To Entertain, Part Two: Open The Doors

"But entertaining isn't a sport or a competition. It's an act of love, if you let it be. You can twist it and turn it into anything you want - a way to show off your house, a way to compete with your friends, a way to earn love and approval. Or you can decide that every time you open your door, it's an act of love, not a performance. You can decide that every time people gather around your table, your goal is nourishment, not neurotic proving. You can decide."
-Shauna Niequist Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes

(continued from Part One) So I chose to stay.  But saying you'll stay and actually staying are two very different things. I did not realize this all at once, but it came to me in starts and snaps. After having lived as a bon vivant for a year, it was a new thing to think of weekends as times to be at home, or if not home, exploring closer to it than before. The first step in all of this was to commit to a church - something that had been on my heart the entire year and something that I deeply needed, both for the community and the accountability of a place to be looked for every Sunday. When I found my church, I began to serve there. It was now noticed when I took a Sunday off, because it meant that I had to ask someone else to fill my position. I became aware of what it means to spend every Sunday in a month arriving at the same place at the same time with the same people, serving the same children. Tuesday nights I stepped into the home of Charles and Wendy, a couple whose hospitality fed and strengthened us as we studied there. This tapestry of coming and going soothed me like the steady waves of the sea. This is home. This is home. This is home.

The six-dinner-parties-in-a-year gag was part of this "being planted" in one place. Being fed myself was not the point of all this staying, was it? I didn't want to just grow in my own right, but to grow alongside a wealth of other souls and to nourish them. "A wealth of other souls" takes time to curate, and effort. You have to open your hands and say, "Want to be friends?" And there is always the chance, though few people are so unresponsive, that the person facing you will shrug and turn away.

I chose Valerie, a red-headed girl, as my first risk.

Valerie had been coming to Wendy's house every Tuesday night for as long as I had which, at the point she became my target, was only a handful of weeks. She, too, was new to our church. She had lived all over the world as a military brat and now taught theater at a private school. Her face always wore two bright red patches, as if she'd been smacked hard on either cheek. She sang funny songs and knew how to tap dance. She had copper-red hair and ready wit and an affable smile and I liked her immediately. Here, if anywhere, was a kindred spirit. As I drew up my guest list for the first party, I didn't know whether I should invite Valerie or not...she might think I was crazy for asking her to come to a party at my house. Especially since it would be limited to six or eight people, none of whom would she know. I lived an hour away from her. The party was scheduled for a school night. She had been fighting a cold when I had seen her on Tuesday. And so I almost didn't invite Valerie to my first, little dinner party. Yet I did, and Valerie's eyes filled with happiness and she clapped a small hand to her mouth as she told me that she was extremely glad I'd asked and that of course she would come. Relief shot through me - I had depended on Valerie's girlish sense of a good time to carry the mood through my other guests. Already I needed her, and I did not know it until she said "yes."

A "indoor, fairy-tale picnic." If any of my guests thought the theme sounded as ridiculous as it (admittedly) did, they demurely kept their mouths shut. To Valerie's credit, she acted excited about the prospect of a glorified blanket fort. And when she entered the low-lit room (a little late because I'd given her poor directions) she pronounced the scene charming - a space trussed like a goose in pink satin and lace tablecloths, globe lights, fairy-lights, candles, and a harlequin checkering of blankets on the floor upon which sat my sundry other guests, all properly consuming roast chicken, crudites, toasts, and fruit.  Despite my misgivings, the party decor took a pretty turn directly before hitting "gouache." We chatted. We argued about La La Land. We torched creme brulee with the back of a kitchen spoon. Nothing at all remarkable occurred that night. Yet by the end of it, Valerie and I had cemented our friendship in the strange way that happens when two people bend for each other.

Our friendship has progressed rapidly and in the months since has continued to be one of my favorite treasures of this year of staying so far. And I can't help but think that maybe if I hadn't decided to risk the invitation and that if Valerie had not decided to accept the invitation, that we might never have known what our friendship could be. This first harvest is all the richer for the fact that it almost wasn't. I almost did not invite Valerie and though chance would probably have fallen in our favor and we might have become friends at a later date, I do not think we could have quite anticipated what it would mean for our relationship that I bent and that she bent and that in bending, we found mutual support.

Throw open your doors. There are people in your life who you would like to know as more than acquaintances. Invite them in. To my mind there is a difficulty involved in growing a relationship as you stand in the street. To be anything more than wayfaring strangers you must spend time at a hearthstone. Your hearthstone may be a traveling hearthstone that you bring with you, but for most of us the opportunity to really know and be known comes only when you open your home and bring the passersby inside for the evening. Be brave, my friends. Be bold. Be the invite-er instead of waiting to be invited. You never know who might be waiting on the other side of an invitation to dinner. Your home is your place in this world. At your table you have the chance to feed your guests love as well as coq au vin, hope as well as paella, kindness as well as blackberry cobbler. Your table, your menu. Your chance to open hearts.

(the final part, part three, will be on the blog over the weekend. what unexpected friends have you made among strangers?)

1 comment

  1. Oh my yes.

    Tea is also a formidable tool in the building of friendships. All throughout college I brewed tea and threw my doors open to anyone who wanted to come. I made so many dear friends this way. Just as cool - people I remained only acquaintances with became friends with one another through these gatherings.