This past weekend I took a short trip back to the town I went to college in. I went to visit a good friend. Since I graduated, we have made sure to meet up atleast once a year. Each visit is relaxing but energizing. My friend is full of passion, energy, love, creativity, and joy. Being around her opens my mind and heals my soul. She’s great. We spent the morning together enjoying a delicious early morning breakfast of fresh eggs from the college farm and tea from herbs she collected last year. Our conversations were rich and we quickly found our way strolling around the farm. As the morning left and the afternoon approached, we were joined by a few other friends that were good to see. One of them now had a 1-year-old son that I finally got the chance to meet and what a joy! He is the happiest, most well behaved child I have interacted with in a long time- a real breath of fresh air. Come noon, everyone was clammoring to get a light lunch going. Someone left to go pick up some juice and yogurt while the rest of us pulled a pile of vegetables from my friend’s small fridge. Everyone started chopping and tossing, talking and laughing, and before long we had a huge salad, yogurt, fruit galore, homemade kimchi and sauerkraut, juice- it was wonderful. The amount of genuine happiness and hospitality floating around the room was so unusual and refreshing, I can’t explain it. I had nothing to give money or food wise, but instead I worked and cut up salad ingredients and helped put it all together, and that was okay. It sounds a little sad, but I’m not use to this. Anytime I’ve ever been in a spontaneous meal situation, it’s always expected for everyone to contribute cash toward the final product. If you don’t have it, you find a way, promising to pay someone back or else you just don’t eat. Never does someone just donate cash for you or accept another means of paying- doing dishes, the cooking, cleaning up, etc. And if you don’t have cash to contribute and still take part in the meal, people look down upon you, feel offended, and are generally disgusted with your behavior. But why? I understand the idea of equal contribution (think the story of the Red Hen baking her bread) but why does it have to be money? Maybe it’s just something our society has impressed upon us over the years. I guess the whole concept is difficult to explain, but the experience left me with a greater understanding of what true hospitality is all about. There would be a number of experiences like this through the day.
*Photo courtesy of Wikipedia*
And then there was straw. The friend with the small child and her partner invited us out to visit and spend a little time at their place a little later in the afternoon. So as time passed, we finally made our way out to the land they were living on. The land actually belongs to an older gentleman who has leased bits of his property before to a number of different college students. So when we arrived, I learned we also had a 15 minute hike into the woods to get to their home. How interestingly rustic, right? The path was narrow, windy, and heavily iced over, but when we got there, I discovered they had built a small one roomed straw bale structure – I’d call it a hut. No electricity, no running water, just a wood stove inside for heat, an even smaller old propane stove (obviously they managed to haul a propane tank out there), play area for the child, and a sink basin and storage shelves. All this was inside a room the size of my apartment living room. It would be a lie for me to say that I wasn’t a bit taken back by the rustic simplicity in which they lived- with a small child none-the-less! They had chosen to live like this for awhile and were as happy as could be about it. I couldn’t believe it. It was just so simple. Now, typically I have a scale in my mind of lifestyle and consumption. On the right end are your “fat-cat” overly consumptious individuals and on the left are your “hippie” homesteaders. On a day to day basis I think I fall pretty much in the middle, sometimes a little further off to the left because of some of my waste-not practices of food, electric, heat, recycling, etc. But put me on the scale when in comparison to this family, I was down there with the “fat-cats”. I felt genuinely embarrassed. I’m sure the thought never crossed their mind as they were more than happy to have company who understood and appreciated their choice. Again with the hospitality- offers of tea, juice, cookies, crackers, and I almost felt wrong accepting it. Why? Because in my mind, I didn’t feel right taking from those who had so little. Goodness, even that sounds selfish and snobby, doesn’t it? But they just kept on giving, all the while smiling and happy for our visit. We had a wonderful time out there, we really did, and when we left, they walked us back out to our car, gave a round of hugs, and we all went back on with our lives. On my ride home that day, I thought about their way of life, the overly simplistic choice of living, and realized that I couldn’t do it. Well, I suppose I could if I had to, though I wouldn’t choose to live that way. But to each their own, and whatever makes us happy, right?
My day of visiting was wonderful, filling me with joy, inspiring me to try new projects I’ve been thinking about, and encouraging me to keep learning and living my life happily. That tends to be my mindset for a number of months after visiting with my friend. 🙂 But the visit also gave me the opportunity to consider the topics of simplicity and hospitality. I do my best every day to take baby steps towards simplifying my life and reducing my negative impact on the world, and although it seems hard sometimes, it’s possible to make those changes. People like my friend who lived in the ultra-small straw bale home and the one I went to visit are magnitudes more efficient, simpler, and more environmentally friendly than I, BUT it’s those same people who encouraged and congratulated me on every little step I was taking. It’s those little steps that over time lead to a lot of gained ground. It’s those little steps that the world needs more of. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, each of us challenged in our own way, but we can all learn to make little changes. Simplicity is what we make of it, and it’s achievable on all levels. And hospitality- well, I learned a lot more what it’s all about. It’s about giving freely to guests, to everyone. Never did the hosts hold back anything, but rather gave and gave, even when they didn’t have much. I’ve always tried to do this in my home, in my life. My guests are welcome to anything and everything, I offer much, and I think I learn that from my mother. I laugh when I think about growing up, at one point having two adults and five children (my sister and I, a friend in a sticky situation, and two step-siblings) living in a tiny one bedroom house. My mother and stepfather turned part of the basement into their makeshift bedroom, despite it being a typical dank New England basement. There was at one point three beds in the tiny bedroom, with barely enough room to walk. And the couch, luckily, was a fold out bed. I know that it was probably really hard for my mom, but she always found a way to provide for us, our friends, visitors- everyone. Later in life, when things were less cramped, she’d always be able to find a way to stretch a meal for another mouth or two if need be. She’s always been incredibly giving. I know that’s where I learned hospitality from. But once in a while, now that my husband and I live by ourselves with few visitors, it’s easy to forget about the true spirit of hospitality and giving. But it is experiences like these that remind you what it’s all about.