebody's dark corners.

Welcome mats, I've discovered, can travel well. These days we are on-the-go. A lot. Which means your friends might ring the doorbell to an empty abode. Don't worry -- they'll come back. What I'm proposing is a kind of mobile welcome mat; a fluid hospitality. When you're waiting in line at the bank, or thinking about supper in Aisle B at the grocery -- that's when the impromptu meetings happen. A colleague crosses your path, or a relative you haven't seen in a while. If you're paying attention, you may notice a crease of worry across her forehead, or even a trace of a smile hinting at good news she's about to share. Either way, the best gift you can give in that moment is your absolute genuine delight at meeting her. To be fully present in the moment is to throw down the welcome mat and to say, "Come in! Tell me more."

Fluid hospitality. A travelling threshold, a moveable feast, a whistling teakettle. Oh, I know how busy you are, how focused on the task. You have appointments, meetings, kids to pick up, errands to run. All I'm suggesting is to keep that welcome mat handy and be ready to place it at somebody's feet if only for a few rich minutes. These minutes will nurture your guest, and will refresh your own spirits. Life's noise and hubub can be swirling all around you, but when you lock eyes with a soul in need, time is suspended while eternal things happen. Your genuine concern, a squeeze of the shoulder, a belly laugh, any or all of these will bounce right into her heart and echo throughout the day. Let it happen. Try not to be so preoccupied that you miss an opportunity to toss down that welcome mat and be wild with joy that she showed up.

There is that other niggling reality, however. I'm talking about the people who won't show up on your doorstep, but be very sure they will show up in the details of your day -- and they are unsavory characters. How, then, should we entertain the hostile, the mean spirited, the irritated and the irritable? Should we withhold the welcome mat from them?

I offer up a challenge to myself, and to you, to be available for the abrasive. Sure, it hurts a little to brush up against the unlovely, but your hospitality may be exactly what they need to experience. So, be generous. Be ready. Be real. Your words could well be the only light that filters into their shadowy world today, and your welcome mat the only measure of warmth they will know.

To the familiar and the foreign, I say ... keep the kettle on, keep the door unlocked, and sweep off that welcome mat. You never know when, today, it will be called into duty!

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